Larry Koonse was my primary instructor during my time at CalArts. Larry is an amazing guitarist and musician who has created a unique voice on the instrument. While volumes can be written about his musical concepts, I thought I would write about Larry’s approach to creating asymmetrical melodies with the diminished scale. There is a lot of information already available on how to use this scale for different chord qualities, points of resolution, and using the symmetrical nature of the scale to generate never-ending patterns. Larry discussed using the traditional tertian structures inside the diminished scale to bring out melodies that are asymmetrical, leading to less predictable diminished scale melodies.

The half-whole diminished scale is commonly used as a chord-scale for altered dominant 7th chords. With its cycle of four functioning dominant 7th chords, the bridge of the rhythm changes chord progression is a perfect vehicle for exploring this approach. I wrote “Bridge for Larry” in the key of A♭ and subsequently recorded the composition on my album Due South. The first chord of the bridge is a C7. The half-whole diminished scale on this chord would be the following:


The tertian structures inside this scale are:

The major and minor triads can be used to generate interesting triad pair configurations (hexatonic scales). In addition to these tertian-based structures, Larry would also work with synthetic pentatonics and non-traditional four note voicings: major triad with added ♭9, major/minor triad (includes both 3rds), major triad with added #4.

Here are some helpful tips when using these structures to generate melodies:

Below is a recording of the melody statement of “Bridge for Larry” from Due South. The bridge, notated below the recording, starts at 0:20 seconds.

"Bridge For Larry" (Tim Fischer) from Due South (2014)