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:
- Four major triads: C major, E♭ major, G♭ major, A major
- Four minor triads: C minor, E♭ minor, G♭ minor, A minor
- Four dominant 7th chords: C7, E♭7, G♭7, A7
- Four minor 7th chords: Cmin7, E♭min7, G♭min7, Amin7
- Four half-diminished chords: Cø7, E♭ø7, G♭ø7, Aø7
- Eight diminished triads: built on every note of the scale
- Eight fully-diminished 7th chords: built on every note of the scale
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:
- Always trust your ears. Theory-based aids should only help you generate new sounds that sound good. Have your ears be the final judge.
- Connect structures through half- and whole-steps to keep shifts between structures smooth.
- Arpeggiate structures in ways other than strict ascending and descending close voicings. Jump between notes of the chord to get melodic intervals greater than 4ths.
- Try using only part of a structure. Sometimes, one or two notes from a triad are enough to help the ear hear a shift from the previous structure.
- Consider asymmetrical rhythms. Change between structures in different parts of the beat/for different lengths of time.
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.