B half/whole diminished scale over an E7?!?

Hi all, seeing if any theory people could help me out with this unusual scale application.

I was transcribing some spanish/latin style licks and came across this cool run:

Normally it would be a B Whole/Half diminished scale that would be played over the E7 chord but it this case it’s Half/Whole. I messed around improvising with both scales over E7 and to my ears the Half/Whole sounds so much better to me.

I tried looking on the interwebnets to see if there was any theory behind it but didn’t find anything. Best I could come up with why it sounded so good was that it might be a combination of:

  1. In a ii-V-i the B Half/Whole could be played over the Bm7b5 but here the ii chord is replaced with the E7 and the Half/Whole is played over the whole measure
  2. Even though there’s no E note in the B Half/Whole scale, over an E7 chord it has the 3, 5, b7, b9, 9, 11, and b13 tones. The rogue major 7 is a passing tone lending a little spicy D Phrygian sound.

In any case it’s a cool sound palette to play over a dominant chord when playing spanish style.



I’ll take a shot at it. ii chords are often just experienced as a suspension anyway. Often one might talk about playing a dominant scale over the entire ii-V7, but it makes sense that one can do the opposite. They’re pretty explicit about the why in the chart, so that’s my best guess on the face of it. Sounds fun, have fun!

p.s. you might also see the “rogue major 7” as a suspension resolving to the E by a half step rather than as a passing tone per se. :slight_smile:


Thanks! That was my note in the transcription with a guess how it was applied. I’ve been getting into a lot of spanish/latin/flamenco style and there’s not a whole lot of resources out there for soloing. I like that it’s old-school in that you have to figure everything out from the record because tab is non-existent.


Are you considering E your I chord? We actually did a whole mini-lesson on half-whole on the I chord. To me it’s basically blues, since it contains the flat 3 and flat 5. The scale tones just add extra flavor. Here’s the lesson:

To me half-whole on the V chord is the traditional jazz altered usage. B half-whole over B dom7 resolves to E, either minor or major if you like. I actually just call half-whole diminished the “dominant diminished” scale for this reason. I don’t know if anyone else does, but that’s my mental process.

Half-whole on the I chord = blues. Half-whole on the V = altered dominant.

Edit: Ok I lied, we just talk about the diminished 7 chord, not the scale. But it comes from the half-whole version of the scale, because that’s the one with the 13 in it. That note, together with your flat 3 and flat 5 is what gives me the ‘blues’ angle.

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Ok, sorry I totally misread this! It’s right up there in the title. You’re asking about the B half-whole being played over E, not the E half-whole being played over E. Freely ignore everything I wrote! I’ll leave it up there for alternative reading on diminished uses.

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“Dominant Diminished” is handy. :slight_smile:

An aside re…

It’s certainly a flavor of altered dominant scale, and particularly useful in that it comprises the P5 and the M6 and thus doesn’t obviously conflict with the underlying unaltered dominant chords.

There’s a little more to the story, as harmonic minor comprises the minor iim7b5-V7alt sound, with resolution to the tonic, i melodic minor, but that’s tricky, because if one checks out an actual solo, one will see for example, many others using melodic minor sounds over the two five, as well as related Imaj7 scales suggesting viim7b5, etc. The answers lay in playing a passage in context, me thinks.

Lest anyone get confused by the inherently confusing, the altered dominant scale named the “Altered Scale” contains a b5 and #5 (or b13 depending on one’s outlook).

R   b2 #2   3   b5 #5   b7 

Folks teach it as diminished-whole-tone, super lochrian, etc., but I went for years not noticing that the R, 3, and 7 exist within. Easier for me to start with that shell, and then to add altered notes to taste and context.

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Yes for sure! Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that the diminished scale is “The Altered Scale”, as it is sometimes known. I just meant that the diminished offers “an” altered dominant sound.

It doesn’t have the augmented flavor that people like from The Altered Scale. But the shapes and fingerings are really easy and I think it’s a great starter scale for anyone wanting to get some of that “fusion” sound into their rock playing without a huge amount of theorizing.


No problem @Troy. And sorry for jumping in like the Altered Scale police! :slight_smile:

While we’re off the track with regard to @Ian’s phrygian explorations, no discussion of altered and augmented sounds (as you brought up) would be complete without mention of the whole tone scale. :wink:

R 2 3 b5 #5 b7

Someone (Joe Pass maybe) said that almost anything could be played over a V dominant chord and sound good as long as it was played with authority and resolved. Playing around with altered and diminished scales has really opened my eyes to that.

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Yeah, probably not worth getting too specific about until one has the various sounds in one’s ear. Where one wants a little more control over tailoring things, foreshadowing or obfuscating the next change for example, the “rules” of chord scale theory can be interesting, add creative possibility, and possibly keep one out of trouble with more advanced band mates, but for most folks, spending time with the sounds is the order of the day. I hope you’ll share more of the progressions you explore delving into the subject matter!

Got it all sorted out now, feel kind of stupid because it’s an easy answer if I wasn’t so lazy transcribing the chords. It was an E7b9 which I would have gotten right in the first place if I had bothered to use my ears instead of quickly jotting down E7 :roll_eyes:. Also should of have know better because it’s maybe the most common dominant voicing for this style. From there it’s E7b9 = Bdim7/E = B half/whole diminished scale.

Here’s a neat trick with enclosures. Say you’re playing over an Am chord. Make little phrases using a note from the minor triad and adding a note a half step below and one a whole step above resolving to the triad note.

G# - A - B
B - C - D
D# - E - F#

It’s melodic minor-ish with little to no thinking involved. I think Joscho Stephan talks about this in his interview.

Here’s a fun progression: iv - III - vm7b5 - I. Also iv - vm7b5 - v7 - I (or i) has nice voice leadings with the 3rds and 5ths.


Yeah for solving the puzzle!

Mmm. Loves me a nice enclosure… (Ooh, that sounds bad, but seriously, melodic possibility y’all!) I think I most often hear the rule expressed as “diatonic approach note above, to chromatic approach note below (which may or may not happen to be diatonic), resolving to target note” or similar.

Sweet! Progressions! Thanks @Ian. :slight_smile:

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I posted a few details about Lydian Chromatic Concept in the LCC thread-thinking in LCC terms offers a different justification for using B HW over E7. The Lydian Tonic associated with E7 is D. Built upon D is the entire group of scales that are part of the LCC, including Lydian, Lydian Augmented, WT and both WH and HW diminished. Any scale can be used , resulting in increasing tension. In this case, D HW is identical to B HW.

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