"softening" the diminished color
The idea of "softening" the diminished color is simply based on simplifying its aural qualities while retaining its multiple resolving properties, both harmonically and melodically. In the following idea, the B diminished chord is softened into the more common G 7 chord. Example 1.
|B ° 7||C major||G 7||C major|
Cool? Only one pitch changes in the above cadential motions, the Ab of bar 1 becomes the tonic or root G of the Five chord in bar 3. But didn't the diminished color evolve from the Five chord? Yep. Why go backwards? Onc hip to the diminished properties, we can now apply them to other tensions. Really? So, example 1 is simply two ways to resolve tension towards the same tonal center. Here is the same idea with a bit more improvised melody. Using a diminished scale in bar 5 then diatonic pitches in bar 7. Example 1a.
The term "softening" is my own way to describe an ever evolving musical process. After a few years of using the diminished color, I began to tire of it's obvious sound and the emotional direction it always took my lines. I felt very bored about my playing, felt like I was hemmed in by the diminished color and that all of the shedding I had done to get the color under my fingers had became a sort of trap that was rather tricky to get out of. So much so that for a while I reverted back towards the direction that initially brought me to the diminished color in the first place, towards a more bluesy, diatonic dominant 9th color. Fortunately at that point in time, jazz guitarist John Stowell came to my town and shared his ideas of using the melodic minor color in similar ways as the diminished sounds.
And although the sounds of the diminished and melodic minor scales are reasonably close, the new possibilities created by applying the diminished colors resolving principles to the melodic minor sound opened up some new and rather expansive areas for exploration and discovery. Why? Well initially, thinking this way breathed new light into many jazz substitutions already under my fingers. Flat Seven, the tritone sub, flat two, all clearly emerge from the diminished theory. I can color each of these subs diminished, or soften the color to melodic minor, or even further soften the sub to say pentatonic, one true organic source of our melodies. Cool with this? So, do the color choices for the substitutions then span the spectrum from diminished to pentatonic? And back? Major and minor tonalities? Example 2.
|tension / release / minor||tension||tension / release / major|
|minor pentatonic group||various minor scales||diminished group||various major scales||major pentatonic group|
Diminished tension in the center, moving outward through various degrees of dissonance towards the consonant sounds of the pentatonic groups of pitches. In all honesty, I think the initial kaboom created by this theory was with the chords, whose variations and possible combinations just seemed to explode under this softening process. The basis of the kaboom being how the softened chordal colors sounded when they were moved around in a "diminished fashion", i.e., minor thirds / whole step / half step etc. Here is the common Two / Five / One motion using somewhat uncommon diminished motions with softened tensions. Example 3.
The first chord of measure 14 above is the softened diminished color, which moves in a parallel fashion up a minor 3rd before resolving. New sound and concept for you? Anyway, as I initially explored the softening of the diminished color through the melodic minor filter, I thought, well, if melodic minor is cool, what about harmonic minor, or a minor triad or...? Gradually, the melodies from these additional groups of pitches, permutated through a diminished filter, have began to emerge in my lines. What I find really interesting is that as these common musical elements are explored, broken down and remixed within this "diminished softening process", unique and formerly undiscovered qualities of tonal gravity of polytonality continue to organically evolve from within the music. So very cool.
So, does one need to exhaust the diminished color to move into the polytonal world or begin to reshape the tonal gravity in their music? Of course not, that is just the way that I got there. Now that I've had a chance to reflect on the process, it seems as if the diminished color was initially a way cool bridge away from the mainly diatonic realm of blues and rock, music I first ventured into. This bridge took me into jazz, where all of the pitches of the chromatic scale, and the theory to build any scale or chord color from any of it's pitches became the new and exciting challenge. Working through this challenge helped me to better internalize the sounds and language enough so that when the polytonal sounds did gradually begin to spontaneously emerge, I not only theoretically had a sense of their origins but could sort of hear the potential implications to reshape my existing ways of converging tonally to include these less restrictive, polytonal sounds. Of course, less restrictions generally imply greater personal responsibilities, thus it may be in the polytonal world. But can I still sing the line I want to play? Does it matter at this level of tonality?
Cool with these ideas? Have a sense of how my use of the term "softening" is applied to musical color? Perhaps needless to say, we are not generally involved with folk, pop or rock music, maybe a shade of the blues but even that would be a stretch. Jazz and beyond? Pretty much. Here is the chart originally used to outline possible placement for the diminished color from each of the 12 points of the chromatic scale within the framework of the major tonality based on the pitch C. This version of the chart now includes softened hues created from the diminished color for each of the entries by scale degree. Example 3.
|chromatic scale pitch||C/One||C#/Db||D/Two||D#/Eb||E/Three||F/Four|
|diminished color numerical representation||i °||# i °
bII 7 b9
II 7 b9
|# ii °
bIII 7 b9
|III 7 b9||iv °|
|primary softened color||C 13||Db 9||D Ø||D# ° 7||E 9||F 9|
|secondary softened color||C maj #15||Db maj 7b5||D 9||Eb 9||E min 7||F maj 9 #11|
|chromatic scale degree||F#/Gb||G/Five||G#/Ab||A/Six||A#/Bb||B/Seven|
|numerical representation||# iv °
# iv Ø
|V 7 b9||b vi ° 7||VI 7 b9||bVII 7 b9||vii °
|primary softened color||F# 9||G 13 b9||Ab maj 7||A 13||Bb 7 b9||B 6 / 9|
|secondary softened color||F# 9 / E||G / Ab||Ab maj 7 #11||A 7 b9||C / Bb||B 6/9 maj 7|
As can be seen by the above chart, softening the diminished color usually creates some form of dominant tension, the original colors altered to get to the diminished sounds. The symmetrical nature and sound of the diminished color makes it pretty much non-denominational, it does not know or create any sense of key or tonal center, creating just a "need" to get there. The softened colors are oftentimes easily identifiable to a key center and tonality. So, when substituting softer colors for the diminished sounds in common chord progressions, the music takes on a more polytonal character, as our softened chords imply more of the color of the key they diatonically come from as compared to the freer diminished color. Here are possible realizations of the above concepts.
Tonic / One. Softening the tonic color is kinda wacky in that using the diminished color on the tonic is pretty rare in and of itself, so nothing to really soften. One rather common idea in this area is to bluesify the cadential resolution within tunes that are not generally blues tunes. Example 4.
|D min 7||G 7||C 7||C 6|
Sharp One. Softening the diminished chord between tonic and Two is oftentimes determined by which way the line is going. In an ascending direction, using sharp One diminished is most popular and there are no really common softened colors, although a half step lead in to the Two chord is very common among jazz and blues artists. Example 5.
|C maj 7||C# dim 7||D min 7||G 7|
Flat Two. Moving downward, any of the dominant chords built on the second degree are usually some type of tritone substitute. Here we use the dominant 9th color. Example 5a.
|D min 9||Db 9||C maj 7||
Two / Five of Five. The most common softened diminished color used on the 2nd scale degree is usually what is termed the Five of Five, a simple cycling of dominant type chords. Example 5.
|D 9||G 9||C maj 7||
Sharp Two / flat Three. Building a softened diminished color on the sharp 2nd degree is usually part of a chromatic version of Three / Six / Two Five, a common cadential motion in various styles of American music. Example 6.
|E min 7 Eb 9||D - 7 D b9||C major 7||
Three. Using the softened diminished color on the diatonic 3rd scale degree is most often part of the V 7b9 chord when modulating to the relative minor. Example 7.
|C maj 7||E 9||A min 9||
Four. Using a softened diminished color on the diatonic 4th scale degree of either the major or minor tonality is not something I have ever encountered. But wait , this just in ... March 5, 2004. "If You Don't Know Me By Now", a big hit for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in 1972, written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, uses the diminished color on the fourth scale degree. The phrase ends with the sounding of the dim 7 chord. Tis the only tune I ever heard where the diminished color appears on the fourth degree. Any other suggestions out there?
Sharp Four. Using the softened diminished color on the augmented 4th scale degree is a fairly common occurrence in the more advancing jazz / blues format. Here we simply move one chord voicing in parallel motion to achieve our effect. The following idea is the first 4 bars of a 12 bar blues form and uses the #4 dominant chord as a half step lead in to the Four chord, a "quick four" in some parts. Example 8.
|C 9 F# 9||F 9||C 9||C 9 C# 9|
Five. The dominant chord is by far and away the most "softened" of all of the possible chord degrees. The following idea combines both a bit of the b9 / diminished color with a motion of the minor 3rd, the interval building block of the diminished arpeggio. Example 9.
|Db Bb||G E||C maj 7||C maj 7|
New sound? Simply moving major triads down in minor 3rd's over a G dominant pedal.
Flat Six. Flat Six is not a popular diminished position, but it is very popular with the dominant family. Here is a common blues turnaround. Example 10.
|C 7||Bb7||Ab 7||G 7|
Six. We most oftentimes find the softened diminished color on the diatonic 6th degree as a vanilla dominant 7th chord, moving by a perfect fourth to the Two chord. Example 11.
|C maj 7||A 7||D min 7||G 7|
One / Six / Two / Five, sound familiar?
Flat Seven. A common softened diminished coloring of the flat Seven chord is when moving from the natural minor to the relative major tonality. Example 12.
|C min 7||F min 7||Bb 7||Eb maj 7|
Seven. On the diatonic 7th scale degree of the major tonality we commonly soften the diatonic half diminished color by using a chord exactly like the tonic we are approaching. Termed a constant structure, we approach the target chord from half step below, i.e., a half step lead in motion using the exact same chord voicing. Example 13.
|D min 7||G 7 B 6/9||C 6/9 maj 7||C 6/9 maj7# 11|
Generate a few new ideas for using the softened diminished color in your music? Interested to apply them to various of the diminished motions?
|Where to next?|
"Free expression is always a political act." Anonymous