The Sixth Diminished Scale is not a ‘regular scale’ but rather a ‘scale of chords.’ The concept was devised by the jazz pianist Barry Harris to harmonize and create motion in jazz over the major or the minor mode. There are two types of six diminished scales, the ‘major’ sixth diminished and the ‘minor’ sixth diminished scale.
The ‘Major Sixth Diminished Scale’ is a scale of chords built over the major bebop scale.
And the ‘Minor Sixth Diminished Scale’ is a scale of chords built over the minor bebop scale.
The reason why Barry Harris named it ‘The 6th Diminished Scale’ is that when we add the chord formation on top of the scale, we get a set of two chords: a 6th chord and a diminished 7th chord. Hence the name ‘the 6th diminished scale.’
For instance, over the Major Bebop Scale, the first chord is a Major 6, the 2nd is a Diminished 7, the 3rd is a Major 6, the 4th is a Diminished 7, and so on.
And, over the Minor Bebop Scale, the first chord is a Minor 6, the 2nd is a Diminished 7, the 3rd is a Minor 6, the 4th is a Diminished 7, and so on.
The Sixth Diminished Scale can be used as an alternative to the Major or the Minor Scale to re-harmonize melodies using the ‘diminished notes’ coming from the diminished chord.
Diminished notes promote movement and create beautiful dissonances that embellish our harmonic progressions. The use of diminished notes is a fantastic resource for arranging strings and horns, and it also facilitates our counterpoint, especially when we play ‘chord-melody’ on the piano.
We can also create the ‘Scale of Chords’ beginning with a ‘Major 7’ chord instead of a ‘Major 6’ over the Major Bebop Scale. Or we can begin with a ‘Minor 7’ chord instead of a ‘Minor 6’ over the Minor Bebop Scale, obtaining a great variety of dissonant-sounding chords.
Over the ‘major bebop’ scale:
Over the ‘minor bebop’ scale:
In the video contained in this article, you can watch examples of how we can use the sixth diminished scale to borrow diminished notes in our chord progressions to create movement and variety in our improvisation.