The Beginner’s Guide to “Diminished Patterns”


This month we’re going to dig into what I affectionately label as “diminished patterns”. Now I should probably clarify, for those of you have listened to my band Sacred Mother Tongue, you’ll have heard that I often like to play riffs with a phrygian dominant/ harmonic minor sound (like on Bleeding Out) and a big part of my vocabulary in that sound comes from use of diminished arpeggios.

Now if we have a riff played in E phrygian dominant we’re using the notes E,F,G#,A,B,C,D which are the same notes as the A harmonic minor scale which is how I like to think when improvising with this sound, so the licks we’re playing here will work in in both a harmonic minor or phrygian dominant context. ‘this is obviously a sound you’ll heir in a lot of neoclassical metal from guys like Yngwie Malmsteen.

guitar guide

Now if you look at the notes in the A harmonic minor scale you’ll notice that it contains a diminished arpeggio, and as the diminished arpeggio is symmetrical (all the notes are the same distance apart so all four notes are the root) that means there are actually four, the B, D, F and G# diminished arpeggios you can use in the A harmonic minor scale, but as they all contain the same notes it’s probably best to think of it from one perspective.

Read more: Percussive Acoustic Guitar Techniques with Don Alder

So as an example, if you’re playing in A harmonic minor, you can move down one semitone to G# (the 7th) and play a diminished arpeggio and you’re going to be getting that diminished sound. If you’re working from an E phrygian perspective you can find your diminished arpeggio by sliding up a semitone to F (the b9) and playing a diminished arpeggio from there.

For lick number 1 I start with a descending harmonic minor picking pattern which moves down in octaves and then moving on to a diminished arpeggio idea starting on an F. Take a look at the diagram on the PDF to see how this arpeggio is mapped around the descending scale shape to really see how I see this idea.

Lick 2 is actually nothing more than fast alternate picking in the three note per string harmonic minor scale but as explained in the introduction, this fits in with my take on the diminished sound because of the context I use it in. As an experiment for the more advanced readers, when you get up to the 20th fret on the high E, shift down a semitone and continue the idea with a B diminished arpeggio and see what you can come up with.


The final lick this month is a real test for the fretting hand as we’re playing the notes of the diminished scale, but mapped out three notes per string. The best way to see this for yourself is to take a look at the diagram on the PDF where I’ve tried to lay this out for you in a blue vs black colour scheme.

That’s it for this month, I’ll see you next month where we’ll look at using octaves in the minor pentatonic scale using octaves, until then, keep rocking!

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