Epic Action Music: Diminished Scale Mastery (pt. 1)


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Epic Action Music: Diminished Scale Mastery (Pt. 1)

epic action music

For composers of any level, learning to use a diminished scale can be a game-changing experience. We hope to help illustrate some of the possibilities that the scale provides, especially if this is new and you have never ventured into this area of music theory before. For larger-than-life action music, a simple array of notes from this scale can be used for frenetic string runs, combative bass ostinatos, or even as a melody.

Throughout this two-part series, we will delve into the world of diminished scales and explore the concept of diminished scales, their construction, and practical applications. To top it off, we’ll showcase the creation of an awe-inspiring action song crafted exclusively with the diminished scale.

This is what our final results will sound like.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

Examples of Music with Apparent Usage of the Diminished Scale

– Alan Silvestri, “Preparing Camp Attack,” “Main Title,” “Billy” from the movie Predator* (1987)

– King Crimson, “Red” from the album Red (1974)

– John Williams, “The Forest Battle” from the movie Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

– John Powell, “Focus Hiccup” from the movie How to Train Your Dragon (2010) 

– Boris Salchow, “The Fall of Haven Town” from the game Resistance 3 (2011)

*The entire Predator score is well worth studying to have a better grasp of the Diminished  scale

Diminished Scale: Definition

The diminished scale, as it is known in jazz theory, is an eight-note scale built from a series of alternating half-steps and whole-steps. There are two main forms of the scale, depending on the sequence of intervals you use: (a) Whole-Half, and (b) Half-Whole. Either configuration will result in scale tones that spell out two fully diminished seventh chords, which is one explanation for the name of the scale – the “diminished” scale.

Fig. A-1 Diminished Chords within a Diminished Scale

C Whole-Half Diminished Scale

C dim7 & D dim7

The diminished scale has a symmetrical structure, meaning the octave is divided into two equal parts. The two halves of the scale share an identical pattern of whole-steps and half-steps (See Fig. A-2). Incidentally, we end up with two tetrachords (four-note scales) with starting notes spaced a tritone apart. The first four notes spell out the beginning of a C Minor scale, and the next four notes spell out the beginning of an F♯ minor scale. 

Fig. A-2 Symmetry of the Diminished Scale

💡 Tips) Octatonic Scale
The diminished scale is also known as an octatonic scale in Western classical music theory. As the name suggests, “octa-tonic” means an eight-tone scale. Technically, an octatonic scale refers to any scale containing eight notes, but the term usually indicates a scale built from alternating half-steps and whole-steps.

Diminished Scale: Two Types

1st Type: Whole-Half

When the diminished scale ascends in a Whole-Half sequence (alternating first by whole-step, then by half-step), we call it the Whole-Half Diminished Scale, or the Symmetric Diminished Scale. The scale can be used to build phrases that harmonize with diminished chords. (See Fig. B-1)

Fig. B-1 C Whole-Half Diminished Scale

C Whole-Half Diminished Scale

C dim7

2nd Type: Half-Whole

When the diminished scale ascends using the Half-Whole sequence, we call it the Half-Whole Diminished scale, or the Symmetric Dominant Scale. Traditionally, musicians have used this scale to create melodies over dominant seventh chords, especially those with ♭9, ♯9, and ♯11 tensions (eg. C7♭9 ♯9 ♯11). (See Fig. B-2)

Fig. B-2 C Half-Whole Diminished Scale

C Half-Whole Diminished Scale


Summary of Diminished Scales

  • There are two types of diminished scales: Whole-Half, and Half-Whole, depending on the intervallic sequence of the scale pattern
  • Each diminished scale contains a series of related, interchangeable scales. Playing a diminished scale starting on scale degrees 1, 3, 5, and 7 all yield the same collection of notes.

Now that we’ve extensively covered diminished scales, it’s time to witness their magic in part 2 of our series. Brace yourself as we bring them to life in intense ‘boss battles’ and eerie apocalyptic scenarios. Get a sneak peek by listening to the music we’ll be creating in our next lesson.

A song constructed entirely using the Diminished Scale – Galactic Battle [Working Title]


This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.