NOT ONLY IS PAT MARTINO AN
amazing guitarist, he’s one of the most original
thinkers to pick up the 6-string. In the
inspiring “Ten Things You Gotta Do To Play
Like Pat Martino” [Jan. 2010 GP], Jesse Gress
reminds us of Martino’s many insights regarding
harmony, music theory, and the fretboard.
One idea in particular—how you can unfold
a diminished 7 chord into four dominant 7s—
offers a potent way to explore chordal harmony
and view the fretboard from a new perspective.
Martino explains this theory in his Creative Force DVD [Alfred Publishing] and currently
out-of-print books, but many of us haven’t yet
had the opportunity to internalize the concept.
No time like the present, right?
First, let’s review the process and then
apply it to the fretboard. Here’s the premise:
If you lower any note within a diminished 7
chord by a half-step, you’ll get a dominant 7
with the lowered note as its root. Have you
ever unfolded a Transformer robot? It’s a similar
idea, only instead of a robot morphing
into a sports car or tank, we have a diminished
7 transforming into a dominant 7.
Check it out: A diminished 7 comprises
four notes. Because lowering any of the notes
will generate a new dominant 7, one diminished
7 voicing spawns four dominant 7s. This
is more than an intellectual curiosity. By playing
with “diminished transformers,” you can:
• Visualize the fretboard in new ways.
• Discover new dominant 7 voicings.
• Strengthen your understanding of music
• Sharpen your ability to hear harmonic
• Generate new fretting- and pickinghand
Let’s use a Cdim7 chord as the starting
point—our diminished transformer. Ex. 1 shows
a Cdim7 voicing on the inner four strings. Play
Cdim7 and then lower the note on string five
(C) by one half-step. Voilà— B7. Now return
to Cdim7, strum it to recalibrate your ear, and
then lower the note on string four (Gb) by one
half-step. This becomes the root of our next
dominant 7, F7. Continue the process, first
playing Cdim7 and then transforming it into
Ab7 and D7. As you work through this example,
notice how each chord’s root is shown as
a hollow circle on the grid, and every note’s
function is listed below the grid.
The next step is to create musical exercises
from the four dominant 7s to give your
hands and ears a workout. It’s important to
emphasize the root of each dom7—this helps
you “hear” it correctly. One way to accomplish
this is to create an arpeggio that starts
and ends with the root. Ex. 2 illustrates a few
of the many possibilities.
In Ex. 3, we use a Cdim7 voiced on the top
four strings as the transformer. Again, individually
lowering each note in this voicing
yields F7, B7, D7, and Ab7.
So far, we’ve been using dim7s voiced on
adjacent strings, but the transformer process
works equally well with voicings that occur
on split string-sets, as shown in Examples 4
and 5. Several of the resulting dominant 7
forms will be immediately familiar in these
examples, but there are some unexpected
treats, such as the Ab7 forms that have a 3
as their lowest tone. These particular inversions
make great passing chords and come
in handy when you want to spice up a 12-
There’s another hip angle to explore with
diminished transformers, and we’ll investigate
it in next month’s lesson. Meanwhile,
turn the dom7s in Examples 3-5 into picking
exercises, as we did in Ex. 2. Then look
for ways to incorporate some of these dom7
fingerings—especially those that are new to
Every chord type has a formula
that’s derived from a major scale—
our musical yardstick. For
instance, the formula for a dominant
7 chord is 1, 3, 5, b7—the first,
third, fifth, and lowered seventh
tones of a major scale. Apply this
formula to a Cmajor scale (C, D, E,
F, G, A, B, C), and you get C, E, G,
and Bb— C7’s component notes.
The formula for a diminished 7
chord is 1, b3, b5, bb7. Thus, Cdim7
consists of C, Eb, Gb, and Bbb. Sonically,
a bb7 note is the same as a
6, so many musicians choose the
latter when spelling a dim7 chord,
simply because it’s less of a
mouthful. Using this informal
approach, we’d identify Cdim7’s
component notes as C, Eb, Gb, and
A. — AE
Andy Ellis hosts The Guitar Show weekly radio
program, which streams online. Visit theguitarshow.
com for details.
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