Diminished Chords: Made Easy For Beginners

Diminished chords are a powerful tool used to propel lackluster chord progressions forward with conviction. These guitar chords are a bit more complicated to understand than major and minor chords and because of their dissonant sound, complicated to implement with taste. Diminished chords are created by stacking two minor 3rds. These chords are considered symmetrical. 

In this article we discuss what diminished chords are, how to play them, and most importantly, how to use them in your music. Lastly we will include a FAQ to clear up any misunderstandings.

Read on to learn all about diminished chords!

diminished chords

Understanding Diminished Chords

When building a diminished triad, you can think of taking a minor chord and lowering the 5th a half step. This creates a triad with two minor 3rds as building blocks. If we take E minor, EGB and make it diminished, it becomes EGBb..

E -> G = m3

G -> Bb = m3

m3 + m3 = Diminished Triad (°5)

When we read musical notation, a diminished chord will have a little circle beside the chord symbol. (°) 

A half diminished 7th chord will have a little circle with a line through it (ø)

When roman numerals are used, we use a lowercase roman numeral, such as vii, followed by a diminished or half diminished symbol. (vii°) 

Diminished chords are not used too often because of their dissonant quality. However, their sense of instability makes them great for usage as passing chords, where the resolution will be even more satisfactory.

Much like augmented chords, diminished chords are symmetrical, they produce an interesting phenomenon when inverted. They produce another diminished chord! Meaning that an inverted diminished chord is up to the interpretation of the music analyst.

How To Play Diminished Chords

Below we have the shapes to play diminished triads on all string sets. These shapes can be moved up and down the fret board.

Root on 6 Shape

diminished chord root 6

Root on 5 Shape

dim chord shape root 5

Root on 4 Shape

dim chord shape root 4

Root On 3 Shape

dim triad easy

Functions and Usage Of Diminished Chords

Diminished chords have been utilized in many different ways in music, and  in genres ranging from classical, to jazz, to pop. let’s explore some ways that popular songs have used diminished chords.

Passing Chords

The unstable tendency of the diminished chord makes it a great passing chord. We hear this in Bennie and The Jets, where the diminished chord acts as a passing chord between the I and ii chords. 

You could also use a diminished chord in a I – vi progression, where you would place a diminished chord a half step before the vi chord.

Harmonic Progressions

While they aren’t nearly as common as major and minor chords, diminished chords do occur naturally in both major and minor keys. In a major key, the vii° is diminished. In a natural minor key, the ii° is diminished. However, when we use the harmonic minor scale, which we often do, the vii° becomes diminished as well. 

Line Cliche

A line cliche is a step-wise melody that moves through a chord. You can hear this is David Bowie’s Life On Mars:

Substitutions

We can also substitute a V7 chord for a fully diminished 7 chord one half step above the V.

If G7 was the usual dominant 7, we would instead use a G#°.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 diminished chords?

The 3 types of diminished chords are diminished triad, fully diminished 7th and half diminished 7th chords. A fully diminished 7th chord is a 7th chord with a diminished triad and a diminished 7th. A half diminished 7th chord is a diminished triad with a minor 7th on top.

What is a diminished chord formula?

The formula for creating a diminished chord is minor 3rd + minor 3rd.

How do you make a diminished chord?

Let’s take a minor chord: DFA. When we lower the 5th, it becomes D diminished. DFAb.

Starting on D, we would move up 3 frets, we land on F, then we add 3 more frets, we land on Ab. Thus, the notes in a D diminished chord are D F Ab.

Why is the 7 chord diminished?

In a major key, a diminished chord naturally occurs on the leading tone when we follow the key signature.

The 7th scale degree is only 1 half step below the tonic, which could explain why the chord is packed so tightly as with all diminished chords.

Conclusion

On their own diminished chords might sound eerie and dissonant, but in the right context sound satisfying and energizing. By adding a sense of tension before resolving, diminished chords give a lot of flare to an otherwise simple chord progression

Diminished chords are built from stacking two minor 3rds on top of each other. You can think of them as a minor triad with a diminished 5th. 

In a major key, the 7 chord is always diminished. In a minor key, the 2 chord is always diminished and the 7 chord is diminished sometimes when we borrow from the harmonic minor scale.

Keep your ears open for any diminished chords in your favorite songs!

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