Observation: 7bb is the same as diminished seventh. As 5b is the diminished fifth, in this chord we have two diminished notes. Then, it is not without reason that this chord is called “diminished chord”, is it?!
Let’s make a chord then to see how it works.
Making a diminished chord
Example of diminished C:
- First degree: C
- Third minor degree: Eb
- Fifth diminished degree: Gb
- Seventh diminished degree: A
Resulting chord: Cº
The used symbol to a diminished chord is the degree symbol above the chord’s letter: C°. But some authors also use the notation “dim”: Cdim
The diminished interval
One easy way of thinking in diminished chord is remember the interval “one and a half tone”, because all the degrees in a diminished chord have one and a half tone of distance among them. Check it:
Distance from the 1st degree to 3rd minor degree: one and a half tone.
Distance from the 3rd minor degree to 5th diminished degree: one and a half tone.
Distance from the 5th degree to 7th diminished degree: one and a half tone.
This gives a really particular characteristic: This chord repeats itself in each one and a half tone. In other words, if you make the diminished chord in the guitar fretboard, in keyboard or in any other instrument and move to this same chord one and a half tone above or below, the chord will continue being the same!
The only thing that will change will be the localization of the notes in relation to your fingers, but the whole chord will have the same notes, in other words, it will be exactly the same. Check below in the guitar fretboard the Diminished C chord and its respective notes:
Now this chord moved one and a half tone above:
Another one and a half tone:
Another one and a half tone:
Moral of the story: C° = Eb° = Gb° = A°
This is really convenient, because if we want to play, for example, A°, we can play C° (which is the same chord!). This is useful if we are playing in a region in the fretboard where C° is closer than A°. In another situation, the closer and more convenient chord to be played can be D#°, so we can play it instead of A°. Nice, isn’t it?!
How many diminished chords exist?
You can see that, as there are 12 notes and that a diminished chord corresponds to other 4 identical chords like them, we can conclude that there are only 3 different diminished chords. They are: C°, C#° e D°. The other chords will be consequence of these three:
C° = D#° = F#° = A°
C#° = E° = G° = A#°
D° = F° = G#° = B°
Very well, we already know as a diminished chord is made, so now it’s time to analyze it in the point of view of harmonic functions and general applications. Are you ready? So, let’s go:
Harmonic Function of a diminished chord
The diminished chord has two tritones. They are between:
- The first degree and the diminished fifth;
- The third minor and the diminished seventh.
Well, in case of not being explicit, the diminished chord has dominant function! Having two tritones it is not a small thing, is it?! So, we can use it to replace dominant chords (like V7, for example). In this case, we can exchange the V7 chord by the diminished chord located one semitone above it. For example, the V7 chord could be replaced by G#° (or its equivalents B°, D° e F°).
We will give as exercise to you to check the notes of G#° and compare then with the notes of G7. You will see that the tritone of G7 is present in G#°, what allows this substitution. This is one of the applications of diminished chord, to serve as option of dominant chord. Check below one example of substitution from the G7 chord to a diminished chord:
Download the file from Guitar Pro and check it: Diminishedchord(V7).gpro
When a diminished chord has the same bass note (the lower note) of the chord that it solves, it is called auxiliary diminished. Examples:
- | G7M | G° | G7M |
- | C7M | G° | G7 |
The auxiliary diminished chord solves the resolution and gives a minimum harmonic movement, as it keeps the bass note.
Ascending and descending diminished chords
Another application, and maybe the most used, is playing the diminished to explore the effect of chromatic approximation. In this case, the diminished chord uses to be played one semitone above or below the chords we want to solve, being called, respectively as ascending diminished and descending diminished.
Nice, but can we use ascending and descending diminished chords to solve in any major or minor chord? Well, in theory yes, but in practice this will not always sound good. The descending diminished doesn’t act like dominant, because it doesn’t have the same tritone from the chord V7, in the opposite of ascending diminished.
Maybe you are confused now, because we already said that the diminished chord has two tritones, so why does not descending diminished act like dominant function? Well, just to remember, the concept of tritone refers itself to a necessity of resolution. When we play a tritone, there is a need of this “tense” interval being solved, and the resolution you wait is doing that each note of this tritone be replaced one semitone. For example, the tritone of the chord G7 is between the notes F and A. When F goes one semitone below, it becomes a G and when A goes one semitone above, it becomes a C. This is why the waited chord to solve this “tension” is C, which has these two notes (C and G, first and fifth degrees, respectively). If the chord G7 was solved in another chord than C, we would have a deceptive resolution. Until here there is nothing new. Now, imagine that the song is in A major tonality and that the sequence G7 – F#7 – B appears. In this case, the chord F#7 is the dominant that was solved in A major, while G7 served as a chromatic approach chord.
It wouldn’t be wrong saying that G7 was a dominant that had a deceptive resolution, but this main function in this song would be the chromatic approach effect, because the waited resolution for G7 is C major, which doesn’t belong to A major tonality. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to think in G7 as a dominant that was starting a modulation and suffered a deceptive resolution if it provided another effect to the song. The same happens with de descending diminished. The tritones of a diminished chord don’t solve themselves the same way that the chord V7, therefore, the descending diminished has only a chromatic function, and this makes that its use is not always pleasant.
Let’s see now two approaches (ascending and descending diminished) and find out which are the most used ones when the chord that you want to solve is major or minor.
Resolution to minor chords
When the chord that you want to solve is a minor chord, the ascending diminished is, without any doubt, the most used and it always work! It is hard to not be beautiful. But there are a lot o people who like to use the descending diminished in this resolution. So, don’t be tied to ascending diminished only! Explore both concepts.
Resolution to major chords
And for major chords, the ascending diminished can also be used due the fact of being similar to VIIm7(b5) (chord from seventh degree in the major harmonic field). Because of it, the ascending diminished sounds like it was tonal.
And the descending diminished is replaced by SubV7 (we will talk about this chord in the next level) when the desire is to explore this chromatic effect to major chords. It’s up to you to define your tastes.
When can we use the ascending or descending diminished chord?
Summarizing, the ascending diminished, for both major and minor chords, can be used without fear. But the descending diminished needs some caution. Speaking in a generic way, the ascending diminished is the most common function of the diminished chord in songs, especially for resolution in minor chords.
Diminished as passing chord
In both cases of ascending and descending, diminished chord appears like a passing chord.
Check below some applications of the diminished chord in different harmonic contexts. In these examples of Guitar Pro, we will work with cadences II, V, I.
To minor chords, the sequence will be: | Em7(b5) | A7(#5) | Dm7(9) |.
To major chords, the sequence will be: | Dm7 | G7 | C7M |.
So let’s go! We have 4 cadences to show (ascending and descending diminished to resolution in major and minor chords).
- Ascending diminished being solved in a minor chord: Download the file: minorascending.gpro
Here in this file we showed how is the perfect substitution of A7(#5) to ascending diminished C#°. In the next verse we chose to use the dominant compass to play A7(#5) and after this to make the chromatic cadence C7M, C#°, Dm7(9).
So, we showed that is possible to use the ascending diminished as well as alone or in a chromatic cadence.
- Ascending diminished being solved in a major chord: download the file: majorascending.gpro
First, we showed in this file how the simple substitution of G7 to B° is. After that, we used the bar line of the dominant to play with alternations between G7 and B°. This “game” makes seem that we are playing many chords; it gives the idea that we know a lot about harmony, when actually we are only alternating chords with the same harmonic function, with no mysteries. To give even a better impression that you are playing many chords and varying in your harmony, try to use the equivalent diminished B° = D° = F° = G#° to enrich your base.
- Descending diminished being solved in a minor chord: Download the file: minordescending.gpro
As usual, first we showed the perfect substitution of A7(#5) to D#°. The detail here chose the Dm7 chord instead of Dm7(9) after D#°, because this way we could keep a chromaticism in the second string (passing through the frets 8, 7 and 6 of the guitar). If we play Dm7(9), the sequence would be more abrupt and less pleasant to our ear due the direct passage from the fret 7 to 5 in the second string. But don’t worry with this detail now; we will study more this concept when we study reharmonization. Pay attention now only in the given cadence.
In the same way that we did before, here we also worked with the idea of chromaticism playing the sequence Em7(b5), D#° and Dm7. See how this sonority became.
- Descending diminished being solved in a major chord: Download the file: majordescending.gpro
To finish, in the descending diminished to a major chord, we explored the same previous ideas, and is appropriate to highlight that we chose to play C7M(9) instead of C7M, because de chord C#° has many notes in common with C7M, so the cadence would lose its “strength” (we almost wouldn’t notice that is a cadence!). Playing C7M(9) we changed one more note between these two chords (C7M and C#°), in a attempt of differentiating them to our ear.
After all these examples, maybe you have agreed with the fact that, in practice, descending diminished chords need more attention and work of our part, because they don’t always fit together. These exercises serve as base to this concept. And the ascending diminished are just joy and fun, without great brain efforts connected. Which one of them did you like the most?
Share it now with your friends and add diminished chords in the arrangement of your songs!
Go to: Diminished scale
Back to: Module 9