Diminished Chords: A Music Theory Guide

By Jade Bultitude
Published on

Diminished chords have captivated musicians for centuries. Their dissonant nature adds tension, making them a useful tool for any musician. But how do these chords work? And how can you incorporate them into your own music?

Understanding Diminished Chords

At their core, diminished chords are triads built on stacked minor thirds. Thisstructure creates a dissonance that the ear wants to resolve. The tension builds as the diminished chord lingers, and the release arrives when it finally resolves to a more stable harmony. This push-and-pull creates a sense of drama and anticipation in the song.

Here’s an example of a C diminished chord. It uses the following intervals:

  • Root Note
  • Minor 3rd
  • Diminished 5th
C diminished chord, C, Eb, Gb

A diminished 5th is a flattened 5th note. Remember that if you lower a perfect 5th by a semitone you get a diminished 5th.

how are Diminished Chords used in songs?

While resolving diminished chords is a common practice, there are versatile chords. There are three main uses:

  • Chromaticism: Diminished chords can act as springboards for chromatic passages. This is when a song ventures outside the notes in the key.
  • Modulation: These versatile chords can also be used to smoothly transitioning between different keys.
  • Tension and Release: Diminished chords are masters of creating tension and release. Their dissonant nature keeps listeners on the edge of their seats, waiting for the satisfaction of resolution.

Famous Songs That Use Diminished Chords

When played in isolation, diminished chords have a distinctly dissonant sound. But these chords come into their own when seen as part of a chord progression. In the right progression, diminished chords at so much character and interest to a song.

Here’s 4 popular examples of diminished chords in action.

‘don’t Look Back in Anger’ – Oasis

The song is in C major and the bridge section moves from a G (the fifth chord in the key) and an Amin (the 6th chord in the key).

don't look back in anger, oasis, music and chords

To make this transition more interesting, Noel Gallagher starts on G major then moves to G diminished before moving to the Amin. This provides some tension (the G dim) and release (the A Minor) give the bridge a more satisfying feel.

‘Bennie And The Jets’ – Elton John

In ‘Bennie and the Jets’ Elton John used a G diminished chord to move between the tonic chord (G) and the 2nd chord (Amin)

Bennie and the jets- Elton John, music and chords

This gives a smooth transition that is more interesting that simply staying on the G major before moving to the A minor chord.

‘Bridge Over Troubled water’ – Simon & Garfunkel

In the chorus of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, Simone and Garfunkel use a F#dim/A to give a sweet resolution to the tonic chord of Eb major.

bridge over troubled water music and chords

‘This love’ – Maroon 5

The hook to this song has clever used a Ddim7 chord which then resolves to the G/D chord.

maroon 5 this love music and chords

The funky addition notes added to the chords give a stepping movement that adds to the catchiness!

Learn more about Diminished Chords

using Diminished Chords in your own Music!

So, how can you harness the power of diminished chords in your own music?

  • Start simple: Begin by learning how to build and play diminished chords in various inversions. Get comfortable with their sound and fingering before venturing into more complex applications.
  • Experiment with resolution: Try resolving diminished chords to different types of chords, observing how the character of the resolution changes the overall feel.
  • Listen and learn: Immerse yourself in music that utilizes diminished chords effectively. Pay attention to how master musicians wield these dissonant gems to create emotional impact.

Remember, diminished chords are powerful tools, but like any powerful tool, they require careful handling. Use them sparingly and strategically to avoid overwhelming your listeners with dissonance. When used thoughtfully, they can add depth, intrigue, and emotional resonance to your music.

Diminished Seventh Chords

A diminished seventh chord contains 4 notes and is based on the diminished triad, but with an added seventh. The note of a dim 7th chord are:

  • Root note
  • Minor 3rd
  • Diminished 5th
  • Diminished 7th

An example in the key of C is shown below: C, Eb, Gb and B double flat.

Half Diminished 7th Chords

A half diminished seventh chord contains 4 notes and is based on the diminished triad, but with an added minor seventh. The note of a dim 7th chord are:

  • Root note
  • Minor 3rd
  • Diminished 5th
  • Minor 7th

An example in the key of C is shown below: C, Eb, Gb and Bb.

C half diminished seventh chord
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Jade is a flute player and music educator with a passion for educating the next generation of musicians. She is a Masters Graduate from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Jade has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.