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Demystifying the Diminished Chord (Guitar Player)

Unlocking the Secrets of the Guitar’s Most Mysterious Grip


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Chord Type:

Diminished 7th - dim7

Name: dim7

dim7 Chords

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If we start from a dim chord (triad), and add another minor third on top of the chord, we get at dim7 (or °7 chord). You should notice that the diminished 7th interval = major 6th. The correct spelling of the notes in a Cdim7 chord is C-Eb-Gb-Bbb. The double flat (bb) means that the note is two half steps down. The dim7 is not a diatonic chord. The labeling becomes diccicult with many bbs. But you do not have to worry about this.

The chord is symmertic, with the same minor third between all the notes. There are only three basic dim7 chords, meaning that you get a four in one solution. These are the notes in the three basic dim7 chords:

  C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A/Bbb Bb B C
Cdim7 C     Eb     Gb     Bbb      
C#7/Dbdim7   C#/Db     E/Fb     G/Abb     Bb/Cbb    
Ddim7     D     F     Ab     Cb  
D#dim7/Ebdim7       D#/Eb     F#/Gb     A/Bbb     C/Dbb

The chords on each line in the table below has the same notes. I have listed ordinary enharmonics (both C#dim7 and Dbdim7), but not chords built on notes with bbs, only on the enharmonic equivalent:

Cdim7 D#dim7 Ebdim7 F#dim7 Gbdim7 Adim7
C#dim7 Dbdim7 Edim7 Gdim7 Bbdim7  
Ddim7 Fdim7 G#dim7 Abdim7 Bdim7  

To play these chords, there are three basic fingerings, and then three other variations. The three basic fingerings are:

As the 1st and 6th string has the same notes on the same frets, just two octaves apart, we can move the note from the 6th sring to the 1st string in the first basic position to get this one:

To the middle position, we can add the first string by playing a partial barre, or we can play a full barré.
For the last basic position, we can do the oposite move as we did with the first, and move the note on 1st string to 6th string.

These chord repeat themselves on every third fret up the neck. Listen to The Beatles' song Michelle for a nice example of this movement. The actual movement is described in the dim-chord section. The nice thing is that if you learn these seven fingerings and learn how to move them up and down the neck, 28 variations of the dim7 chord for each of the 12 keys. This means 336 various chord voicings with just seven shapes. The down side is that it is a chord that you will not use very often.

The dim7 is a very dissonant chord, with two tritone intervals. A Cdim7 has the tritone C-Gb-(C) and Eb-Bbb-(Eb). A tritone interval can resovle two ways. The F#-C is the tritone of the D7 chord, which resovels to the interval G-B in the G chord. If we invert the interval, we have the two same notes, C-F#. and the distance between the notes is the same. But we hav to rename the notes to get from the diminished 5th F#-C (two whole steps and two half steps) to an enharmonic augmented fourth (three whole steps). We then end up with F#-B# or Gb-C, and it is hard to say which one is worse. This is the tritone of the G#7 or Ab7, and it resolves to C# or Db. From a single tritone interval, we can resolve in two direction. If you are in the key of G, and play the tritone F#-C, you can use this as part of a pivot-chord in a modulation to C# (or Db).

But as said, the dim7 has two tritones. We aslo have the tritone Eb-Bbb. We have to rename this to the enharmonic Eb-A-(Eb) to illustrate the point. The A-Eb is the tritone in the F7 chord. If we invert it to Eb-A and then rename from diminished fifth to augmented fourth, we get the notes D#-A, which is the tritone in the B7 chord. We know that F7 is the V7 chord in Bb-major, and that B7 is the V7 in E-major.

This double tritone makes the dim7 a "four way crossing". You can arrive at the Cdim7 or any of its enharmonic equivalents from they keys C#/Db - E -G or Bb, and you can modulate and continue in any of those keys.

A:GP 2002-04, A:GP 2002-03

The more we look at the function of one specific chord, the more we move from progressions to general theory. You simply have to go back and forth between this series on progression and my Music Theory series. You should take a look at the lesson on The Tritone/diminished fifthand The dominant 7th. From this lesson you should know that the important interval in a dominant 7 chord is the tritone from 3 to 7. Then you should be ready for some diminished chord examples.

Big surprise: I start with The Beatles. In the introductory chorus to P.S. I Love You, they play the chords G - C#dim7 - D. In the other choruses the C#dim7 is omitted, and it just goes G - D (meaning that you may play these two chords in the opening as well if you find the C#dim7 difficult, and very few will notice ....). The C#dim has the notes C#-E-G, or C#-E-G-Bb if we extend it to a C#dim7. (The dim7 is really a 4 in 1 chord. It is symmetrical, with a minor third between all the notes. The C#dim7 and Bbdim7 have the same notes and are completely interchangeable.) If we take a look at the A7, it has the notes A-C#-E-G. As you see, three of the four notes are the same. And what is really important: They both have the important tritone interval C#-G (or G-C#). So the way I view the C#dim7 in this context, is that it is an A7 substitution. Instead of playing the familiar Three-chord trick IV-V-I we play IV-VIIdim7-I.

Recordings with - dim7 Chord

  • The Beatles - Michelle -
  • The Beatles - Because -
  • The Beatles - Blue Jay Way -
  • The Beatles - End -
  • The Beatles - Her Majesty -
  • The Beatles - It won't Be Long -
  • The Beatles - PS I Love You -
  • Robert Johnson - Kind Hearted Woman Blues -
  • Robert Johnson - Phonograph Blues -
  • Further references:

    Alt that jazz: The law of diminishing returns
    Lesson:
    Guitar World 2007 - 2007-12

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