• Week 11: Diminished Seventh Chord + Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    diminished seventh chord

    We’ll be doing a study on the diminished seventh chord in this post.

    Considering that we’ve covered the diminished triad in a previous post, I’ll assume that you’re familiar with what the term diminished means.

    In this week’s post, we are covering the ins and the outs of the diminished seventh chord, starting from its definition and onto its breakdown. In this breakdown, you’ll see what the diminished seventh chord is made up of, so you can understand its harmonic properties. I’ll also show you diverse ways to form this chord.

    So welcome aboard to the eleventh week in our FREE 16-week chord revival program.

    Let’s get to it!

    The Diminished Seventh Chord Defined

    The diminished seventh chord is the seventh degree chord of the [harmonic] minor scale.

    In the previous post, we studied the half-diminished seventh chord, which is the seventh degree chord of the major scale.

    Today, we are studying the diminished seventh chord, which is the seventh degree of the minor scale.

    Owing to the limitations or shortcomings of the natural minor scale, we are going to be exploring the chord formation of the diminished seventh chord using the harmonic minor scale.

    Suggested reading: Shortcomings of the natural minor scale.

    Using the A harmonic minor scale:

    …as a reference, the diminished seventh chord is the chord of the seventh degree (which is G# in this case.)

    If you use my pick-skip technique, you can easily fish out the notes of the chord of the seventh degree. Here we go…

    Pick G#:

    …skip A, pick B:

    …skip C, pick D:

    …skip E, and pick F:

    If you put together all the notes that we have picked, we’ll have G#, B, D, and F (the G# diminished seventh chord).

    Now if we transpose G# diminished seventh chord to C, we’ll have:

    C, Eb, Gb, and Bbb

    Considering that my chord share tool is not able to write double flats [and double sharps] yet, you’ll permit me to represent the C diminished seventh chord as:


    C, Eb, Gb, and A.

    Substituting Bbb with A is not just because they are enharmonically equivalent but because it makes the spelling simpler. I said this to say that I will not be strict with the proper spelling of chords that we always emphasize.

    Before we get into the next segment, always remember that…

    The diminished seventh chord is the seventh degree chord of the minor key while the half-diminished seventh chord is the seventh degree chord of the major key.

    Breakdown Of The Diminished Seventh Chord

    In this segment, we are breaking down the diminished seventh chord into smaller harmonic fragments known as intervals. These intervals are the building blocks of this chord.

    Quick Tip: If you want to have a proper understanding of a chord, break it down into intervals. These smaller fragments (intervals) will help you understand the distinct harmonic characteristics of the chord.

    So let’s look at the intervals that the G# diminished seventh chord can be broken down into.

    From G# to B:

    …is a minor third.

    From G# to D:

    …is a diminished fifth.

    From G# to F:

    …is a diminished seventh.

    Put together, the diminished seventh chord has three intervallic components:

    • The minor third
    • The diminished fifth
    • The diminished seventh interval

    Let’s subject these intervallic components to further analysis…

    #1 – The minor third interval

    The quality of the third in a chord determines the quality of that chord. The major third makes a major chord quality while the minor third makes a minor chord quality. Considering that the diminished seventh chord has a minor third, it is of a minor quality.

    #2 – The diminished fifth interval

    The diminished fifth interval is one the earliest harsh intervals to be discovered and therefore is synonymous with dissonance in music. Heck, it was even called diabolus in musica (the devil in music) so many centuries ago. For all intents and purposes, the diminished fifth interval represents instability and tension. Therefore, chords that contain the diminished fifth interval tend to resolve to chords that contain the perfect fifth interval.

    Note: The perfect fifth interval is considered as a universally consonant interval.

    Alright, let’s get on to the next intervallic component, which is the diminished seventh interval.

    #3 – The diminished seventh interval

    Permit me to use the C diminished seventh interval as a reference in this segment.

    The major seventh interval in the key of C consists of the first and seventh scale tones – C and B:

    …respectively.

    Lowering the B note [by a half step] to Bb, produces C and Bb – the minor seventh interval.

    If we lower the Bb by another half step, this will produce C and Bbb – the diminished seventh interval.

    Interestingly, the diminished seventh interval not only looks like, but sounds like the major sixth interval even though they differ in spelling. Let me reiterate that I’ll use the major sixth interval to substitute the diminished seventh interval because my chord share tool cannot represent double flats and double sharps yet.

    “So put together, how do these three intervallic components contribute to the diminished seventh chord?”

    Quality: The quality of third determines its quality. In this case, it starts out minor.

    Stability: The quality of fifth determines the stability of a chord. Owing to the fact that the diminished seventh chord has the diminished fifth, it is considered very dissonant and unstable.

    Usage: The diminished seventh chord contains the diminished seventh interval – a rare interval.

    So the diminished seventh chord contains two dissonant intervallic components; the diminished seventh and the diminished fifth.

    Let’s now get into its chord formation.

    Alternative Approach To The Chord Formation Of The Diminished Seventh Chord

    In this segment, we’re covering the chord formation of the diminished seventh chord. Like I promised in the beginning, I’ll be giving you various techniques and approaches to its chord formation.

    To get started, we will be exploring the scale approach before we consider other alternative techniques like the interval and chordal approaches.

    Scale Approach to the Formation of the Diminished Seventh Chord

    The scale approach to the formation of the diminished seventh chord involves the use of the octatonic scale, which we’ve covered in a previous lesson. So I suggest that you read my post on the octatonic scale before you continue.

    One of the easiest ways to form a chord using any given scale is the pick-skip technique. Here’s how it works…

    Pick the note on the keyboard that you desire to form the diminished seventh chord on, then pick and skip the notes of the diminished (octatonic) scale.

    To form the C diminished seventh chord using the C octatonic scale:

    …all you need to do is pick C:

    …skip D and pick Eb:

    …skip F and pick Gb:

    …skip G# and pick A:

    If we put together all the notes that we’ve picked so far, we’ll have the C diminished seventh chord:

    Submission: We’re using the octatonic scale because it is easier than the seventh mode of the harmonic minor scale. Irrespective of the scale we use, we will arrive pretty much at the same answer. The only thing is that we’ll be challenged with the issue of proper spelling, which I submitted in the beginning that we are not going to stick to the strict spelling of the chords. Therefore, in this lesson, we’ll be substituting the seventh mode of the harmonic minor scale with the octatonic (diminished) scale.

    Now to take us to the next level, we will be exposing ourselves to the interval approach to the chord formation of the diminished seventh chord.

    Interval Approach to the Formation of the Diminished Seventh Chord

    In the beginning of this lesson, we broke down the diminished seventh chord into three intervals: the minor third, the diminished fifth, and the diminished seventh intervals, respectively.

    However, in this chord formation approach, we’ll be substituting the diminished seventh interval (C-Bbb) with the major sixth interval (C-A).

    So instead of having the minor third, diminished fifth and diminished seventh interval, we will be having the minor third, diminished fifth and major sixth interval as the intervallic components of the diminished seventh chord.

    Putting the minor third, diminished fifth, and major sixth intervals together in any key that you are in produces the diminished seventh chord.

    “How do I form the minor third interval?”

    The relationship between the tonic (first tone) and the flattened (lowered) third degree of any given major scale produces a minor third interval.

    “How do I form the diminished fifth interval?”

    The relationship between the tonic and the flattened fifth degree of any given major scale produces the diminished fifth interval.

    “How do I form the major sixth interval?”

    The relationship between the tonic and the sixth degree of any given major scale produces the major sixth interval.

    Let’s put these components together in the key of D.

    The minor third interval from D is F:

    …F is lower than the third degree of the D major scale (F#) by a half step.

    The diminished fifth interval from D is Ab:

    …Ab is lower than the fifth degree of the D major scale (A) by a half step.

    The major sixth interval from D is B:

    …B is the sixth degree of the D major scale.

    Putting all the intervals in one octave produces the D diminished seventh chord:

    …made up of D, F, Ab, and B.

    Attention: The proper spelling of the D diminished seventh chord is D, F, Ab, and Cb. However, we are not sticking to the strict spellings of the chords because we want to keep it simple.

    Chord Approach to the Formation of the Diminished Seventh Chord

    If you are familiar with the diminished triad that we covered in a previous week in our FREE 16-week chord revival program, then the diminished seventh chord is within your reach.

    It’s as easy as adding the sixth tone of the major scale from the root of the diminished triad to produce the diminished seventh chord.

    So if you are familiar with the C diminished triad:

    …which consists of C, Eb, and Gb, all you need to do is to add the sixth tone of the C major scale (which is A):

    …to the C diminished triad:

    …to produce the C diminished seventh chord:

    Doing this in all the keys will produce the diminished seventh chord in all the keys.

    Final Words

    The diminished seventh chords is one tritonic chord you can reckon with and this makes it useful in the formation of dominant chords.

    The diminished seventh chord contains two mutual tritones. Using the C diminished seventh chord as an example:

    There are two mutual tritones in the C diminished seventh chord…

    Tritone #1

    C-Gb:

    Tritone #2

    Eb-A:

    When our president said this chord sounds scary in GospelKeys 300 (where he broke down how to apply the diminished seventh chord) he meant it. If the interval was known as the “devil in music” centuries ago, what would you call two of them in one chord?

    We’ll talk more about the diminished seventh chord later. For now, make the most of what we’ve covered and don’t forget to download our free chord cheat cheat.

     

    P.S.

    Here are the diminished seventh chords in all keys with informal spelling:

    C diminished seventh:

    C# diminished seventh:

    D diminished seventh:

    D# diminished seventh:

    E diminished seventh:

    F diminished seventh:

    F diminished seventh:

    G diminished seventh:

    G# diminished seventh:

    A diminished seventh:

    A# diminished seventh:

    B diminished seventh:

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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