• Don’t be “skerrrrred” of diminished chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Theory

    strangers movieI just saw the horror flick “Strangers” and I couldn’t help but to notice the over-exaggerated use of effects and music.

    (BTW, save your money on this movie… this is not an endorsement).

    I’m all for a diminished chord here and there to intensify a scene but the director’s attempt to really scare you went overboard. I won’t lie though… I flinched a few times. hehe

    But this is what I really want to talk about…

    Diminished chords are not only great in horror scenes. You’ll find them all throughout contemporary gospel music, jazz, blues, and other styles.

    In gospel and Christian music, they were actually banned several centuries ago because of their “devilish,” diminished sound. Nowadays, they are commonplace as the right amount of dissonance in the right places has been widely accepted and almost associated with being an “outside-the-box” player.

    So I just thought I’d include something for everyone in this post.

    For my beginners, I’ll show you how to form diminished chords. And for my more experienced players, I’ll show you another way to use diminished chords.

    For starters, this is how you form a diminished chord using numbers.

    I’ll use the C major scale.

    C D E F G A B C

    C = 1
    D = 2
    E = 3
    F = 4
    G = 5
    A = 6
    B = 7

    You can look at this many ways.

    You can just take tones 1, 3, and 5 and flat the 3 and 5.

    So that would be C, E, and G but you’d flat the E, making it Eb and the G, making it Gb.

    C diminished = C Eb Gb

    You can also start with a minor chord and just flat the 5th tone.

    C minor = C Eb G

    Flat the fifth tone to Gb

    C diminished = C Eb Gb

    You can also think in terms of intervals.

    Basic triad chords are made up of third intervals.

    There are two basic ones.

    Major third


    Minor third

    Major thirds = 4 half steps
    Minor thirds = 3 half steps

    (half steps are from key to key, with absolutely NO keys in between).

    So C to E is a major third because it has 4 half steps (C to C#, C# to D, D to D#, D# to E).

    C to Eb, though, is a minor third because it only has 3 half steps.

    So if you compare diminished chords to major and minor chords, you’d notice this:

    Major chords are basically a major third + minor third.

    Minor chords are basically a minor third + major third.

    Diminished chords are a minor third + minor third (thus the SUPER scary sound).

    So there’s a crash course for my beginners.

    Now, if you want to make a diminished seventh chord, it gets a little more trickier.

    You take the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of any major scale and you flat the 3 and 5 like normal (just like we did above for our basic diminished triad). But for the 7, you have to DOUBLE FLAT it.

    So if the C major scale is:

    C = 1
    D = 2
    E = 3
    F = 4
    G = 5
    A = 6
    B = 7

    You’d take C, E (flat it to Eb), and G (flat it to Gb). There’s your basic triad.

    Then you take the B and flat it to Bb, and then flat it again to Bbb.

    Note: Saying Bbb (pronounced “B double flat”) is the same as playing “A.” They are enharmonic (another topic in and of itself).

    Most people informally would spell out the C diminished chord as C Eb Gb A. This would be wrong on a music theory test but will slide anywhere else.

    To be correct, you say:

    C Eb Gb Bbb

    So basically when you talk about any major, minor, dominant, or diminished seventh chord in the key of C, you will always see C E G and B. No way around it.

    C major 7 = C E G B

    C minor 7 = C Eb G Bb

    C dominant 7 = C E G Bb


    C diminished 7 = C Eb Gb Bbb (the right way)!

    Phewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Now that I got that outta the way, here’s how to use the diminished chord (outside of just using it by itself).

    6-2-5-1 chord progression

    You can use a diminished seventh chord when you’re on the 6th tone of a scale and want to go to the 2nd tone of the scale.

    A normal 6-2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C major might look like this.

    A + C + E + G / A bass

    D + F + A + C / D bass

    D + F+ A + C / G bass

    C + E + G + B / C bass

    What if you took the A minor chord and kept your bass the same but used some type of diminished chord on your right hand?

    Try this:

    A# + C# + E + G / A bass

    And that will lead you perfectly to your D minor chord.

    A# + C# + E + G / A bass

    D + F + A + C / D bass

    D + F+ A + C / G bass

    C + E + G + B / C bass

    If you want a better D minor chord and want to keep that “G” on top, try playing:

    F + A + C + E + G / D bass

    (which is a “D minor 11”)

    So as you can see, diminished chords aren’t always scary. If you play them with their root bass, perhaps… but if you change their bass notes around and start experimenting with them, you can find a host of things to do!

    Until next time!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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