• I Know Diminished Triads. How Do I Apply Them?

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    Welcome to another exciting lesson on diminished chords.

    In a post in our classic 16 week chord revival program, we covered the ins and outs of the diminished triad – definition, intervallic breakdown, and formation. I’m a believer that after knowing the implication of a thing, knowing the application should follow. In our president and founder’s voice, “If you don’t use it; you’ll lose it.”

    It is on this light that I’ll want to share some ideas with you on the application of the diminished triad.

    Review Of The Diminished Triad

    Suggested Reading: The Diminished Triad.

    A triad is a collection of three related notes. Therefore the diminished triad is a collection of three related notes. An example of the diminished triad on the keyboard is the B diminished triad:

    …which consists of B, D, and F.

    Let’s get started by breaking  this 3-note chord (aka – “triad”) down into harmonic entities known as intervals.

    B to D:

    …a minor third interval.

    B to F:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    The diminished triad derives its name from one of its intervallic components – the diminished fifth interval.

    “Take note…”

    The diminished fifth interval is a harsh interval in music that is associated with instability, tension, and unpleasantness. Heck, there are people who believed that this is the devil’s interval. If you’ve ever come across the term tritone, it’s talking about this same diminished fifth interval.

    Further reading: Tritones vs The Diminished Fifth Interval.

    The other intervallic component – the minor third – influenced the quality of the diminished triad. So, the diminished triad is a minor triad by virtue of its third.

    In a side by side comparison, the B minor triad:

    …and the B diminished triad:

    …share two notes in common – B and D:

    …a minor third interval.

    However, the diminished triad has a fifth interval – B to F:

    …that is smaller than that of the minor triad – B to F#:

    You’ll practically need to diminish the fifth of the minor triad to form the diminished triad.

    In a way, the diminished triad is a minor triad, however, in terms of stability, it is entirely different from the minor triad.

    Scale Degree Position Of The Diminished Triad

    The major scale has 7 notes and each note is considered to be a degree from the first to the seventh degree.

    Music scholars have technical names assigned to every degree of the scale. The first degree of the scale which is the most important because all other degrees have their relationship with it is called the tonic.

    Here are the technical names of other scale degrees…

    2nd tone – supertonic

    3rd tone – mediant

    4th tone – subdominant

    5th tone – dominant

    6th tone – submediant

    7th tone – subtonic

    “Just before we continue…”

    At this point, it is imperative to say that the seventh tone of the scale is also known as the leading note. However, the name applies to the seventh degree when it is a half step below the tonic. This is one of the shortcomings of the natural minor scale.

    In the case of the major scale, the subtonic is lower than the tonic by a half step. In the C major scale:

    …you can clearly see that the subtonic (which is B):

    …is lower than the tonic (C):

    …by a half step.

    Henceforth, we’ll substitute the term subtonic with leading note in line with the purpose of this lesson.

    “Back to scale degrees…”

    Different qualities of triads can be formed on different scale degrees. Check them out…

    Tone

    Technical Name

    Chord Quality

    1st

    Tonic

    Major

    2nd

    Supertonic

    Minor

    3rd

    Mediant

    Minor

    4th

    Subdominant

    Major

    5th

    Dominant

    Major

    6th

    Submediant

    Minor

    7th

    Leading Note

    Diminished

    The diminished triad is associated with the seventh degree of the major scale. This explains why some people prefer calling it the leading note triad.

    In a major scale where scale degree triads are either major or minor, the position of the diminished triad as the leading note triad is unique and strategic, and that’s the next thing in our line of discussion.

    Leading Note Function Of The Diminished Triad

    The seventh degree of the scale is known as the leading note and this is because of its strong sense of attraction to the tonic whether melodically in the case of B:

    …moving to C:

    …or harmonically in the case of the B diminished triad:

    …moving to the C major triad:

    Resolution Of The Leading Note Triad

    Here’s how the leading note triad resolves to the tonic triad…

    The leading note triad consists of the seventh, second, and fourth tones of the major scale. The B diminished triad:

    …consists of B, D, and F, which are the seventh, second, and fourth tones of the C major scale respectively.

    The leading note triad resolves to the tonic chord which is a half step above its root. Its root ascends by a half step while the third and fifth tones ascend by a whole step.

    The B diminished seventh chord resolves to the C major triad thus:

    B (its root):

    …would ascend by a half step to C:

    …while D and F (its third and fifth tones):

    …would ascend by a whole step:

    …respectively.

    Application Of The Resolution Of The Diminished Triad

    The same way the leading tone triad resolves to the tonic, you can create the leading note to tonic attraction in other scale degrees. To do this, you must find the corresponding leading note of each scale degree and form a leading note triad on it.

    Here’s what I mean…

    The supertonic triad (aka – “chord 2”) in the key of the C:

    …is the D minor triad:

    A half step below the D:

    …is C#:

    …which is its leading note.

    Now that you’re aware that the leading note has a strong sense of attraction to the tonic, you can form a C# diminished triad:

    …and make it resolve to the D minor triad:

    “Can Diminished Triads Also Be Said To Function As Passing Chords?”

    The leading note triad literally leads you to your destination chord, which can be any of the scale degree chords. Therefore, you can’t be wrong if you call them passing chords.

    Further reading: Passing Chords 101.

    In the key of C, let me take you by the hand and show how to use diminished triads (aka – “leading note triads”) as passing chords that resolve to scale degree chords.

    On the top of the list is the leading note triad to the tonic.

    Passing Chord to the Tonic Triad

    The C major triad:

    …which is the tonic triad in the key of C has B:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the B diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the C major triad:

    Passing Chord to the Supertonic Triad

    The D minor triad:

    …which is the supertonic triad in the key of C has C#:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the C# diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the D minor triad:

    Passing Chord to the Mediant Triad

    The E minor triad:

    …which is the mediant triad in the key of C has D#:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the D# diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the E minor triad:

    Passing Chord to the Subdominant Triad

    The F major triad:

    …which is the subdominant triad in the key of C has E:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the E diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the F major triad:

    Passing Chord to the Dominant Triad

    The G major triad:

    …which is the dominant triad in the key of C has F#:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the F# diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the G major triad:

    Passing Chord to the Submediant Triad

    The A minor triad:

    …which is the submediant triad in the key of C has G#:

    …as its leading note. Therefore the G# diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the A minor triad:

    Note that it’s rare to have the Bb diminished triad:

    …lead to the B diminished triad:

    …which is the leading note triad.

    This is because the seventh degree triad is unstable and is considered to be a part of the dominant seventh chord. I’ll throw more light on this in the final segment.

    Submission: It’s rare for the leading note triad to lead to another leading note triad. This is because the diminished triad functions as a passing chord to major triads (of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees) and minor triads (of the second, third, and sixth degrees.)

    Final Words

    In a previous post, I made it clear that the diminished triad is the upper part of the dominant seventh chord. If the G dominant seventh chord:

    …is played without its root (G), the remaining part – B, D, and F:

    …is the B diminished triad.

    The dominant chord of the fifth degree and the leading note triad are related and can be used as passing chords interchangeably.

    Thanks for your time.

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Rick mata

    Gracias por las lecciones son en verdad muy útiles y bien explicadas
    Gracias maestro

    Reply

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