• Another Smart Way To Understand Diminished Seventh Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

    Today’s lesson presents to you another smart way to understand and connect diminished seventh chords.

    The diminished seventh chord is usually dreaded by beginners who are mainly concerned with major and minor triads. However, at the intermediate level where there is need to explore other classes of chords, learning and applying the diminished seventh chord becomes necessary.

    In the past, we’ve covered certain stress areas in the study of the diminished seventh chord, especially in our 16 week chord revival program and also learned how diminished seventh chords can either be resolved or applied.

    Let’s get ready for our study today by doing a short review on the diminished seventh chord.

    A Review On The Diminished Seventh Chord

    The diminished seventh chord is the seventh chord of the seventh degree of the minor key. Pursuant to traditional guidelines, the traditional scale of the minor key is the natural minor scale.

    However, because of certain reasons that time will fail me to highlight, the harmonic minor scale is often times used in chord formation. Therefore, permit me henceforth to use the harmonic minor scale as the traditional scale of the minor key.

    The diminished seventh chord can be formed from the seventh degree of the A harmonic minor scale:

    …which is G#:

    …using the pick-skip technique.

    Attention: The diminished seventh chord can also be formed on the seventh degree of the melodic minor scale.

    “Here’s how it’s done…”

    Using the A harmonic minor scale:

    …as a reference, pick and skip notes starting from G#:

    …until seven degrees of the scale is encompassed.

    Pick G#:

    …skip A and pick B:

    …skip C and pick D:

    …skip E and pick F:

    …and altogether that’s G#-B-D-F:

    …the G# diminished seventh chord, encompassing seven degrees of the A harmonic minor scale from G# to F:

    Check out the diminished seventh chord in all twelve keys…

    C diminished seventh chord:

    C# diminished seventh chord:

    D diminished seventh chord:

    D# diminished seventh chord:

    E diminished seventh chord:

    F diminished seventh chord:

    F# diminished seventh chord:

    G diminished seventh chord:

    G# diminished seventh chord:

    A diminished seventh chord:

    A# diminished seventh chord:

    B diminished seventh chord:

    Submission: As much as possible, I avoided the use of double-flat letter names. This is because my chord share tool is yet to spell double-flat names. Enharmonic letter names are used instead. For example, in the case of the C diminished seventh chord where Bbb is substituted with A.

    I just gave you a scholarly background of the position and formation of the diminished seventh chord. As helpful as that was, it doesn’t give you a thorough understanding of the diminished seventh chord.

    Let’s go further into this study by taking a look at the symmetry of the diminished seventh chord.

    Understanding [The Symmetry Of] The Diminished Seventh Chord

    The diminished seventh chord unlike other seventh chords is symmetrical. A symmetrical chord is a chord that can be divided into a certain number of equal intervals or parts.

    Understanding the symmetry of the diminished seventh chord makes it less complicated and more accessible and there are three common symmetries of the diminished seventh chord…

    • Minor third intervals
    • Diminished fifth intervals
    • Diminished seventh intervals

    “Check them out…”

    The Symmetry Of Minor Third/Augmented Second Intervals

    The diminished seventh chord can be broken down into several minor third intervals facing each other. Using the C# diminished seventh chord:

    …as an example, you can see how a diminished seventh chord can be broken down into minor third intervals…

    C# and E:

    …a minor third interval.

    E and G:

    …a minor third interval.

    G and Bb:

    …a minor third interval.

    “Take Note…”

    In a nutshell, minor third intervals are vital in the formation of diminished seventh chords. However, in certain cases, you may need to use the augmented second interval too in the formation of the diminished seventh chord.

    “Here’s a typical example of one of such situations…”

    The C diminished seventh chord:

    …(spelled as C-Eb-Gb-A) can be broken down into…

    C and Eb:

    …a minor third interval.

    Eb and Gb:

    …a minor third interval.

    Gb and A:

    …an augmented second interval.

    A and C:

    …a minor third interval.

    Take note that the minor third and augmented second intervals are enharmonic intervals. Therefore, whether a minor third or an augmented second interval is used, the goal is simply to encompass three half steps.

    The Symmetry Of Diminished Fifth/Augmented Fourth Intervals

    There are diminished fifth intervals in the diminished seventh chord. The diminished fifth interval is also known as the tritone and is the harshest interval that was first discovered.

    In the G# diminished seventh chord:

    …there are four tritones…

    G# and D:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    B and F:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    D and G#:

    …an augmented fourth interval.

    F and B:

    …an augmented fourth interval.

    “Treat As Important…”

    The tritone can take two intervallic forms – the diminished fifth and the augmented fourth (and both of them are enharmonic intervals.)

    When the proper spelling of a diminished seventh chord is compromised, it is possible to have any of the intervals as long as the tritone (six half steps) is formed. If the C diminished seventh chord is spelled as C-Eb-Gb-A:

    …here are the two symmetrical intervals…

    C and Gb:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    Eb and A:

    …an augmented fourth interval.

    The Symmetry Of Diminished Seventh/Major Sixth Intervals

    The diminished seventh chord can be broken down into diminished seventh and major sixth intervals. The major difference between both intervals is basically spelling. In the G# diminished seventh chord:

    …G# and F:

    …is a diminished seventh interval. The same G# diminished seventh chord:

    …has B and G#:

    …a major sixth interval.

    Diminished seventh intervals are a bit challenging to spell because most of them have double flat letter names. Therefore, we’ll go ahead and use the major sixth interval (its enharmonic equivalent.)

    “Let’s go ahead and break the diminished seventh chord down into major sixth intervals…”

    The C# diminished seventh chord:

    …can be broken down into the following major sixth intervals…

    C# and A#:

    …a major sixth interval.

    E and C#:

    …a major sixth interval.

    G and E:

    …a major sixth interval.

    A# and G:

    …a diminished seventh interval.

    Final Words

    I’m glad you have a smarter way of understanding the diminished seventh chord. If you’re given a diminished seventh chord, I am doubly sure that if you take advantage of its symmetry, you’ll be able to understand and move it round the keyboard with absolute ease.

    Thank you for the time you’ve invested in this lesson.


    Take note that I wasn’t strict with the spelling of diminished seventh chords in this lesson. I’ll defeat the aim of this lesson if I apply the strict spellings.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    Previous post:

    Next post: