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Old December 29th, 2012, 07:56 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Diminished Chords

So I was listening to John Mayer today (I'm Gonna Find Another You) and he has this really awesome chord progression in the song which uses a diminished 7th chord. And I know I how play the chord my only problem is how do you use it in a progression? whenever I try to use it, it just doesn't sound right. Any tips and examples

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Old December 29th, 2012, 08:18 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I suspect the main reason it's not sounding right is precisely because it isn't normally a chord you use by itself - it's mainly used as a dissonance that resolves. Example: Bdim7 -> Am. x2x131 -> x0x210.

One little trick or relationship to realize is that if you take any given note of a dim7 and lower it by a halfstep, this produces a dominant 7 of one sort or another. Ex: Fdim7 (xx3434) becomes E7 (xx2434) by lowering F to E. Or suppose instead we take the Fdim7 (xx3434) and lower the D to C#: it now becomes a 1st inversion C#7 (xx3424). This relationship is part of why dim7 chords are popular as transition chords to new keys, since a change of one note creates a pivot to 4 possible dominants.

Another relationship is that if you impose them over a bass note a halfstep under or in other strategic spots, it creates a dom7b9. Ex: G#dim7 (xx6767) becomes E7b9 when you add an E in the bass (x76767). In isolation, this may "not sound right", but if you know how to resolve them, they take on a purpose. That E7b9 will "sound right" going to an Am: x76767 -> x07555. Relatedly, sometimes you may find that a dim7 chord is meant to function as an incomplete dom7b9, and the bass player's role is to hold the root.

Another use of a diminished 7th chord may surprise you: in a blues. It's not all that uncommon to slightly alter a 12 bar blues format by adding a diminished 7 or two, like this:

A7 D7 A7 A7
D7 D#dim7 A7 A7
E7 D7 A7 A7

An example of voice-leading that D7->D#dim7->A7 move: xx0212, xx1212, xx2223.

Generally, you will most typically find dim7 chords taking on a dominant function, or used as passing chords. They are closely related to dominants, as my above examples show. If this is too much too take in, my apologies, I'm a pretty theory-laden guy.

Last edited by Alex Strekal; December 30th, 2012 at 05:32 PM.
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Old December 29th, 2012, 09:47 PM   #3 (permalink)
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The most common use of the chord is using on the last beat or two of IV going back to I ie IV IV#dim I, like G G7 C C#dim G. Use that in blues and swing. Also as a passing chord in a vamp like I I#dim ii7 V7 I, like G G#dim Am7 D7 G.
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Old December 29th, 2012, 10:08 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Ok so in order for me to use that dim7 chord I have to use a 7chord in the progression. So would this work?
(sorry if progression is crappy)
A-> Em -> G -> G7 -> D -> G -> G#dim7 -> back to A

^^^ That would work?
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Old December 29th, 2012, 10:46 PM   #5 (permalink)
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G -> G#dim7 -> back to A certainly is an example of a workable musical idea with a dim7 as a passing chord or substute dominant. But to clarify, you don't have to use a 7th chord with it per se; my point was to show a relationship to dominants by changing one note, and using that as one possible manuever to make in a chord progression (dominant preparation).

I would suggest, short of thinking about entire progressions, getting used to the function and sound of a diminished 7 resolving to another chord in general. Tension-release. 9/10, the notes will pull in the same way a dominant would or otherwise function as an altered dominant.

Example: You establish the familiar sound of an A major chord, as home base. Maybe the voicing is: xx7655. Then comes a G#dim7: xx6767. Then resolve back to the A: xx7655.

This is an example of the diminished 7 chord as a substitute dominant - it creates a similar effect as a I-V7-I, and is indeed only one note different. It has a tension (tritone and leading tone function) that pulls smoothly back to an "inside" sound.

Now, let's think of using it to transition to another chord instead. We can start with our A (xx7655), then play G#dim7 again (xx6767). What other chords could this pull to? Staying in the key of A major, one possibility is the relative minor: an F#minor chord. So we could do this: xx7655 -> xx6767 -> xx4675.

Notice that this is, once again, serving a dominant function - it's as if we went I -> V7/vi -> vi. If there is a bass player hitting a low C# when we play that G#dim7, it in fact *is* V7/vi (V7b9/vi to be exact). The G#dim7 is then functioning as every note but the root note of a C#7b9.

Here's an example of a tonal chord progression that uses a few dim7's as passing chords and substitute dominants:

A - G#o7 - F#m - Dmaj7 - Bm7 - Bo7 - E7 - A
I - o7/vi - vi - IV7 - ii7 - o7/V - V7 - I

In this example, the G#o7 is a substitute dominant for V7/vi, and the Bo7 is a passing chord that functions to prepare the V (E7).

My basic point is that you can use a dim7 chord in place of a dominant 7th chord, if you desire the color. If you understand how a dominant chord normally *functions* (including 2ndary dominants), you will understand how a diminished chord typically *functions*.

There are of course other uses of diminished 7th more for color than function that I'm not covering.

Last edited by Alex Strekal; December 30th, 2012 at 06:19 PM.
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Old December 30th, 2012, 10:53 AM   #6 (permalink)
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What you had would work. The diminished chord often works to chromatically connect two chords or inversions a whole step apart.
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Old December 30th, 2012, 01:13 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Here's another 'standard' 7 prog, two beats each chord:

| Cmaj7 C#7 | Dm7 D#7 | Em7 Bb7 (XX5656) | Dm7 G13 |

*That Bb7 is really functioning as an A7b9 (sans root) as mentioned in Alex's excellent post.
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Old December 30th, 2012, 03:15 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Strekal View Post
Another relationship is that if you impose them over a bass note a halfstep under or in other strategic spots, it creates a dom7b9. Ex: G#dim7 (xx6767) becomes E7b9 when you add an E in the bass (x76767). In isolation, this may "not sound right", but if you know how to resolve them, they take on a purpose. That E7b9 will "sound right" going to an Am: x76767 -> x07555. Relatedly, sometimes you may find that a dim7 chord is meant to function as an incomplete dom7b9, and the bass player's role is to hold the root.
Yes - this is one of the most useful ways of employing diminished arpeggio's.
If you play a diminished arpeggio from the third of a dom7b9 chord you will spell 3-5-b7-b9.
So take the first four bars of Beautiful Love for example -

Em7b5/A7b9/Dm7/D7b9

You can play something based on Mixolydian b2 b6 (A,Bb,C#,D,E,F,G) over the Em7b5 and A7b9 then play a D Dorian (D,E,F,G,A,B,C) line in bar 3 before playing the diminshed arp over the D7b9 which would be F#-A-C-Eb.
Not only does the diminished arp nail the sound of the 7b9 chord it pushes your ear towards the next chord (a Gm7) in a very musical way.
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Old December 30th, 2012, 05:56 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klasaine View Post
Here's another 'standard' 7 prog, two beats each chord:

| Cmaj7 C#7 | Dm7 D#7 | Em7 Bb7 (XX5656) | Dm7 G13 |

*That Bb7 is really functioning as an A7b9 (sans root) as mentioned in Alex's excellent post.
Right. Good example.

Just to illustrate the dominant relationship, I would intuitively view and hear this progression as a colorful alternative to:

Ex1
| Cmaj7 A7 | Dm7 B7 | Em7 A7 |Dm7 G13 |

And if we take the progression w/o7's and choose to add a bassline targeting the roots of the progression w/dominants (Ex1), the net effect is:

Ex2
| Cmaj7 A7b9 | Dm7 B7b9 | Em7 A7b9 |Dm7 G13 |
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Old December 30th, 2012, 09:17 PM   #10 (permalink)
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You just have to learn a lot of standards and old tunes that use diminished chords and you'll just know how to use it from that point on. Just get used to hearing it. I know you're looking for a general "rule" of how to use it. Several posts have addressed that, but there really are no shortcuts unfortunately.
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Old December 30th, 2012, 11:30 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Slightly OT

Once one gets the hand of how to use 7 chords and how they may be sub'd with 7b9 chords it's REALLY important to also know when to just play the actual 7 change.
For example: the first bar of 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' ...
"missed the saturday dance" CΔ7 Dm7 D#7 Em7 - that one kinda needs to be an actual diminished chord.

Or, 'Corcovado', second change - | Am6 | % | Ab7 | % | etc.
(I like the F7 going to Fmaj7 in bars seven and eight too).

*I've been playing 'Stella by Starlight' recently as written by Victor Young (from the movie The Uninvited) with a big fat Bb7 right at the top voiced like this: 6X5655 - yes, with the A natural on top! It's friggin' gorgeous in an ugly/beauty kinda way.

My point is, don't get carried away with always subbing out a dim7 for 7b9.
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Old December 31st, 2012, 05:54 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Point taken. If it's specified as o7, stick with o7, unless you're taking creative license.
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Old December 31st, 2012, 07:46 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
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Point taken. If it's specified as o7, stick with o7, unless you're taking creative license.
Actually my point was that a lot of times guys (probably not you Alex) get carried away with substituting every diminished chord they run into with some type of alt/dom (a half step down). It'll always work - but IMO it's not always the best musical choice.

Much of the time those written diminished chords in sheet music really are a 7b9 (sometimes their even m7b5 chords - but that's another thread) and it's good to know when to sub them out. My examples listed in my previous response are the times when the 'composer knew best' - and an editor wasn't trying to dumb it down just to sell easy sheet music editions.

Last edited by klasaine; December 31st, 2012 at 08:46 PM.
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Old December 31st, 2012, 08:53 PM   #14 (permalink)
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"Sometimes a diminished 7th chord is just a diminished 7th chord" - Zombie Frued
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Old January 1st, 2013, 12:41 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klasaine View Post
Once one gets the hand of how to use 7 chords and how they may be sub'd with 7b9 chords it's REALLY important to also know when to just play the actual 7 change.
For example: the first bar of 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' ...
"missed the saturday dance" CΔ7 Dm7 D#7 Em7
- that one kinda needs to be an actual diminished chord.


My point is, don't get carried away with always subbing out a dim7 for 7b9.
Sure. If you are comping you can't take liberties with the harmony but you can when soloing. If I was soloing over that section in Don't Get Around Much.... I would just think C and then maybe treat the A7 as an A7b9 (diminished arp from C# works here) as it goes into the Dm-G7, the II-V. You dont need to 'cut' every change.
There are lots of bad charts out there though so you have to find your way and use your ears. Try and find a nice chart for Chick Corea's Windows - there are some really awful versions out there.

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Point taken. If it's specified as o7, stick with o7, unless you're taking creative license.
As above - I trust the chart as much as I trust the government.
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Old January 23rd, 2013, 03:35 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Interesting article about diminished chords: http://www.gregfishmanjazzstudios.co.../article3.html

I'm digging his example #2 (playable only on a piano): Bdim7 in the LH and A#dim7 in the RH: [B D F Ab] + [A# C# E G]
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Old January 23rd, 2013, 06:31 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Old January 27th, 2013, 12:27 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by mozzarate54 View Post
how do you use [dim7 chord] in a progression? whenever I try to use it, it just doesn't sound right
There's a lot of good info here. What I thought I would add is basically a rule of thumb about dim7s (also just called dim or chords) which kind of repeats some of the previous replies.

They can be thought of as wanting to resolve a half step up, e.g. E -> F, B -> C, and this is mainly b/c they function as a substitute for a V7 chord, e.g. (C7 or E) -> F. Yes you can also think of it as a V7b9.

Of course this doesn't mean that all I->II7->V7 progressions can be turned into I->I->VII, b/c substitutions have to be chosen based on the music being played.

But what it can mean is that a cycle of V7 chords, e.g. A7 -> D7 -> G7 -> C can be played as C# -> C -> B -> C (when suitable).

A progression I like is CΔ7 -> C# (or A7b9) -> D9 -> G13b5 or

x-3-5-4-5-x
x-4-5-3-5-x
x-5-4-5-5-x
x-4-3-4-5-x
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Old January 27th, 2013, 12:32 AM   #19 (permalink)
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