What is a Diminished Chord and How is it Used

what is a diminished chord

The beauty of music lies in its uncertainty and endless possibilities. A versatile musical instrument like the piano broadens the horizon even more.

If you have had your share of playing piano, you have certainly come across the name ‘diminished chord.‘ These spooky sounding chords may not have much practical value to piano compositions, but they can surely take your piano skills to a different level.

So, what is a diminished chord?

By adding a flat fifth at the end, diminished chords stand out from the wide range of chords in their quality.

What is a Diminished Chord?

A Diminished Chord is a three-note chord comprising a root note and a minor third followed by a diminished fifth note.

A diminished fifth note is also called a flat fifth.

A minor third is placed three steps above the root note, and a diminished fifth note is placed six steps above the root note. It means three semitones separate the third and fifth notes of the chord.

As you can see, the formation of this chord is much like a minor chord, where the only difference is the additional diminished fifth note.

For example, a C major triad comes with the root note (C), the third (E), and the fifth (G).

Therefore, a diminished C triad formation looks like this – root (C), the minor third (Eb), and the diminished fifth (Gb).

diminished chord diagram
C Diminished Chord Diagram

How do Diminished Chords Sound?

Diminished chords give off a sense of tension, suspense, and drama. You may even find it dark and eerie like any Alfred Hitchcock movie.

The odd combination of the notes makes the sound of these chords special and unique.

These chords were heavily used in creating suspenseful music in Hollywood thrillers and Western movies.

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone once stated this chord as one of his favorites, which justifies the heavy use of diminished fifth chords in his music.

Another Rock star, the quiet Beatle George Harrison, used this chord extensively in his album ‘All Things Must Pass.’

How do you Make a Diminished Chord?

A diminished chord may sound challenging to beginners or intermediate pianists, but it is very easy to make once you understand the structure of these chords.

Diminished chords are easy to make because the third notes create an equally spaced note interval. Every note is split up by three half steps in a diminished chord. It doesn’t seem very complicated now, right?

3 Types of Diminished Chords

If we delve deeper, we will find three diminished chords; diminished triads, diminished seventh, and half-diminished seventh.

1. Diminished Triad

The diminished triad chord is made of a root note, a minor 3rd, and a diminished 5th.

It is a minor chord with a flat 5th note. The symbol of a diminished triad chord of D is Ddim or D°. Also, diminished triad chords make the basic structures of the diminished 7th chord and half-diminished 7th chord.

Example: Complete D° triad chord is D – F – Ab.

2. Diminished Seventh Chord

A diminished 7th chord is made of a root note, a minor 3rd, and a diminished 5th accompanied by a diminished 7th note.

As you can see, the first three notes are the same as a diminished triad; the only difference is the added diminished 7th.

The diminished seventh chord is also known as a fully diminished chord. It means that the space between the seventh note and flattened 5th note is of three semitones.

Example: Ddim7 is made of D – F – Ab – Cb.

3. Half-diminished seventh chord

Like a fully diminished chord, a half-diminished seventh chord is a 4 note chord, consisting of a root note, a minor 3rd, and a diminished 5th followed by a minor 7th note.

A half-diminished chord adds a major-third above a diminished triad. In simple words, the seventh note is above the flattened fifth by four semi-notes.

Example: D half-diminished seventh chord is made of D – F – Ab – C.

Diminished Chord Chart

Diminished chords can be played in all twelve keys. A diminished triad can be made only on the 7th scale degree. Here’s a list of all the diminished triads for every key:

C dim: C – Eb – Gb

C# dim: C# – E – G

Db dim: Db – E – G

D dim: D – F – Ab

Eb dim: Eb – Gb – A

E dim: E – G – Bb

F dim: F – Ab – B

F# dim: F# – A – C

Gb dim: Gb – A – C

G dim: G – Bb – Db

Ab dim: Ab – B – D

A dim: A – C – Eb

Bb dim: Bb – Db – E

B dim: B – D – F

How Do You Use Diminished Chords in Music?

Diminished chords are one of the least used chords. However, it can be useful in songwriting or composing in so many ways. Diminished chords have always been favorites of great music composers for their suspenseful undertones.

Here are some of the usage of diminished chords:

1. Passing Chord

George Harrison used diminished chords successfully in his famous song ‘My Sweet Lord’ as a passing chord. While playing a chord progression, you can enter a major chord by playing a diminished chord half step below it.

For example, if you plan to play G major chord, start the progression by playing F#dim7 chord.

2. Jazz Effect

You can use diminished chords to create a jazzy effect in your music. If you play a diminished chord right at the beginning of a chord progression, all the notes will move up a half step to the major chord.

3. Replacement of Dominant Chords

This is one of the most popular usages of this chord. The dominant chord in both the major keys and minor keys is the V chord. So, you can replace the dominant chords with diminished chords to give a ‘grunge-like’ tone to your music.

For example, if you consider the key of D major, then the V chord is A7. You can replace the A7 chord (A-C♯-E-G) with a C#dim triad or a C#dim7 to bring an eerie tone to your music.

4. Spooky Composition

Did you know that most spooky compositions use diminished chords for their sound? The key to creating a spooky sound effect is playing multiple diminished chords in a row. You must keep the chord shapes the same, though.

Make sure that all the pitches move in parallel motion when you play the composition on the piano to create an eerie soundscape.


Which song do you recommend that features diminished chords in them?

There are lots of songs that feature diminished chords. The most popular music is ‘My Sweet Lord’ by George Harrison. Some other songs that you can practice are Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young, Michelle by the Beatles, All I Want for Christmas by Mariah Carey, This Love by Maroon 5, SOS by Abba, Somewhere over the Rainbow by The Wizard of Oz.

What are the benefits of playing diminished chords?

Diminished chords give off a suspenseful and tense aura. For that reason, diminished chords are heavily used in creating suspenseful music. One of the greatest composers, Ennio Morricone, used these chords in his western soundtracks. Also, you can use these chords as a bridge between two different pitches and tones of music.

What is the diminished seventh chord?

Diminished seventh chords are somewhat similar to a diminished triad chord. A diminished 7th chord is made of a root note, a minor 3rd, and a diminished 5th accompanied by a diminished 7th note. The diminished seventh chord is also known as a fully diminished chord. Example: Ddim7 is made of D – F – Ab – Cb.

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As you can see, the diminished chord is not diminishing (pun intended) but rather uplifting. It depends on how you use it.

For starters, practice all the diminished chords on the piano. Once you get a hold of it, you can create your spooky theme song for Halloween night.

If you are a beginner, look for tutorials on YouTube or take online piano classes to improve your skills. Start by practicing easy kids songs on piano to improve your skills.

Check out EnthuZiastic piano classes for a personalized piano learning experience.

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