The 3 Levels of Diminished

Do you understand the diminished chord? Are you using them in songs or playing them in exercises? The diminished chord can be somewhat of a mystery to a lot of guitar players. In this lesson I'll break down the three levels of diminished chords - both on the guitar as fretting patterns and within a number of chord progressions that you can begin jamming on right now...

Let’s face it, diminished chord quality isn’t as common as the basic major and minor chord types. And, when the diminished chords are used, they tend to either be in passing, or they’re played as a part of specific styles like classical music or jazz.

So, to help you become better familiar with these chords, I’ll be breaking down the "three levels" of Diminished for you in this episode of the Guitar Blog Insider…


Guitar Players will most often tend to discover the diminished chord used as a passing chord in somewhere like a; folk song, or in a country tune, maybe even perhaps in some blues number or in traditional /ethnic music piece.

But wherever you discover the diminished chord, more often than not this chord type will show up as a triad, (1, b3, b5). This means that the diminished will have three tones (the Root, the minor 3rd and the Diminished 5th). Let’s run through some shapes for these types to get started with.

These chord qualities will tend to either occur as a passing chord, (such as being placed in between a pair of diatonic major chords, as when there would be a move made in-between a IV and V chord.

Another popular placement will be in minor keys, where the diminished will function as a borrowed chord from the parallel Harmonic Minor harmony. This will have the diminished occur off of the raised seventh degree of the key center.

Here’s an example of that type of thing happening.

If you’ve ever studied jazz, or if you’ve ever played any Latin music, you’ve definitely come across the half-diminished chord.

It is important to state here right away that this chord does have another highly popular name. This chord’s other common name would be the “Minor 7(b5),” chord.

So, let’s start by running through some of the common chord patterns for the Minor 7(b5) chord type.

The Minor 7th(b5) chord shows up most often as a II-chord in a minor key center. Although it will also (on rare occasion), show up as a II-chord in a major key as well, (like in the jazz standard “Star Eyes,” composed by Gene de Paul  - that I play a few bars from the harmony line at the start of this lessons YouTube video).

First, here’s an example of the Minor 7(b5) being used as a II-chord in a Minor key “II-V-I” progression.

II-Chord in a (more rare) Major Key “II-V-I”

In my final example level of the Diminished chord use and application I want to make a study of the “Fully Diminished” chord, (also otherwise commonly known of as the, “Diminished 7th).

This diminished chord is found in the Harmonic Minor Scale’s chord harmony functioning on the raised 7th degree and it sounds really nice when it’s applied off of that chord step in Minor keys.

But, before we get too ahead of ourselves with application, let’s run through some fingerboard patterns of this “Fully” Diminished Seventh chord quality.

The diminished 7th chord can be applied in all of the same ways that the Diminished Triad is used. However, one of the most popular applications that you’ll find for the use of this dim.7 chord type is what is often referred to as the “Diminished 7th Substitute.” 

In this case the Diminished seventh chord is applied as a substitute chord for a “Dominant 7th.” Let’s check out how this can operate. First we’ll start with a chord progression that just has Dominant 7th chords used in it, and then we’ll start introducing the “Dim.7” chord substitute…

No Dim.7th Substitute:

Dim.7th Substitute:
added alongside the III-Chord and as a straight sub for the V-Chord.

Dim. 7th substitute:
added alongside the V-Chord’s sub, but applied as an inversion.

The interesting thing about Dim.7th chords is how they act as substitutes and how they can function within progressions as substitutes for diatonic Dom.7 chords, or for Secondary Dominant chords.

And also, how diminished 7th chords don’t need to exist off of their root notes, (because being symmetrical every note of this chord can act as a root note). This allows for a lot of flexibility in the Diminished 7th chords application. 

I'd like to end the discussion by saying, thanks for joining me... If you want to learn more about what I do as an online guitar teacher, then head over to my website at and sign up your FREE lifetime membership.

Down the road you can always upgrade to either a Basic, or a Premium lesson package and start studying all of the professionally organized guitar courses that I've organized for the members of my website.

Also, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comment section below... if you enjoyed this video, give it a thumbs up and subscribe for more on YouTube. Thanks again and we'll catch up next week, for another episode of the, "Guitar Blog Insider."



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