Song Writing: Diminished Chords and You

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by [J.K.], Mar 2, 2015.

  1. [J.K.]

    [J.K.] Member

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    Back in college as an English Major, I also spent a year and a half falsifying my major to be music performance, just to take the advanced Music Theory courses and tinkering around with what I learned from them on my guitar. It was a tremendously useful experience in expanding my horizons, but one thing it always made me feel woefully remiss about was diminished chords. I rarely use them in songs, but I always feel like I’m failing to take advantage of a very unique trump card by mostly ignoring them. At best, I only ever hike the skirt up around my tritones when I have a dominant 7th or when I have something like a major subdominant-type chord where I can throw the augmented 4th up in the voicing.

    I’ve found it most difficult because, even with a clean tone, diminished chords on guitar just ring out differently than on piano. And let’s face it, they’re often a bit tricky to finger beyond a simple triad. I feel like a diminished or half diminished 7 chord is a little easier to wedge in harmonically and physically.

    Anyone else feel as though they could stand to use a little more of the awkward stepchild of the diatonic family? Does anyone here use straight-up diminished chords much in their writing? Either in a subtonic capacity or not? (Just for the record, throwing out a random diminished chord for dissonance doesn’t count; if you have to ask why, then you might be in the wrong discussion.)
     
  2. Lumpy Trousers

    Lumpy Trousers Member

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    One thing I learned is that a diminished 7th chord is the same thing as a dominant 7b9 with no root. So you can use a diminished 7th chord a half step up from where you'd use a dominant 7th.

    I love the sound of a minor II V I cadence (II min7b5, Vdim7, I min7).
     
  3. zestystrat

    zestystrat Member

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  4. [J.K.]

    [J.K.] Member

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    That's a very clever, Joe Pass-ish way of looking at it. I'll have to try that out tonight.
     
  5. sears

    sears Member

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    You can stick a fully diminished chord in just about anywhere. There are only, what, three of them? You can also follow it with any chord you like. It's like a black hole to another universe.
     
  6. Lumpy Trousers

    Lumpy Trousers Member

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    Yep, all my knowledge of harmony is Jazz based, even though I can't play Jazz.

    For an example of the minor II V I, here's a link to a song I wrote containing it.

    http://www.groovemanor.com/song/2
     
  7. Brooks

    Brooks Member

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    i love the symetrical quality; after learning about that in college theory class, i wrote an entire bridge to one of my bands tunes w/ sliding dim 7th chords, my bandmates were "WTF, thats cool", haha
     
  8. taez555

    taez555 Member

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    Yeah... I don't really seem to use them in them in their proper harmonic place. I tend to use them a lot in my writing either as passing chords, or at the end of phrases to build tension leading into in the next section.
     
  9. Lumpy Trousers

    Lumpy Trousers Member

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    Another fun fact: you can derive 4 different dominant 7th chords from a diminished 7th chord by lower one of each of the 4 notes.

    For example: A diminished 7: A C Eb Gb

    lower the A: Ab C Eb Gb: Ab7
    lower the C: B Eb Gb A: B7
    lower the Eb: D Gb A C: D7
    lower the Gb: F A C Eb: F7
     
  10. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

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    Yeah, in addition to seeing them as rootless 7b9 chords, I've always seen them used or use them as passing chords, or to create tension. They work great in blues, and you see them tossed in all the time.

    There are times when I've used them to stretch out a bit while back cycling over a static chord.
     
  11. jay42

    jay42 Member

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    i think if you're writing a song and you don't want the incremental notes, you don't want them...and vice versa.
     
  12. Mark Robinson

    Mark Robinson Member

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    George Harrison seems to tuck them in somewhat regularly. I think of them as a jazzy-ish adornment to blues, passing tone, chromatic move deal.
     
  13. Lumpy Trousers

    Lumpy Trousers Member

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    I just learned 10 Years Gone by Led Zeppelin the other day, and it goes from Amajor to EbDim7 to Emin7. I'm not sure if this is theoretically correct, but it sounds cool.
     
  14. jay42

    jay42 Member

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    I used an augmented chord in a song once...I didn't ponder the theory...which now I'm pondering. Is it basically the same 'leading tone' thing as diminished?
     
  15. Dexter.Sinister

    Dexter.Sinister Still breathing Gold Supporting Member

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    Me 2. Good for transitions and adds some garlic and eyebrows to passages in a way that isn't too
     
  16. Campfired

    Campfired Gold Supporting Member

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    An accomplished guitar teacher once showed me the value of learning diminished and half-diminished scales (specifically the locrian mode) as a way of enhancing your jazz playing. Use of tri-tones with II-V-I-VI progressions in mind.

    The teacher lived about 1-½ hours away from my home, and it was near impossible to drive to this practice studio for lessons. Yet during the brief time that he shared this knowledge helped inculcate a desire in me to learn more about diminished and half-diminished scales and chords.

    The mere fact that most of these scales require some form of resolution to a more pleasing root note makes it all the more intriguing with study.

    Blending these scales with other more harmonic and melodic scales will refine your ability to play well.
     
  17. Gotham City Blues

    Gotham City Blues Member

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    This. I like to use it as a passing chord to get to a im7 chord.
     
  18. Gotham City Blues

    Gotham City Blues Member

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    Yes and no. Augmented uses a series of stacked Major 3rds where Diminished is constructed with a series of stacked Minor 3rds. Both are symmetrical however, and both can be used as leading tones since they both want to resolve harmonically.
     
  19. Dexter.Sinister

    Dexter.Sinister Still breathing Gold Supporting Member

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    While I hesitate to say "require", I am on board, most of the time. Certainly keeps them that be entertained more entertained than not doing so. But for the more adventurous...no rules...
     
  20. Multicellular

    Multicellular Supporting Member

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    That'd be me too.

    I studied theory and all and I think it is super important for communication between musicians, but I'm really not one to write in a very musically conscious type of way.

    I just get a melody and counter-melody in my head, humming or whatnot and probably every fourth song or so ends up with a diminished somewhere.

    The other time would be as passing chords. If I've figured out my brain is in minor/harmonic minor or whatever and the chord would be diminished, that
    s where it is going. I think some people just consciously or unconsciously avoid them.
     

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