Why is the diminished chord the way it is?

Guitar Tricks Forum > Music Theory > Why is the diminished chord the way it is?

dlwalke

Full Access

Joined: 02/02/19

Posts: 160

Two questions really. And maybe the answer is so long and involved that it's too much to ask for an answer here, but anyway....

In the music and songs I've seen, the fully diminished, non-diatonic, dim chord is way more popular than the half-diminished chord. Maybe it's genre specific (I don't know about jazz), but it seems to stand alone as a chord that is more popular as an altered chord than the basic diatonic chord. Is the fully diminished chord just especially useful, and/or is the half-diminished chord not very useful musically...or something else?

Related to this, the diminished chord also stands alone as a chord where the 7th form (either full or half-diminished) is the norm. I don't think I've ever seen a chord chart where a basic diminished triad (e.g., BDF) is called for. Not saying it doesn't happen, but in my limited experience it's always with the 7th. Again, not sure why that is.

#1

Two questions really. And maybe the answer is so long and involved that it's too much to ask for an answer here, but anyway....

In the music and songs I've seen, the fully diminished, non-diatonic, dim chord is way more popular than the half-diminished chord. Maybe it's genre specific (I don't know about jazz), but it seems to stand alone as a chord that is more popular as an altered chord than the basic diatonic chord. Is the fully diminished chord just especially useful, and/or is the half-diminished chord not very useful musically...or something else?

Related to this, the diminished chord also stands alone as a chord where the 7th form (either full or half-diminished) is the norm. I don't think I've ever seen a chord chart where a basic diminished triad (e.g., BDF) is called for. Not saying it doesn't happen, but in my limited experience it's always with the 7th. Again, not sure why that is.

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 6511

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
In the music and songs I've seen, the fully diminished, non-diatonic, dim chord is way more popular than the half-diminished chord.

I don't know what music you've seen or haven't seen. So I can't speak to that. But I can say that both fully diminished & half-diminished chords in general are both widely used in classical, jazz & popular songs from earlier eras. The diminished chord is more widely used & that is related to function. See below. Neither are used much in contemporary modern music.

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
Is the fully diminished chord just especially useful, and/or is the half-diminished chord not very useful musically...or something else?

Most of this has to do with function.

The fully dim chord usually functions as a dominant chord or leading tone chord tonicizing the root or modulating to the temporary root. Diminished chords are also used in classical & jazz (& early pop & blues) as common tone color chords.

Classical examples

Beethoven

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=25577&s_id=2128

Tchaikovsky

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=10351

Jazz examples of voice leading motion

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=16449&s_id=1232

Classic blues turnarounds

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=10302&s_id=274

Common tone bluesy examples:

R&B style check out m.13

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=17453&s_id=1316

Deep River Blues m.2

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=25081&s_id=2082

The half-dim chord usually functions as a subdominant, setting up a dominant to tonic resolution. Examples:

Love Is Here To Stay (throughout!)

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=19125

Summertime

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=2189

R&B m.1

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=18885

Fly Me To The Moon during "Life is like on ..."

Blue Bossa m. 5 of the main melody.

I cover these chords & their functions in this tutorial.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=1166

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
Related to this, the diminished chord also stands alone as a chord where the 7th form (either full or half-diminished) is the norm.

That's probably true for popular music forms (jazz, blues, early pop standards). But the basic diminished chord is very widely used in Baroque & Classical era music. Especially in the works of Bach.

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
I don't think I've ever seen a chord chart where a basic diminished triad (e.g., BDF) is called for. Not saying it doesn't happen, but in my limited experience it's always with the 7th. Again, not sure why that is.

It happens but not as often. I think that most of the time this is because a basic diminished chord is usually just treated as the extention of the V chord (upper notes of a G7 in this case). And of course if you can get more colorful sound from the full dim chord, then why bother with a small simple version?! :)

Hope this helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#2

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
In the music and songs I've seen, the fully diminished, non-diatonic, dim chord is way more popular than the half-diminished chord.

I don't know what music you've seen or haven't seen. So I can't speak to that. But I can say that both fully diminished & half-diminished chords in general are both widely used in classical, jazz & popular songs from earlier eras. The diminished chord is more widely used & that is related to function. See below. Neither are used much in contemporary modern music.

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
Is the fully diminished chord just especially useful, and/or is the half-diminished chord not very useful musically...or something else?

Most of this has to do with function.

The fully dim chord usually functions as a dominant chord or leading tone chord tonicizing the root or modulating to the temporary root. Diminished chords are also used in classical & jazz (& early pop & blues) as common tone color chords.

Classical examples

Beethoven

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=25577&s_id=2128

Tchaikovsky

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=10351

Jazz examples of voice leading motion

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=16449&s_id=1232

Classic blues turnarounds

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=10302&s_id=274

Common tone bluesy examples:

R&B style check out m.13

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=17453&s_id=1316

Deep River Blues m.2

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=25081&s_id=2082

The half-dim chord usually functions as a subdominant, setting up a dominant to tonic resolution. Examples:

Love Is Here To Stay (throughout!)

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=19125

Summertime

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=2189

R&B m.1

https://www.guitartricks.com/lesson.php?input=18885

Fly Me To The Moon during "Life is like on ..."

Blue Bossa m. 5 of the main melody.

I cover these chords & their functions in this tutorial.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=1166

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
Related to this, the diminished chord also stands alone as a chord where the 7th form (either full or half-diminished) is the norm.

That's probably true for popular music forms (jazz, blues, early pop standards). But the basic diminished chord is very widely used in Baroque & Classical era music. Especially in the works of Bach.

Originally Posted by: dlwalke
I don't think I've ever seen a chord chart where a basic diminished triad (e.g., BDF) is called for. Not saying it doesn't happen, but in my limited experience it's always with the 7th. Again, not sure why that is.

It happens but not as often. I think that most of the time this is because a basic diminished chord is usually just treated as the extention of the V chord (upper notes of a G7 in this case). And of course if you can get more colorful sound from the full dim chord, then why bother with a small simple version?! :)

Hope this helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

dlwalke

Full Access

Joined: 02/02/19

Posts: 160

Thanks as always Chris

#3

Thanks as always Chris

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 6511

Originally Posted by: dlwalke

Thanks as always Chris

You're welcome!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#4

Originally Posted by: dlwalke

Thanks as always Chris

You're welcome!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory