The Diminished 7th Chord for More Depth & Drama

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 19 – Spring 2022

Diminished 7th chords might be a rarity in today’s hit songs, but they’re used because they can provide just the right depth and intensity to a lyric line. This lesson isn’t going to be a theory lesson on how these chords are constructed. Instead, we’ll show you examples of how they’re used in songs that are easy to understand so that you can try them in your writing right away.

Diminished 7th chords sound like they have a lot of tension, and they beg to be resolved in some way. Often, they’re used in passing to briefly connect one chord to another, like in these examples:

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Here’s a fun curiosity about diminished chords: the tones of the chord have the exact same distance between them (three semitones, which is the distance of three frets on a guitar). Because of this unique characteristic, you can repeat the diminished chord shape every three frets, and the chord will remain the same (the notes will just be in a different order). You may have heard this sound before:

Here’s how that effect is used in a gospel-style blues á la Aretha Franklin:

The best way to learn how to use diminished 7th (and diminished) chords is by learning great songs that feature them. Here are some examples for your inspiration:

-“Love Is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse (intro)

-“If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys (verse)

-“The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson (final chorus)

-“Michelle” by The Beatles (A section/chorus)

-“Friends in Low Places”  by Garth Brooks (intro)

-“We Are the Champions” by Queen (chorus)

-“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots (intro)

-“My Iron Lung” by Radiohead (intro)

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