What are Diminished Chords on Guitar – Everything You Need to Know

Published Categorized as Chords, Theory
Diminished Chords on guitar

Learning diminished chords on guitar is a great way to expand your repertoire and can also be a great tool for song writing.

Not all styles of music make use of diminished (or augmented) chords but it’s still a good idea to have an understanding of what these are and how they can be used.

Table of Contents

Chord Structure and Scale Structure

Before you can understand diminished chords you need to gain an understanding of chord structures and where they fit in a scale.

Chord Structure

Every chord is made up of multiple notes – typically 3 or more. And the position of those notes within a scale will determine how that chord sounds.

So, let’s say for example we are in the key of C Major.

(More on the Basics of Key Signatures)

The notes in the key of C Major are C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

If we number each note, it makes it easier to see how chords are structured.

  • 1st: C (aka root note)
  • 2nd: D
  • 3rd: E
  • 4th F
  • 5th: G
  • 6th: A
  • 7th: B

In a major scale the sequence of intervals between notes is, from the root:

tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone

There is only a semi-tone between the B and C and there is only a semi-tone between the E and the F as the E and B don’t have any sharps.

(More on Major Scales and How to Play them on Guitar)

Now let’s look at a minor scale. Let’s use A minor as an example:

  • 1st: A (aka root note)
  • 2nd: B
  • 3rd: C
  • 4th D
  • 5th: E
  • 6th: F
  • 7th: G

This follows the sequence:

tone, semi-tone, tone, tone tone, semi-tone, tone.

(More on Minor Scales and How to Play them on Guitar)

Minor and Major Thirds

Chords within a scale, at least those with 3 notes (aka Triads), are typically made up using:

  • the root
  • the third
  • the fifth

The root could be any notes in the scale – so for an F Chord in a C major scale, the F becomes the root and then the A becomes the third and the C becomes the 5th – for that particular chord.

In the case of a major chord the 3rd is a “major third”. A 3rd is considered a major third when it’s 4 semi-tones above the root. So, if we take a C chord in the C major scale and go up four semi-tones from the root of that chord (in this case C) then we have:

C, C#, D, D#, E)

So we get to the major third, which in the case of a C major chord is E.

Minor Thirds

A minor third on the other hand is just 3 semi-tones above the root.

In the case of an A Minor chord in the A Minor scale, for example, the 3rd note from the root is a C. The A Minor chord is A C E, using the root, third and fifth notes.

So, in a minor chord, this is still the 3rd note from the root, but the way it’s positioned in the sequence means there are just three semitones above the root note – in the case of A Minor it’s (A, A#, B, C).

In a major scale the 3rd note is a major third, in a minor scale the third note is a minor third. And in a major scale the root of the scale will always be a major chord (e.g. C Major) and in a minor scale the root of the scale (e.g. A Minor) will always be a minor chord, because of the sequence of notes in the different scales. See below for what chords you get for each position of the scale (including where the diminished chord fits in).

Still following?

What Are Diminished Chords On Guitar

Making up a Major Chord

We’ve discussed thirds, but to have a chord we also need the fifth. To make a major chord we need to have a root note, a major third and a fifth (the 5th is 7 semi-tones above the root).

So, for our C Major Chord in the C major scale, it would be the C, E and G. Playing C E and G together on the guitar will give you a C major chord. The E being the major third and the G being the fifth.

Making up a Minor Chord

To make a minor chord we need to have the root note, a minor third and a fifth. The only note that’s different between a major chord and a minor chord is the that the third is a minor third and not a major third.

So, in the case of the A Minor Chord in an A minor scale, the notes would be A, C & E. The C being the minor third and the E being the fifth.

There are minor chords in major scales too though and major chords in minor scales. And of course diminished chords! What type of chord each note in the scale will be depends on the position of that note in the scale.

Chord Progressions in a Scale

Major scales follow a natural chord progression. The root note is always a major chord. The progression for a Major scale is as follows: we will use roman numerals to represent the note numbers, as is common for chord progressions:

  • I: Major Chord
  • II: Minor Chord
  • III: Minor Chord
  • IV: Major Chord
  • V: Major Chord
  • VI: Minor Chord
  • VII: Diminished Chord

In the case of the C major scale this would be:

  • I: C Major
  • II: D Minor
  • III: E Minor
  • IV: F Major
  • V: G Major
  • VI: A Minor
  • VII: B Diminished

And this makes sense when you look at the notes.

  • C = C, E, G = C Major.
  • D = D, F & A (which is a minor chord since the F is a minor third (3 semi-tones)
  • E = E, G, B = E minor
  • F = F, A, C = F Major
  • G = G, B, D = G Major
  • A = A, C, E = A minor
  • B = B, D, F = B diminished

And for the minor scale:

  • I: Minor Chord
  • II: Diminished Chord
  • III: Major Chord
  • IV: Minor Chord
  • V: Minor Chord
  • VI: Major Chord
  • VII: Major Chord

For the A minor scale that would be:

  • I: A Minor
  • II: B Diminished
  • III: C Major
  • IV: D Minor
  • V: E Minor
  • VI: F Major
  • VII: G Major

But hang on, we haven’t discussed that diminished yet!

Making up a Diminished Chord

In the key of C major and A minor, we see that the B is a diminished chord. But what makes it a diminished chord.

Like major and minor chords the diminished chord uses the root, the 3rd and the 5th.

In the case of a major chord the 3rd is a major third and for the minor chord it’s a minor third. In the both the major and minor chords, the 5th is always 7 semitones above the root note, regardless of whether the third is a major or minor.

In the Diminished chord there is a minor third and a flattened fifth.

So, in the case of the diminished chord the third is 3 semi-tones form the root and the fifth is 6 semitones from the root.

In the C major scale that we’ve been looking at the 7th chord is diminished. This is made up of B, D, F.

  • The B is the root note
  • The D is the third (in this case it’s a minor third – 3 semitones from the root)
  • The F is the fifth (in this case a flattened 5th – 6 semitones from the root – B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F)

Put another way you could say that the third note in the diminished chord is a minor third up from the minor 3rd.

So, for Major chords it equals:

  • Root note then the second note is 4 semi-tones up then the 3rd note is 3 semitones from the 2nd note in the chord.

For the Minor Chord:

  • Root, then 3 semi-tones, then 4 semi-tones.

For the Diminished Chord:

  • Root then 3 semi-tones, then 3 semi-tones.

Thanks for Reading

I hope this has helped you to understand what diminished chords are. If you have any questions regarding this or want to see more examples of this, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.

FAQs

How do you find diminished chords on a guitar?

For example, let’s say you want to play a C diminished chord. Start with the root note (C). Move up three frets to find the first minor third (E♭). Move up another three frets to find the second minor third (G♭). These three notes—C, E♭, and G♭—together form a C diminished chord.

How do you know if a chord is diminished?

Diminished chords on the guitar are characterized by the pattern of minor 3rd intervals between the notes. The common shape is a root note, followed by a minor 3rd interval, then another minor 3rd interval. This shape can be moved up and down the neck to play different diminished chords.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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