I like diminished chords. Not only are they really atmospheric, but they also create a tension, which just has to be resolved.
Technically, a diminished chord is a triad consisting of the tonic, minor third and flattened fifth. The chord of C diminished contains the notes C Eb and Gb. Note that all three notes are three semitones apart. If you add a fourth note, another three semitones higher, you get a diminished seventh chord. So, Cdim7 has the notes C Eb Gb and A.
Here’s an example of a diminished chord, played on an electric piano, followed by a diminished seventh:
And here’s a classic example, in George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. The diminished seventh comes 27 seconds in – it stands out like a beacon.
The Beatles were big users of diminished chords. Think of Michelle and the phrase ‘goes together well’.
Other examples include:
Stay With Me by Sam Smith
All I Want for Christmas by Mariah Carey
Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young
This Love by Maroon 5
Somewhere over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz
God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon
The following piece, called Passing By, is oozing with diminished chords:
Unless you’re into jazz, more sophisticated R&B or the big show standards, chances are you rarely if ever use diminished chords. I think that’s a pity. They could be integrated into anything from dance music to hip-hop to heavy metal with a little imagination – sure they would stand out but then that’s the point isn’t it?