Half Diminished Chord: A Guide to Beginners

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Have you ever heard someone talk about a half-diminished chord and felt confused? Don’t worry; you’re not alone! Many music theory beginners need help understanding what this chord is and how it works. Here we’ll cover the fundamentals of these chords and equip you with the knowledge you need to start using them in your music.

What Are Half-Diminished Chords

This chord, which some also refer to as minor seventh flat five chord, consists of four notes: 

  • Root note 
  • Minor third 
  • Diminished fifth 
  • Minor seventh

The diminished fifth is what sets the half-diminished chord apart from other chords.

It produces a sound that is tense and dissonant. This is because it contains the diminished fifth, an unstable note. But musicians can use this tension to create interesting and complex harmonies in music.

For example, let’s take the key of C minor. The half-diminished chord in this key would be B half-diminished 7th (Bø7). This chord contains the notes B, D, F, and A-flat. When played in sequence, this chord creates a tense and unresolved sound, making it perfect for creating tension in your music.

These chords are very important in jazz and other types of music that use complicated harmonies and chord progressions. They are also used as a substitute for dominant seventh chords, as they share some of the same notes.

Fun Fact: Jazz guitarists often use B Locrian mode over these chords. 

How Do Half-Diminished Chords Work

Half-diminished chords work with other types of chords. As mentioned earlier, you can use these chords to create interesting chord progressions that add complexity and tension to your music. 

On chord qualities, they are minor chords because they contain a minor third and a minor seventh. Yet, they also have a diminished fifth, which gives them a unique and dissonant sound.

Playing another chord with a perfect fifth can resolve the tension created by the diminished fifth. This is why musicians often use half-diminished chords in progressions that lead to dominant or major chords.

To create a half-diminished chord, remember this chord formula – start with a root note, and then you should add a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, a half-diminished seventh chord would consist of the notes C, E flat, G flat, and B flat.

One way to use this chord is to substitute it for a dominant chord. For example, you could play a B half-diminished chord instead of playing a G7 chord in a progression. This creates a similar sound but adds more tension to the progression.

What Notes Are in a Half-Diminished Chord

A half-diminished chord consists of four distinct notes that give it its unique sound. These notes are the root note, the minor third, the diminished fifth, and the minor seventh. You can also rearrange these notes to create different chord inversions.

The root inversion is a half-diminished chord’s most basic and used form. In this inversion, arrange the notes from lowest to highest: root, minor third, diminished fifth, and minor seventh. 

For example, in the Bø7 chord, the notes would be B, D, F, and A-flat. The root inversion provides the chord’s foundation and is an excellent place to start when practicing playing the chord.

1st Inversion

The first inversion of the half-diminished chord consists of the following arrangement: minor third, diminished fifth, minor seventh, and root. When playing the chord in the 1st inversion, you will notice that the lowest note is the third of the chord. For instance, if we take the Bø7 chord, the notes in the first inversion would be D, F, A-flat, and B.

2nd Inversion

The 2nd inversion of the half-diminished chord arranges the notes as follows: diminished fifth, minor seventh, root, and minor third. When playing the chord in the second inversion, the lowest note is fifth of the chord. Using the same Bø7 chord example, the notes in the second inversion would be F, A-flat, B, and D.

3rd Inversion

The 3rd inversion of the half-diminished chord consists of the following arrangement: minor seventh, root, minor third, and diminished fifth. In this inversion, the seventh of the chord is the lowest note. For example, if we take the Bø7 chord, the notes in the third inversion would be A-flat, B, D, and F.

Guitar chords can also have half-diminished, and it’s relatively easy to do. 

For instance, to play a Bø7 chord, start by placing your index finger on the second fret of the fifth string. Then, place your middle finger on the third fret of the fourth string. Your ring finger should go on the second fret of the third string, and your little finger should be on the third fret of the second string. Strum all the strings except the sixth string, and voila!

What Is the Difference Between Half-Diminished and Fully-Diminished

While both contain a diminished fifth, there are some key differences between the two.

In triads, a half-diminished chord contains a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a root note. In contrast, a fully-diminished triad has two diminished intervals (the third and fifth) and a root note. This means the fully-diminished chord is more unstable and dissonant than the half-diminished chord.

On the seventh chord, a half-diminished 7th chord contains a minor third, a diminished fifth, a minor seventh, and a root note. In contrast, a fully diminished 7th chord contains two diminished intervals (the third and fifth) and two diminished sevenths. Again, this makes the fully-diminished chord more unstable and tense than the half-diminished chord.

What’s the Difference Between a Diminished Triad and a Half Diminished Chord?

While it may seem like a small difference, understanding the distinction between a diminished triad and a half-diminished chord is crucial in music theory.

A diminished triad comprises three notes: 

  • Root note
  • Minor third
  • Diminished fifth

This means that a half step lowers the fifth note in the chord. Diminished triads are chords that produce a tense and dissonant sound, which can be useful for creating suspense in music or transitioning between chords.

In contrast, a half-diminished, as mentioned earlier, has four notes: 

  • Root note
  • Minor third
  • Diminished fifth
  • Minor seventh 

This chord has an even more dissonant sound compared to a diminished triad, making it a popular choice in jazz and modern music.

But why is it important to distinguish between the two? Well, the function of these chords in a musical context is different.

Diminished triads create tension and lead the listener to expect the resolution to the tonic chord. In contrast, half-diminished chords are usually used in a minor key or as a substitute for a dominant chord, which makes the sound more complex and unclear.

Final Thoughts 

Understanding half-diminished chords is an essential step toward becoming a proficient musician. Remember that a half-diminished chord consists of four notes – a root, a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. It is often used in a minor key or as a substitute for a dominant chord.

Remember, a half-diminished chord differs from a fully-diminished or diminished triad. The half-diminished chord has one more note than the fully-diminished chord. It has a minor seventh, while the fully-diminished chord has two diminished sevenths.

With this knowledge, you can explore different chords and create more complex harmonies in your music. So, grab your guitar, piano, or any instrument and start playing with half-diminished chords to give your music a unique taste.


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