How to play diminished chords on guitar

Diminished chords are some of the most often misunderstood chords on guitar. Even diminished chords sound dissonant sound on their own, they make for interesting chords once you understand how they work within a progression.

This lesson covers diminished chord shapes that you can use on the 6th, 5th and 4th string. We’ll also cover application examples with audio and guitar tabs so you can hear what these diminished chords sound like in a musical context.

We’ll first define what diminished chords are and cover some basic music theory before learning the common chord shapes on guitar. Let’s get started!

What is a diminished chord?

A diminished triad chord consists of the following chord tones: root, flat 3rd and flat 5th. For example, a C diminished triad chord has the notes C, Eb and Gb.

It is important to differentiate between a diminished triad chord and a diminished 7th chord which consists of a root, flat 3rd, flat 5th and a double flatted 7th degree (same as a Major 6th interval). For example, a C diminished 7th chord has the notes C, Eb, Gb, and A.

Diminished triad chord formula

To understand diminished chords, here are some charts to help you visualize the distance between each in note in terms of whole and half steps.

The structure for a diminished triad goes as follows:

Diminished triad chord formula

You can also learn more about triads here.

Diminished 7th chord formula

And here is the structure for a diminished 7 chord below.

Diminished 7 chord formula chart

If needed, review the essential 7th chords here.

Diminished chords chart

Now that you have a better understanding of the distance between the notes in a diminished chord, here is a chart of all the diminished triad chords starting on every root note.

Diminished triad chord1b3b5
C diminished chordCEbGb
D diminished chordDFAb
E diminished chordEGBb
F diminished chordFAbB
G diminished chordGBbDb
A diminished chordACEb
B diminished chordBDF
Db diminished chordDbEG
Eb diminished chordEbGbA
Gb diminished chordGbAC
Ab diminished chordAbBD
Bb diminished chordBbDbE

Here is a chart of all the diminished 7th chords starting on every root note.

Diminished 7th chord1b3b56
C diminished 7th chordCEbGbA
D diminished 7th chordDFAbB
E diminished 7th chordEGBbDb
F diminished 7th chordFAbBD
G diminished 7th chordGBbDbE
A diminished 7th chordACEbGb
B diminished 7th chordBDFAb
Db diminished 7th chordDbEGBb
Eb diminished 7th chordEbGbAC
Gb diminished 7th chordGbACEb
Ab diminished 7th chordAbBDF
Bb diminished 7th chordBbDbEG

Diminished chord mini quiz

See if you can you figure out the chord tones for the following diminished chords without referring to the previous charts.

  1. G diminished triad
  2. C# diminished triad
  3. F# diminished triad
  4. Bb diminished 7
  5. D diminished 7
  6. Eb diminished 7

Diminished chords notation

Some of the common ways to write diminished chords on sheet music are:

For diminished triads: C dim, C˚

For diminished 7 chords: C dim 7 or C˚7

You might also see and hear a diminished 7 chord as ‘C fully diminished’. This is to contrast another chord called the half diminished chord (aka minor 7 b5) which has the chord tones 1, b3, b5, and b7.
See how to play half diminished chords here.

Diminished chord shapes on guitar

In this section, we will cover common diminished guitar chord shapes starting on a particular string and then show you other chords by shifting the same shape.

Diminished triad chords starting on the 6th string

diminished chord charts

Diminished chords starting on the 5th string

diminished chord starting on the 5th string

Diminished chords starting on the 4th string

Diminished 7 chords starting on the 6th string

diminished 7 chord charts

Diminished 7 chords starting on the 5th string

Diminished 7 chords starting on the 4th string

Easily look up guitar chords with the Essential Guitar Chords Chart!

This chart covers how to play:

  • Major chords
  • Minor chords
  • Major 7 chords
  • Minor 7 chords
  • Dominant chords
  • Half diminished chords
  • Diminished chords
  • Chords starting on all (12) root notes
  • Over 80+ chords!

👉 Get it here!

When to use diminished chords

A common way to use diminished chords is when they function as a secondary chord (a chord that acts as 5 chord to another chord in a progression.)

To better understand this, let’s look at all the notes that belong to a diminished chord and compare them to a 5 chord.

In the key of C, the 5 dominant chord is G7 which has the notes: G, B, D and F.

You could substitute the 5 chord for a B diminished 7 chord which has the notes: B, D, F and Ab.

As you can see, there are three common notes between these two chords (B, D, F) and the Ab would be considered a b9 in a G7 chord. This b9 interval gives more tension on the chord which can sound great as it resolves to the next chord.

In short, you can think of B dim 7 as a substitute for G7 (b9).

Diminished chord progression examples

Now, we’ll look at some musical examples to see how diminished chord can be used to resolve to different chords.

Chord progression example 1

In this example, the G# dim7 is acting as a 5 chord (E7 b9) of the A minor 7 chord.

diminished chord progression example 1

Chord progression example 2

Here, the F# dim7 is acting as a 5 chord (D7 b9) of the G minor 7 chord.

diminished chord progression example 2

Chord progression example 3

The E dim7 is acting as a 5 chord (C7 b9) of the F minor 7 chord.

diminished chord progression example 3

Chord progression example 4

This is a common jazz progression that goes 2 min – 5(7) – 3 min – 6 (7). However, we substitute both dominant chords with diminished 7 chords in this example/

Diminished 7th chord inversions

Did you know that when shifting a diminished 7 chord by a whole step and a half, you get the same exact notes with different bass notes? This is because the distance from each note is exactly the same.

For example a C diminished 7 chord includes the same notes as an Eb, Gb and A diminished 7 chord.

See and hear the following example which uses the same chord shape to play four other diminished chords containing the same notes.

diminished chord inversions

Since we can play four chord diminished chords using one shape, this brings us to our next point.

Related diminished chords

There are 12 diminished chords but they essentially come from 3 diminished chords. This is because you can invert one diminished chord into four other chords that share the same notes.

You can technically derive every diminished chord from the C diminished, C# diminished, and D diminished chord when you consider their inversions. See below to show you what I mean.

C diminished related chords

These are the four chords that you can derive from C diminished when inverting the chord.

  1. C dim
  2. Eb dim
  3. Gb dim
  4. A dim

C# diminished related chords

These are the four chords that you can derive from C# diminished when inverting the chord.

  1. C# dim
  2. E dim
  3. G dim
  4. A# dim

D diminished related chords

  1. D dim
  2. F dim
  3. Ab dim
  4. B dim

Wrapping up

Diminished chords are dissonant chords which sound great as you resolve to other chords within a progression. I recommend reviewing the shapes we covered in this lesson if you haven’t learned them already.

By experimenting with diminished chords in your chord progressions, you will get a better sense of when it’s best to use them. As you continue to learn them, challenge yourself to play them on different strings as well.

I hope this material has given you better understanding of diminished chords so you can create more interesting chord progressions!

To learn what to play over diminished chords, check out this lesson on how to play diminished scales on guitar.

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All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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