Are you wondering how to play diminished chords on the piano? While the term “diminished” might sound strange, it is actually not too hard to learn.
Diminished chords are the next step after you learn your major and minor chords. The first time you hear one of these chords, you might be surprised. Whenever I teach my students how to play diminished chords for the first time, they usually scrunch up their noses and say “that sounds bad!”
It’s somewhat true – diminished chords don’t have the happy sound of major or the melancholy sound of minor. They have a very unique sound that takes some getting used to.
But here’s the thing: when they are used in chord progressions properly, they actually add a lot to a song or piece.
So as we learn this chord, you’ll have to mentally get over the fact that they sound different from what you’re used to. Because later, they will have a lot of uses that sound great!
What is a diminished chord anyway?
A diminished chord is a specific type of chord that has both a minor third and a diminished 5th in it. This type of chord has an ominous, edgy, suspenseful type of sound that is not always pleasing to the ear. However, it is important to learn after your major and minor chords!
How to form a diminished chords
I am going to continue in this post with the assumption that you already know how to play major and minor chords – because they are definitely a “pre-requisite” to diminished chords! Make sure you have learned those first before trying diminished.
So here’s how you form a diminished chord.
First, I want you to find a major chord on the piano. It can be any major chord, but let’s take D as an example.
D major is spelled with a D, an F#, and an A.
Now, let’s make that chord minor. To turn D major into a minor chord, we need to lower the third. Now the spelling will be D, F natural, and A.
Now comes the fun part! To make the chord diminished, we are going to lower the FIFTH note by a half step.
That’s right – for minor you lower the third, but for diminished you will lower the 5th (by a half step).
So the spelling for a D diminished chord is this: D, F natural, and A-flat. We take the A and lower it down to the nearest flat, and then we have our diminished chord!
So here’s what D diminished looks like on the piano:
List of Diminished Chords
Here are ALL the diminished chords with their spellings:
- Cdim – C Eb Gb
- C#dim – C# E G
- Dbdim – Db Fb Abb (same as G)
- Ddim – D F Ab
- D#dim – D# F# A
- Ebdim – Eb Gb Bbb (same as A)
- Edim – E G Bb
- Fdim – F Ab Cb
- F#dim – F# A C
- Gbdim – Gb Bbb (same as A) Dbb (same as C)
- Gdim – G Bb Db
- G#dim – G# B D
- Abdim – Ab Cb (same as B) Ebb (same as D)
- Adim – A C Eb
- A#dim – A# C# E
- Bbdim – Bb Db Fb (same as E)
- Bdim – B D F
And here’s a collage of all of them on the keyboard:
What are the 3 types of diminished chords?
If you thought that was all there was to learn, think again! There are actually 3 types of diminished chords:
- Diminished triads (what we just learned)
- Diminished seventh chords
- Half diminished chords
I know it might be a little overwhelming, but just take your time as we go over these next few chords.
Diminished 7th Chords
When you play a diminished 7th chord on the piano, there will just be one more note to add – the 7th!
Diminished triads only contain the root, the 3rd and the 5th, but sevenths add the 7th on the top.
Now, this is where diminished and half diminished comes in…
Forming a Half Diminished 7th
The half diminished 7th chord uses the 7th note of the scale of the key you are in, lowered by one half step.
So let’s go back to that D example again. So far we have D, F natural, and Ab in the diminished chord. To find the half diminished 7th, first find the 7th note of the D scale – C#. Now, lower that by a half step to get C natural.
So a D half diminished 7th chord is spelled like this: D, F natural, Ab, C natural.
Here’s a graphic with ALL the half diminished 7th chords:
Forming a fully diminished 7th
From the half diminished chord, we can now form the fully diminished 7th chord.
Go back to that C natural in the example above. Now what we want to do is lower it by a half step again.
This will take us to the note B, which will technically be called Cbb (double flat) because of the key signature.
So the spelling of D dim7 is: D, F natural, Ab, Cbb
Diminished 7ths can get quite confusing because there will be a LOT of double flats. But just go slowly while finding them. And remember, you find a double flat note by going two half steps down from the name of the note. (So C# lowered by 2 half steps is B, which is the equivalent of Cbb).
Here is a chart of all the fully diminished 7th chords. Notice, the only difference between the half diminished is the top note, which is a half step lower.
How to Use Diminished piano chords
So once get used to playing lots of different diminished chords, you’re probably going to want to know how to use them in your playing.
You will find diminished chords in all types of songs, both popular and classical (especially classical!)
It will take time to start using them and recognizing them, but the more you do it the better you’ll get. Here is a video that is super helpful in this regard. The teacher will show you several methods of adding seventh chords to progressions! It’s super cool.
More Music Theory To Learn
Diminished chords may sound weird at the start, but they are an essential building block of many types of music. There are 3 different types of diminished chords and they all have such a unique, ominous sound. So now it is your turn – sit down at the piano and start practicing! Start by finding diminished triads in lots of different keys, and in time, you can try the seventh chords too. Good luck!