diminished color / passing tones

To begin using the diminished color as a passing chord is often an important next step for the emerging artist, especially those venturing into the jazz language. The following example uses the diminished sound ( whole tone / half tone ), building from the root, as a passing color between the tonic One chord and Two. Known commonly among players as "sharp One diminished", ( #1dim 7 ), this can become a cool first step in using the diminished color as well as a very exciting musical motion. Example 1.

     C maj 7 C# dim 7 D min 7 G 7

dimpc1.TIF (7114 bytes)

Here we take a bit more advantage of the written changes and attack the #1 diminished chord a little more agressively. Example 1a.

dimpc1a.TIF (7908 bytes)

Feel the energy level of the line jump a bit? The "#1 dim 7" is pretty common and also cool to use whether this motion is written in the changes of the tune being played or something that the players substitute in, to help get things moving along. This idea extends to include any of positions where the diminished color is used. Either written or subbed in, as possibly the "ultimate" jazz passing chord, we find the diminished color commonly used on #1, #2, #3, #4 and 7th scale degrees in the major tonality. In modulating, the diminished color can be conceivably found on any degree of the chromatic scale. A very handy and cool color. Titles of jazz compositions that utilize some aspects of the above harmonic motion include:

Have You Met Miss Jones
Desafinado ( bridge )
How Insensitive
Till There Was You
Webb City

Stylistically, just about anytime a tonic One chord moves to Two, the # 1 diminished color "could" be inserted. Of course, doing it tastefully is what it's all about. When tonic moves to a dominant chord built on Six, we can substitute the #1 diminished out for Six, as in the changes of "I Got Rhythm" and other compositions built on rhythm changes. There are lots of possibilities, look to the improvisation section and the chords / harmony section for more ideas for diminished substitutions and a simple practice format to begin internalizing this potentially important color.

Here is a chart outlining the 12 pitches of the C chromatic scale, each of which is examined for it's potential to be altered using the diminished color within the diatonic realm of C major / minor. Following the chart are musical realizations of each of the entries by scale degree. Example 2.

chromatic scale pitch C / One C# / Db D / Two D# / Eb E / Three F / Four
numerical representation i # i 7

bII 7 b9


II 7 b9

# ii 7

bIII 7 b9

III 7 b9 ?
primary diminished color C C# 7 D D# 7 E 7 b9  
secondary diminished color   Db 7 b9 D 7 b9 Eb 7 b9    


chromatic scale degree F# / Gb G / Five G# / Ab A / Six A# / Bb B / Seven
numerical representation # iv 7

# iv

V 7 b9 b vi 7 VI 7 b9 bVII 7 b9 vii 7


primary diminished color F# 7 G 7 b9 Ab 7 A 7 b9 Bb 7 b9 B 7
secondary diminished color F# G altered       B

Tonic / One. Using the diminished color on One or the tonic is oftentimes referred to as being a "common tone diminished" chord. Here we use it to temporarily delay and disguise the resolution of the common Two / Five One cadential motion. Example 3.

     D min 7   G 7   C dim 7   C maj 7

dimpc2.TIF (7496 bytes)

Sharp One. This motion is most common in the major tonality and is generally a swing / bebop style harmonic motion. Example 4.

     C maj 7   C# dim 7   D min 7 G 7

dimpc3.TIF (6756 bytes)

Flat Two. Any of the dominant chords built on the second degree are usually some type of tritone substitute. Here we use the diminished color in the upper par of the V 7b9 chord. Example 5.

     D min 7   Db 7b9   C maj 7


dimpc4.TIF (6888 bytes)

Two. The most common diminished color used on the 2nd scale degree is the half diminished or minor 7 flat 5 color. Example 6.

     D min 7b5   G 7b9   C min 7


dimpc5.TIF (7812 bytes)

Two / Five of Five. Here we build a dominant 7th b9 chord on Two, which is really a Five of Five motion or cycling of dominant chords. Example 6a.

     D 7b9   G 7b9   C maj 7


dimpc6.TIF (7302 bytes)

Sharp Two / flat Three. Building a diminished color on the sharp 2nd degree is similar to the sharp One motion, we are simply accelerating the motion between Two and Three. Example 7.

C maj7  C #dim7 D-7  D# dim7   E min 7 F maj 7  G 7

dimpc7.TIF (7816 bytes)

Using the diminished color within a dominant 7th b9 chord built on the flat 3rd scale degree is rare but possible. Here we use the motion with a common tone E within the progression. Example 7a.

     C maj 7   Eb 7b9   D min 9 G 13

dimpc8.TIF (6994 bytes)

Three. Using the diminished color on the diatonic 3rd scale degree is most often part of the V 7b9 chord when modulating to the relative minor. Example 8.

     C maj 7   E 7b9   A min 9


dimpc9.TIF (7476 bytes)

Four. Using the diminished color on the diatonic 4th scale degree of either the major or minor tonality is not something I have ever encountered. Suggestions?

Sharp Four. Using the diminished color on the augmented 4th scale degree is a fairly common occurrence in the more advanced jazz / blues format. The following idea is extracted from a 12 bar blues form and would be the fourth through eighth bars. Example 9.

     F 9   F# dim 7   C 7 / G   A 7

dimpc10.TIF (6416 bytes)

Five. The most common use of the diminished color upon the 5th scale degree is within the V 7 b9 chord, moving into either the major or minor tonality. Example 10.

     G 7b9 C maj 7   G 7b9   C min 7

dimpc11.TIF (7412 bytes)

Flat Six. Using the diminished color on flat Six is not all that common, as the pitches of the chord are exactly the same as the 3rd, 5th, b7th and b9th of the V 7b9 chord built on the dominant of the key, thus in this case G 7b9. Example 11.

   Ab dim 7 C maj 7   G 7b9   C maj 7

dimpc12.TIF (5964 bytes)

Six. We oftentimes find the diminished color on the diatonic 6th degree of the major tonality as part of a dominant 7th b9 chord, which usually moves by a perfect fourth to the Two chord. Example 12.

     C maj 7   A 7b9   D min 7   G 7

dimpc13.TIF (6820 bytes)

Flat Seven. A common diminished coloring of the flat Seven chord is when moving from the minor to the relative major tonality. Example 13.

     C min 7   F min 7   Bb 7b9   Eb maj 7

dimpc14.TIF (6574 bytes)

Seven. On the diatonic 7th scale degree of the major tonality we can diatonically create the half diminished color, which is oftentimes used in modulating the relative minor, via an altered Three chord of some sort. Example 14.

     C maj 7   B min 7b5   E 7b9   A min 7

dimpc15.TIF (5714 bytes)

A second common diminished coloring of the diatonic 7th degree is as a fully diminished 7th chord as part of V 7 b9. Example 14a.

     D min 7   B 7 / G   C maj 7   A min 7

dimpc16.TIF (6772 bytes)

Generate a few new ideas for using the diminished color in your music? Whether using the diminished color as a passing chord or part of the V 7b9 chord, we for the most part are leaving the blues, rock and folk worlds behind and are venturing fourth into the realm of jazz, where the range of melodic and harmonic choices increase dramatically, as does the challenge to make musical sense.

Where to next?
review new ideas
WB01337_.gif (904 bytes) WB01339_.gif (896 bytes)

It takes a great person to be a good listener.

Calvin Coolidge