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Thread: Using and resolving diminished chords

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  1. #1
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    How to use and resolve diminished chords?

    Hi all,

    I've been studying music theory on my own for a while now and have reached a point where I'm experimenting with borrowing chords from parallel modes and from exotic scales (e.g. Hungarian Minor, Enigmatic, etc.). So, of course, I'm also becoming very aware of what I don't know yet . Can y'all help me answer some questions that have come up? I'd really appreciate hearing your ideas.

    The first big problem I've noticed is that I'm having a hard time understanding how to use and resolve diminished triads, augmented triads, and the non-standard triads which show up in the exotic scales. I'd really like to get a very clear understanding of this so I can experiment on my own as much as possible and while staying in the realm of "what I know works" in theory. Also so I can experiment live even when I'm completely hammered . So, for instance, if I'm in C Ionian and I play the I maj, I can borrow the #iv° from C Lydian and get a Jesus Jones "Right Here, Right Now" type of sound and it works. When I think about what to play next I'll probably want to pick the next chord from Ionian or Lydian so I don't mess the tonal center too much. But knowing how to consistantly resolve the diminished triad using Ionian or Lydian is difficult for me. I just don't know what chords will work and I'd like many to choose from depending on what I want to do.

    So, I'll just jump in to it. Starting first with diminished triads (to keep me from getting too confused all at once with the other chords out there), how do I use and resolve diminished triads from the Major modes (e.g. vii° in C Ionian, #iv° in C Lydian, etc.)? Are there guidelines for what chords sound good leading up to, and following, the diminished triad? I'm thinking that since there's a tritone between the 1st and 5th degrees of the diminished triad then maybe I'm really wondering what the standard rules are for entering into and for resolving tritones. I'm thinking that if I know how to resolve tritones then I can find the chords on my own as the need arises. I'd love if there were some 'list' out there with stuff like, "you can resolve a diminished triad by playing a major triad a perfect fifth below or a minor triad a major third above because the tritone in the triad always wants to resolve to a ...)"? That'd be very handy and would give me a ton of study material. It'd be cool to, say, hit the vii° in C Ionian (for example) and be able to choose if I want to resolve it with a diatonic chord or if I want to resolve it and modulate at the same time by borrowing a chord from a parallel mode. I'd also be interested in knowing how to extend the resolution until after a few more 'tension' chords following the diminished triad.

    I've also heard a new perspective on diminished triads last weekend that I thought was interesting. They share 3 voices with a dominant seventh chord. Any ideas on using this perspective in a live setting or during songwriting? So far I'm thinking that for live, I can use diminished triads to comp over I7-IV7-V7 blues/jazz progressions and let the bassist fill in the root note for me, but there are probably other ways to look at this that I haven't thought of. Does this perspective mean that I can substitute diminished triads in place of any dominant seventh chord as long as the triad is a major third above (or minor sixth below)? Does that also mean that I can use the tritone substitution of that diminished triad to substitute for the same dominant seventh chord (so instead of substituting vii° for V7, I can use iv° too)? If so, is there anything that explains why I can hit the 4 and omit the 2 in the above tritone substitution? That's always been a mystery to me.

    I know I've got a ton of questions since I'm really trying to spec this out and get new ideas from other musicians. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts on all this. If somehow I could get ideas on all the various questions in here that'd be incredibly cool.

    Cheers,
    Shaun
    Last edited by shaunp; 03-02-2006 at 08:05 AM.

  2. #2
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    99% of diminished chords will function in one of three different ways.

    Either as an aproach chord that resolves up by half step, or an approach chord that resolves down by half step or as a dominant 7b9 without the root.

    Now for the dominant business, while it may be true that you can play anything over a dominant chord, you need to be a little more sensitive while comping. In a blues, a I7b9 might not always sound all that great.

    As for the tritone subs, the typical chord scale to use is lydian dominant, which has no b9. The reason being is that if you look at a V7-I compared to a bII7-I in C, if you use a Db Lydian dominant chord scale it is the same as G altered. But if you use a Db altered chord scale you end up with Db, D, E, F, G, A, B, which is pretty close to G mixolydian and very tonic sounding, even if you end up getting to use your b9. So using lydian dominant over tritone subs will pull you completely out of the key and make it sound more 'altered' in relation to where you are trying to resolve.

    there was something else I was going to say, but it escapes me at the moment.

  3. #3
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    I remember now,

    Voice leading:

    general rule of thumb is that every note in the chord resolves to the nearest note of the next chord. The more half and whole steps, the smoother it will sound. If a chord is a tone or semi tone away, everything will move in parallel motion.

    There are some sounds that traditionally resolve with larger intervals, such as #9 over a dominant traditionally resolves down a minor 3rd to the 5th of the next chord. Just like b13 traditionally resolves down a minor 3rd to the root of the next chord and 13 traditionally resolves down a major 3rd to the root of the next chord, or stays to become the 3rd.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by silent-storm
    I remember now,

    Voice leading:

    general rule of thumb is that every note in the chord resolves to the nearest note of the next chord. The more half and whole steps, the smoother it will sound. If a chord is a tone or semi tone away, everything will move in parallel motion.

    There are some sounds that traditionally resolve with larger intervals, such as #9 over a dominant traditionally resolves down a minor 3rd to the 5th of the next chord. Just like b13 traditionally resolves down a minor 3rd to the root of the next chord and 13 traditionally resolves down a major 3rd to the root of the next chord, or stays to become the 3rd.
    Thanks again. This is good advice about the note movement between the chords in a progression. I've looked at counterpoint for two voices and your advice feels like some extension of the counterpoint rules when more than two voices are used. Do you have any recommendations on reading material, web sites, etc. that discuss counterpoint rules for >2 part harmonies? I'm not even sure if they exist.

    What I've been doing now is developing chord progressions and occasionally I try to make sure the lowest and highest notes follow the counterpoint rules for two-part harmony. I don't really pay much attention to the other voices but what you say about whole and half steps makes sense. From what I can tell from counterpoint, you stick with the smallest leaps possible, nothing greater than an ascending sixth or decending fifth, try to maintain as much contrary motion as possible, always jump in the opposite direction after a leap > 3rd, avoid parallel motion as much as possible, and don't cross the voices (or streams, if you're a Ghostbusters fan). Saw a really good article on http://www.ntoll.org about counterpoint in two voices that I've been referring to a lot. Do you do anything similar when you're writing new progressions?

    Regards,
    Shaun

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    www.ntoll.org , good conscise reference point for Counterpoint study ,just what I was lookin for Thanks for the heads up!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by silent-storm
    99% of diminished chords will function in one of three different ways.

    Either as an aproach chord that resolves up by half step, or an approach chord that resolves down by half step or as a dominant 7b9 without the root.

    Now for the dominant business, while it may be true that you can play anything over a dominant chord, you need to be a little more sensitive while comping. In a blues, a I7b9 might not always sound all that great.
    Thanks. So if I play a diminished triad I think you're saying that I can play any major or minor triad one half-step away up or down? So a vii° can go to bvii, bVII, i, or I? That's cool since that opens up a lot of possibilities for what to do next. Also, if I want to stay close to the tonal center, it simplifies the possibilities for modal interchange since I can't always find a major or minor chord a half-step away in all the parallel modes of a scale (e.g. Major, Harmonic Minor, etc.). Is that right? Also, from this 'half-step rule' do you know if other chord types will work too aside from major and minor? I wonder if vii° to bvii°, i°, bVIIaug, or Iaug will work.

    About the dominant 7b9, I don't think I've ever heard of this or used it since I usually stay away from all diminished chords, unless it 'just works' while jamming on new chord progressions. I can see why I'd probably want to stay away from adding a b9 to my dominant chords while comping on blues. Everyone else is usually either playing straight diatonic or subbing dominant sevenths for major seventh chords and a b9 would add a minor 2nd dissonance in there. In general, I try to keep far away from minor 2nd intervals when comping on blues. I'm glad you pointed this chord out.

    Thinking diatonically though, if I wanted to add an interval of a ninth to a dominant 7 chord I'd probably choose the 9 over the b9. I'm not sure I understand how I can add a b9 onto my dominant seventh chords and make it work. I'm probably gonna have to step outside of the Major modes to see how to make the b9 work... Ok. I just looked it up and it looks like dominant 7th add b9 chords pop up in the Harmonic Major and Harmonic Minor modes. Do you know why it's so common to omit the root on a dom 7 add b9? Also, wouldn't this be a hard chord to resolve given that there are two tritones in it (3 and b7 & b9 and 5) and a minor second (8 and b9)? Hmm.. I think I just answered my own question. Removing the root gets rid of the minor second dissonance. The two tritones still throws me though. I wouldn't know how to resolve the chord if it ever showed up .

    BTW - I'm still digesting the part about tritone subs and lydian dominant and altered scales. These scales are a bit new to me but I really appreciate the explanation.

    --Shaun
    Last edited by shaunp; 03-02-2006 at 10:56 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by silent-storm
    As for the tritone subs, the typical chord scale to use is lydian dominant, which has no b9. The reason being is that if you look at a V7-I compared to a bII7-I in C, if you use a Db Lydian dominant chord scale it is the same as G altered. But if you use a Db altered chord scale you end up with Db, D, E, F, G, A, B, which is pretty close to G mixolydian and very tonic sounding, even if you end up getting to use your b9. So using lydian dominant over tritone subs will pull you completely out of the key and make it sound more 'altered' in relation to where you are trying to resolve.
    Hmm. I've never thought about how I'd solo over a tritone substitution before. Using your bII7 example, when soloing over a bII7 in C the possibilities I would probably consider are Db Hungarian Major, Db Lydian Minor, Db Lydian Dominant, Db Mixolydian b6, Db Mixolydian, Db Mixolydian b2, or Db Phrygian Major because they all have the Db7 chord in them. It's interesting that you've mentioned Db Altered. I wouldn't have thought of that since it's missing the perfect 5th for the Db7. I'll have to try that out, but I'm expecting the G and the A sound very dissonant over it because of the minor second interval they form with the Ab in the Db7. But I can see what you're saying since many dominant seventh chords are played without the perfect fifth. That's actually a really cool way to look at it since that opens up tons more modes for soloing. I just looked it up and omitting the perfect fifth in Db7 also opens up Db Lydian Dominant Augmented, Db Dominant Augmented, Db Enigmatic (4th mode), Db Major Locrian, Db Locrian Nat 3, and Db Oriental for soloing, in addition to the others listed above.

    Getting back to how to use tritone substitutions, I'm still not sure I understand why it works yet. I understand that both chords share the same notes that form the tritone, and that explains why those two notes work. The other ones still feel like black magic at work. Then again, I've been focusing on triads and not on seventh chords so maybe it'll make more sense later when I take a closer look at dominant chords.

    --Shaun
    Last edited by shaunp; 03-02-2006 at 12:49 PM.

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    Hi Shaun
    You should check out James' article
    Tri-tone, Substitution, Cycle 4

    Dominant, b9 chord can be used as a V chord in minor progressions. silent-storms reference to being played with out the root is, I believe, meant to highlight it's relation to the diminished chord.

    A diminished 7th chord is, (almost ?) always functioning as a dominant. *someone point out if I'm wrong about that

    Print out silent-storms replies and the article, it'll be the gift that keeps on giving -

    -best,
    Mike

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaunp
    Hmm. I've never thought about how I'd solo over a tritone substitution before. Using your bII7 example, when soloing over a bII7 in C the possibilities I would probably consider are Db Hungarian Major, Db Lydian Minor, Db Lydian Dominant, Db Mixolydian b6, Db Mixolydian, Db Mixolydian b2, or Db Phrygian Major because they all have the Db7 chord in them. It's interesting that you've mentioned Db Altered. I wouldn't have thought of that since it's missing the perfect 5th for the Db7. I'll have to try that out, but I'm expecting the G and the A sound very dissonant over it because of the minor second interval they form with the Ab in the Db7. But I can see what you're saying since many dominant seventh chords are played without the perfect fifth. That's actually a really cool way to look at it since that opens up tons more modes for soloing. I just looked it up and omitting the perfect fifth in Db7 also opens up Db Lydian Dominant Augmented, Db Dominant Augmented, Db Enigmatic (4th mode), Db Major Locrian, Db Locrian Nat 3, and Db Oriental for soloing, in addition to the others listed above.

    Getting back to how to use tritone substitutions, I'm still not sure I understand why it works yet. I understand that both chords share the same notes that form the tritone, and that explains why those two notes work. The other ones still feel like black magic at work. Then again, I've been focusing on triads and not on seventh chords so maybe it'll make more sense later when I take a closer look at dominant chords.

    --Shaun
    well to be perfectly honest, I don't think I explained myself as clear as I could have. The Db altered example was just a way of saying that altering a tritone sub (ala using the diminished chord off of the D like you do with other dominants to get the b9) will actually make it sound more diatonic to the key, which isn't what you are usually going after with tritone subs. You are usually looking for something that pulls you out of a key, which lydian dominant does most effectively because it's the same notes as the altered scale based off of the root a tritone away. I was just trying to give an example of where, like a I7 in blues, the diminished chord that gives you a dominant 7b9 without a root is not the best option.

    The reason why the notes sound like 'black magic' at first is because not very many of them are in the key. In C, the tritone sub would give you Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, B. And when you first start dabbling in this stuff it is a lot easier to relate everything back to a given key center, which none of this fits into. If you ever hear of the term 'side slipping' it's essentially the same thing. Take the progression Dm/G7/C and play a line that ends on Db on the 1st beat in the bar of C and then resolve it down part way through the bar. It gives tension, but you can hear where it's suppose to go and as long as it eventually gets there it doesn't matter. The same thing applies with tri-tone subs. As long as you end up getting to where you are suppose to go, everything else before hand makes sense.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by silent-storm
    well to be perfectly honest, I don't think I explained myself as clear as I could have. The Db altered example was just a way of saying that altering a tritone sub (ala using the diminished chord off of the D like you do with other dominants to get the b9) will actually make it sound more diatonic to the key, which isn't what you are usually going after with tritone subs. You are usually looking for something that pulls you out of a key, which lydian dominant does most effectively because it's the same notes as the altered scale based off of the root a tritone away. I was just trying to give an example of where, like a I7 in blues, the diminished chord that gives you a dominant 7b9 without a root is not the best option.

    The reason why the notes sound like 'black magic' at first is because not very many of them are in the key. In C, the tritone sub would give you Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, B. And when you first start dabbling in this stuff it is a lot easier to relate everything back to a given key center, which none of this fits into. If you ever hear of the term 'side slipping' it's essentially the same thing. Take the progression Dm/G7/C and play a line that ends on Db on the 1st beat in the bar of C and then resolve it down part way through the bar. It gives tension, but you can hear where it's suppose to go and as long as it eventually gets there it doesn't matter. The same thing applies with tri-tone subs. As long as you end up getting to where you are suppose to go, everything else before hand makes sense.
    Ok. I've been reading this last post over and over again for the past few days. There is a ton of good info in there and I think I've finally absorbed what you're saying. Thanks Silent-Storm! If I can, I'd like to run my newest ideas by you to see if I've really got it. Before I get started I want to say that the I7b9 (omit root) was completely new to me, so thanks for giving me a new chord. It's got a good sound that I know I've heard somewhere before (Ray Charles?, Etta James?). Anyhow, here goes...

    For tritone substitution, you've said that the bII7 and V7b9 (omit root) can be used in place of a diatonic V7 chord (say, a G7 in C Major). And I've noticed that both the bII7 and V7b9 (omit root) share the 3-7 tritone with the V7. So I'm thinking the shared tritone can be viewed as a pivot chord that enables these substitutions to work (I'm just taking that as fact). So, by stretching that reasoning out, then any two chords which share tritones are interchangable for one another since tritones can always act as pivot chords. Right? I'm taking a big guess that 'that's the rule' but it seems to fit and gives a reasonable explanation for why the bII7 and V7b9 (omit root) are interchangeable with V7. Practically, it also gives me ways to 'break out' of my diatonic thinking and enables me to use tritone substitutions for non-diatonic dominant 7th chords too (say, I7 to I7b9 (omit root), bV7 or bV7b9 (omit root)). If I've got these last few parts right then I think I'm about to have a lot of fun with my practicing .

    You've also hinted that the effect of using tritone substitutions is usually to get a sound as far away from the current key as possible. This is a very interesting perspective since it got me thinking about the 'distance' between keys and how to increase or shorten the distance depending on the effect I want. So say there's a V7 in a blues progression in C Major, you'd mentioned that a V7b9 (omit root) substitution would be 'more diatonic' to C Major than a bII7. I think I'm following what you're saying since, aside from tritones, the bII7 has no notes in common with C Major - which I'd imagine would give it a non-diatonic sound. On the other hand, the V7b9 (omit root) chord shares a 9th (the D) with C Major - which I'd imagine would make it sound more diatonic than the bII7. I haven't tried it yet, but if that reasoning is right then a Isus4 (add 7) would sound even more diatonic than a V7b9 (omit root) because, aside from the tritone, it shares two notes (C and G) with C Major.

    So, as a general rule I'm thinking that if I'm using any tritone sub over a diatonic V7, the more notes it shares with the current key the more diatonic it will sound (and vice versa). If this is a good guideline, then I'm hoping I can use it to build new, and hopefully more interesting, chords over my progressions. Are there other perspectives that may help with building chords to use for tritone substitution? For now, I'm running as if as long as a chord shares the tritone and has no minor 2nds in it (major 7th are ok, but I find minor 2nds are often too dissonant), then I've got a reasonable chance of the chord sounding good when used in a tritone substitution. Also, I can pick chords that, aside from the tritone, share zero, one, or two notes with the diatonic key to control how close or far away I want to be from the diatonic key. Does this seem like a good approach? Do you know of a list of good chords to use in dominant 7th tritone substitutions?

    About using Lydian Dominant over tritone substitutions, I've just started using Db Lydian Dominant (which, I've found, is a Melodic Minor mode) over bII7 while subbing for V7 in C Major. Yet another new thing I've learned from your replies . I definitely hear how it pulls you out of the C Major sound when used over the Db7 substitution. Thanks again. I was running through some charts and found that, aside from tritones, the only note that Db Lydian Dominant shares with C Major is G. So I'm thinking that if I want to get even more non-diatonic than Db Lydian Dominant, I could turn the G into a Gb and use Db Mixolydian so that the scale will share no notes with C Major, aside from the tritones. Do you have any insight on why it may be better (or more common anyways) to leave the G in there rather than flat it to get the most non-diatonic sound possible? I get the feeling that there's a reason why Db Lydian Dominant came to mind and not Db Mixolydian when you mentioned it in your last post.

    Again, I really appreciate the replies I've gotten from my initial posts on the iBreatheMusic forums. I've gotten the answers to my original questions and a ton more too. You guys are great.

    Cheers,
    --Shaun
    Last edited by shaunp; 03-05-2006 at 12:33 AM.

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    Cheers Shaun !
    You've got to be a teachers dream. You're working overtime to get this figured out.

    There's just a couple things that caught my eye, in your reply:
    You mention the V7,b9 (G7,b9) sharing a 9th (D) with C Maj. Actually all the notes in G7,b9 are in the key of C major, except the b9 of course, (Ab = the b6th of C Maj.)

    Also, the G7,b9 (omit root) is an Ab diminished 7 chord. Diminished chords are built by stacking minor 3rd intervals. This symmetry means you can use any of the notes in the chord as the root. The point here is, by seeing this chord as diminished, you open up a whole new world of possible resolution,......(or extended tension).

    I just wanted to make sure you were aware of this.

    -best,
    Mike

    Edit: for those spelling along at home, please call it a G# diminished !!
    .....sorry 'bout that !
    Last edited by mjo; 03-07-2006 at 02:30 PM. Reason: nobody should have to spell an Ab diminished chord

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaunp
    About using Lydian Dominant over tritone substitutions, I've just started using Db Lydian Dominant (which, I've found, is a Melodic Minor mode) over bII7 while subbing for V7 in C Major.
    Curious about this. Which Melodic Minor mode might that be? In other words, from which MM degree do you start playing?

    Regards,
    H u b e r t .

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