The Weird Chord

You and I have been looking at chords for a while now.  I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve given you the idea that all chords are either major or minor.  They’re not.  There are other options, although we don’t hear them quite so often. There’s one particular chord it’s good to know.  I think of it as ‘the weird chord’.  You won’t come across it every day, but every once in a while.  And when it does come up it’s good to have someone in the room who knows what to do.  So think of this as your own musical heimlich manoeuver.

When it comes to chord names if it doesn’t say major or minor there’s a good chance it’ll say ‘diminished’.  It’s definitely a weird-sounding chord, but it’s not as unusual as you might think (you see it a bunch in things like ragtime and a lot of old-school pop music).  You can arrive at it a few ways.  Me, I start from a known and work from there.  And for me there is no bigger ‘known’ in music than the major chord.  So let’s start there.

Let’s work from a C-major chord (just because in C there aren’t any sharps or flats to confuse things, but you knew that, right?).  A major chord is made up of doh, mi and soh in a major scale.  So a C-major chord would be C and E and G-notes.  Okay, once we’re there the rest is easy.

Remember that the only difference between a major and minor chord is that the minor chord has the middle note a semi-tone lower.  So the three notes that make up a C-minor chord are C, E-flat and G.

All good so far, nothing new there.  But what if we also take the highest note of that C-major chord, the G-note, and do the same trick, change it from a G-note to a G-flat by lowering it a semi-tone?  Our new three notes would be C, E-flat and G-flat.  And those are the notes that make up a C-diminished chord.

So if you know the major chord you can figure out the diminished.

  • If a D-Major-chord is made up of D, F-sharp and A-notes,

a D-diminished chord is made up of D, F and A-flat notes.

  • If a G-major chord is made up of G, B and D-notes,

an G-diminished chord is made up of G, B-flat and D-flat notes.

Yup, it’s that easy, once you know the major chord.  So next time somebody chokes over a diminished chord, you’ll know what to do.

You’re welcome.

(Sidenote–the distance from C up to G is called a fifth.  You figure if we lowered it a semi-tone it’d be a ‘minor fifth’.  But there’s no such thing.  Neither is there a ‘major fifth’.  If a fifth is exactly where it would be in the major scale it’s called a ‘perfect fifth’.  And a semi-tone down from ‘perfect’ it’s called diminished.  Same is true of a fourth, and an octave for that matter.  So for this reason it’s useful to remember 1458.  When we go from doh to any of those notes in the scale they’re all referred to as ‘perfect intervals’, not ‘major’.  And a semi-tone lower is called ‘diminished’, not ‘minor’.  A little goofy, but good to know.)