Learn to Play Diminished Chords on Bass

How to Get Used to This Uncommon But Useful Chord

six string bass guitar
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Diminished chords are found less frequently than major or minor chords, but still often play a role in chord progressions. It is important for you to know what they are and what to play when you see them.

A diminished chord, also called a diminished triad, consists of three notes. The first two are the first and third notes of a minor scale, and the last is the fifth note of the minor scale lowered by a half-step.

For this reason, the chord is sometimes called a minor flat-five chord. The chord tones are usually called the "root," the "third," and the "fifth."

It can be easy to confuse a diminished chord with a diminished seven chord when you are reading chord symbols for a song. Both are denoted with the degree symbol, º, or with the abbreviation "dim," but a diminished seven chord will usually have a "7" after it.

The musical intervals separating the three notes are both minor thirds. As a result, the interval between the bottom and top notes is a "tritone", a very dissonant interval. The presence of the tritone gives the chord a strong tension, leading your ear to want to hear the chord resolve into something more pleasant.

If you consult the fretboard diagram on studybass.com, you'll note the pattern formed on the fretboard by a diminished chord. If you can find the root of the chord, you can use this patterns to find the rest of the chord tones.

The most convenient way to play the chord is in the position where you have your first finger on the root of the chord on the fourth string. Here, your four fingers can play the root and fifth of the chord in a diagonal line over all four strings.

You can also play the third of the chord with your fourth finger on the fourth string or your first finger on the first string.

Another good position is with your first finger on the root of the chord on the third string. You can reach the third with your fourth finger on the same string, the fifth with your second finger on the second string, and the root again with your third finger on the first string.

The last option is the position in which your third finger plays the root on the third string. Here, you can reach the fifth either with your second finger on the fourth string or your fourth finger on the second string. The third can be played by your first finger on the second string.

When you come across a diminished chord, you can use these notes in your bass lines. The most important note to play is the root, and the fifth is your next priority. These notes always conveniently form a diagonal line on the fretboard. The third is good to use as well, but it is not as important to emphasize.

Where You'll Find a Diminished Chord in Popular Music

In most pop and rock music, the diminished chord doesn't show up much. Every once in a while, you'll see it as the "flat two" chord in a major key, in a situation like the following:

C major | C# dimished | D minor | G7 |

Sometimes, you'll even see a diminished chord also used as the "flat three" chord. For example:

C major | C# diminished | D minor | D# diminished | E minor |

Try playing through the progressions above to get used to the sound of the diminished chord.Your first time through, try simply sticking to the root note (e.g. C for four beats | C# for four beat | D for four beats | G for four beats), then try embellishing slightly to include the third and fifth of each chord. In this context, I think you'll agree the chord stops sounding so strange.