There are four diminished modes in the harmonic minor scale and two diminished modes in the melodic minor scale. You can build every type of diminished chord from those 6 modes. I cover the intervals and chords for each mode, their resolution tendency, and suggestions on how to use the diminished chords in your songs.
Diminished modes from common scales
If you are reading this article, then I’m sure you are aware of the Locrian mode built on the 7th scale degree of the major scale. A more advanced diminished scale is the Fully Diminished scale (half-step/whole-step). I briefly cover those two scales in my Diminished Modes, Chords & Scale article.
I want to focus on the diminished modes that come from the Melodic & Harmonic minor scales.
Take note of the different 7th chords that each diminished mode builds. All possible diminished 7th chords can be built from these modes. If you do not understand the notation for the intervals in the tables below, then take a look at my Music Intervals article.
Here are all the possible diminished chords that you can build from the harmonic & melodic minor scales:
diminished triad (dim, o)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5 = 1-♭3-♭5
Chord tendency: Resolves best to a major or minor chord up a half-step, e.g. C#dim > D or Dm
Scales/Modes: all diminished scales & modes build a diminished triad
Fully diminished 7th (dim7,o7)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5-d7 = 1-♭3-♭5-♭♭7
Chord tendency: Resolves best to a major or minor chord up a half-step on each chord tone, e.g. C#dim7 (C#-E-G-B♭) > D/Dm, F/Fm, A♭/A♭m, and B/Bm.
Scales/Modes: 2nd, 4th, 6th & 7th scale degrees of the harmonic minor scale
Half-diminished 7th (m7♭5,ø7)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5-m7 = 1-♭3-♭5-♭7
Chord tendency: Resolves best to a major or minor chord up a half-step, e.g. C#m7b5 > D or Dm
Scales/Modes: 2nd & 4th scale degrees harmonic minor, 6th & 7th scale degree melodic minor
Minor 9 flat 5 (m9♭5)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5-m7-M9 = 1-♭3-♭5-♭7-9
Chord tendency: Resolves best up a half-step (major & minor), to the root minor, and to the perfect 5th minor, e.g. Gm9♭5 > A♭, A♭m, Gm and Dm
Scales/Modes: 4th scale degree harmonic minor, 6th scale degree melodic minor
Minor 11 flat 5 (m11♭5)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5-m7-P4 = 1-♭3-♭5-♭7-11
Chord tendency: Resolves best to a major or minor chord up a half-step, e.g. C#m11b5 > D or Dm
Scales/Modes: 2nd scale degree harmonic minor, 6th scale degree melodic minor
Minor major 7 flat 5 (m-maj7♭5)
Chord intervals: R-m3-d5-M7 = 1-♭3-♭5-7
Chord tendency: Same as m9♭5
Scales/Modes: 6th degree harmonic minor
Three of those chords are commonly seen in music (dim, dim7, m7♭5) but the other three are rarely seen.
Harmonic minor scale diminished modes
The harmonic minor differs from the natural minor by a single note. The 7th scale degree of the harmonic minor is a major 7th but that interval is a minor seventh in the natural minor scale. For D natural minor the minor 7th is the note C, but it is C# for the harmonic and melodic minor scales.
Here are the intervals in the D harmonic minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-B♭-C#) followed by the intervals and notes in the 4 diminished modes:
|D Harmonic Minor||D||1||M2||m3||P4||P5||m6||M7|
E Locrian M6 diminished chords:
Edim7 = E-G-B♭-C#
Em7♭5 = E-G-B♭-D
Em11♭5 = E-G-B♭-D-A
G Dorian #11 diminished chords:
Gdim = G-B♭-D♭
Gdim7 = G-B♭-D♭-E
Gm7♭5 = G-B♭-D♭-F
Gm9♭5 = G-B♭-D♭-F-A
B♭ Lydian #9 diminished chords:
B♭dim = B♭-D♭-F
B♭dim7 = B♭-D♭-F-G
B♭m-maj7♭5 = B♭-D♭-F-A
C# Ultra Locrian diminished chords:
C#dim = C#-E-G
C#dim7 = C#-E-G-B♭
Notes on two Harmonic minor diminished modes
The Dorian #11 mode is considered a minor mode and the Lydian #9 mode is considered major mode. But you have to understand a few things.
- First, some scales give you the option to choose different scale degrees.
So you can have a different 3rd, 5th or 7th scale degree.
- For some of these chords, the scale degrees change to their enharmonic equivalent, for example, D♭ vs C# in the B♭ diminished chords.
- The note that is the diminished 7th is actually the major 6th for the first 3 dim7 chords. Those diminished modes also have either a m7 or M7 interval.
- Also, since the dim7 chord is a symmetrical chord. That means that every chord tone builds a diminished 7th chord.
Hopefully, that wasn’t too confusing. You’lpl come to understand it in time.
Melodic minor scale diminished modes
The melodic minor differs by 2 notes from the natural minor scale. The B♭ and C in D natural minor become B and C# in D melodic minor.
Here are the intervals in the D melodic minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-B♭-C#) followed by the intervals and notes in the 2 diminished modes:
|D Melodic Minor||D||1||M2||m3||P4||P5||M6||M7|
B Locrian M2 diminished chords:
Bdim = B-D-F
Bm7♭5 = B-D-F-A
Bm9♭5 = B-D-F-A-C#
Bm11♭5 = B-D-F-A-E
C# Super Locrian diminished chords:
C#dim = C#-E-G
C#m7♭5 = C#-E-G-B
How to use the diminished modes and chords built from them
I personally do not play diminished modes or scales with the exception of the Locrian pentatonic scale. I’m more interested in chords so I try to keep my scales to a minimum. However, if you are more of a scale player, then definitely try any of the diminished modes above for some exotic riffs.
Since diminished chords rarely last more than a measure, I’ll just play an arpeggio of the diminished chord or a related dominant 7th chord.
I use the diminished chords as substitutes for dominant 7th chords. That is the main use for me. I cover dominant 7th substitutions in my article The Diminished Chord. But you should also read my Altered 7ths article for some interesting insights into diminished chords.
Finally, you can use any of the diminished chords above in any of the 3 minor scales to easily modulate to other keys. You want to pay attention to the tritones or just know the chord tendency.
When it comes to using “complex” or non-standard chords, I focus on the overall sound or the resolution tendency of the chord. All diminished chords function as dominant 7th chords and resolve best to the tonic of the scale. Since they tend to rootless dom7 chords they are easier to hold.
Then there is the tendency for some diminished chords to easily modulate to other keys. If you have already established the sound of a diminished chord in a song, then modulating to a new key is a fluid process. Take a look at the Wikipedia page on the Minor Scale for insights into the three minor scales. Otherwise, put those diminished modes and chords to good use.