How to Use Diminished 7ths as Passing Chords on the Guitar

Guitarists always use diminished 7th chords as passing chords on the guitar. One common usage is to connect chords I and ii in the major scale. Here is an example in A major, where you add a diminished chord between the A and Bm chords in two different positions using two different diminished 7th chord shapes.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can see this in the Diminished Passing Chord video.

“Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks uses the same type of diminished 7th chord. The guitar introduction is based on the verse’s chord progression I-ii-V in G, and you add a diminished 7th chord between I and ii to create the progression A-Asdim7-Bm7-E, played with a capo at the 2nd fret with the chord shapes G-Gsdim7-Am7-D.

Similarly, “Shower the People” by James Taylor uses the chords C-Csdim7-Dm, played with a capo at the 3rd fret as A-Asdim7-Bm. Here, the diminished 7th chord connects a V and vi chord.

Here is a diminished 7th chord (Csdim7) connects the ii chord (Cm7) and a first inversion I7 chord (Bf7/D) in the key of Bf. You are shown the chord changes in two positions.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Diminished chords like the ones shown appear in “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. At the end of the first verse, you hear a I-ii-V turnaround in the key of Bf. There’s a diminished 7th connecting the I and ii chords, creating the progression Bf-Bdim7-Cm7-F7. This song also features a diminished 7th between ii and an inversion of the I7 chord at the end of the second verse, creating the progression Bf-Cm7-Csdim7-Bf7/D.

Another example is the bridge to “Ain’t Gone ’n’ Give Up on Love” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, which features a keyboardist playing the chords D-Em7-Fdim7-D7/Fs, followed by A7-Bm7-Cdim7-A7/Cs (guitars tuned down one half step to Ef). Try working these chord changes out on your guitar.

Here is a diminished 7th chord connects IV and I in the key of C.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Here, the voice leading moves from the root of the IV chord to the root of the diminished 7th chord and finally to the 5th of the I chord: F-Fs-G.

The diagram shows this progression in two different positions. You clearly see this line on the 6th string in the second version with the way I put C’s 5th, G, in the bass (though you don’t need to always voice these chord changes this way). Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” also connects IV and I like this in the key of Bf.

Listen carefully to the following songs and you’ll hear diminished 7th chords:

“Dance with Me” by Orleans
“Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis
“Every Time You Go Away” by Paul Young
“Michelle” by The Beatles
“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
“Private Investigation” by Dire Straits
“Ten Years Gone” by Led Zeppelin

Diminished 7th chords are especially prevalent in jazz standards. If you have a jazz songbook like The Real Book, you’ll find diminished 7th chords in many of its selections. Two good examples that you may have heard are “Stormy Weather” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” both of which are performed by many different artists.

The popular guitar-driven Christmas song “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms is a great song to learn for guitar players who want an introduction to jazzy elements like dominant function, voice leading, and diminished 7th chords.

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