Welcome to this lesson on diminished 7th guitar chords. Firstly allow me to apologise for the cheesy title of this guitar lesson. I’m well aware that it comes across as click bait but I couldn’t think of a way to summarise the content of the lesson in 1 simple and enticing phrase. Fear not though you god of 6 strings. The title may seem like click bait but it isn’t because it’s true. In this guitar lesson you’ll learn an amazing guitar trick based on diminished 7th chords that’s so cool that every guitar player should know it.
The concept is actually very simple. It can probably be explained with a few short sentences but I also want to make sure that you understand WHY this works so that you can feel comfortable in using it. The mechanics of this trick are based within the exciting world of music theory. This isn’t a theory lesson as such so I’m not going to go music theory heavy here. I’m just going to tell you what you need to know and nothing more. If you don’t have enough music theory knowledge to understand the theory stuff then don’t worry,. You can still use this technique safely as long as you follow the instructions.
Back in time
Firstly let me give you the background. I first discovered this technique when I was fairly early on in my guitar learning journey. When I say fairly early, I mean very early. At the time I’d been playing for less than a year. I was taking weekly private guitar lessons at the local music store and the guy that was teaching me converted me into a massive Joe Satriani fan and that admiration of Satriani still stands today as you can probably tell from some of the content on the site. For a new guitar player, the music of Satriani was far beyond my playing standards but 1 day I found something interesting. A song by Joe Satriani called Tears in the Rain.
How I discovered the diminished 7th guitar chord trick
Tears in the Rain is different to Satriani’s normal pie in the sky guitar music. It’s a short finger picked classical piece. At the time I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar so I asked my guitar teacher to teach me how to play this piece of music. So he did.
Toward the end of the piece, Joe uses a series of diminished 7th chords. The TAB for that section looks like this and it serves as a perfect example of what I’m showing you in this lesson.
Tears in the Rain by Joe Satriani diminished 7th chord section TAB
This TAB extract can be performed by using the diminished 7th chord shape found below. I’ve used a G# diminished 7th chord as the example because it represents the first bar of the TAB. This is a movable chord shape so simply move the shape down the fretboard accordingly to perform the rest of the example.
Diminished 7th guitar chord shape 1
There’s a total of 4 chords there which all use the same shape as shown above. The first is a G#dim7 (dim meaning diminished), the second is an Fdm7, the third is a Ddmin7 and the fourth is a Bdim7. The song is in the key of A minor and as you may or may not know, the G#dmin7 chord appears in the chords of the A harmonic minor scale. It is the 7th chord of the scale specifically but the other 3 chords mentioned don’t appear in the A harmonic minor scale so why does this work?
Well the answer lies within the notes of the chords themselves. Let’s break down each chord and see what notes are used in each one. Before we look at that, it’s important to know how exactly a diminished 7th chord is built. The formula for a diminished 7th chord is 1 b3 b5 bb7. That’s a root, flat 3rd, flat 5th and double flat 7th (lowered by 2 semi tones instead of 1). With that in mind, let’s see how the chords from our example above break down.
Breaking down the chords
G# diminished 7th chord notes = G#(1) B(b3) D(b5) F(bb7)
F diminished 7th chord notes = F(1) G#(b3) B(b5) D(bb7)
D diminished 7th chord notes = D(1) F(b3) G#(b5) B(bb7)
B diminished 7th chord notes = B(1) D(b3) F(b5) G#(bb7)
Notice anything interesting with the notes of these 4 chords? It’s simple. All the notes are the same in all 4 of these diminished 7th chords. The notes of the G# diminished 7th chord are exactly the same as the notes in the F diminished 7th chord, the D diminished 7th chord and the B diminished 7th chord. They’re just in a different order. That’s why the example above works and that’s why you can play all of these chords with the A harmonic minor scale although it may be easier to think of it as a G# diminished 7th chord and 3 inversions of that same chord but at the end of the day, the names really don’t matter.
The same rule applies to any harmonic minor key. The 7th chord that is built on the 7th degree of the harmonic minor scale is always a diminished 7th chord for example C#dim7 would be the 7th 7 chord of the D harmonic minor scale.
That’s not all
The lesson doesn’t end there. So far we’ve only looked at how we can use theory to do something clever and spice up our rhythm a little bit but there hasn’t really been a “trick”. The trick comes in quickly finding these inversions or alternative chords and again you can see this at work in the section from the Satriani piece that I showed you above.
The chord shape that I’ve given you has the root note sitting on the A string. That Tears in the Rain extract starts at fret 11 meaning that the chord is a G# diminished 7th chord. To play the next bar, the shape is simply moved down by 3 frets. Our root note is not on the 8th fret giving us a root note of F and our next chord, the F diminished 7th. We then move down 3 frets once again to the 5th fret for a root of D and the D diminished 7th chord and then finally 3 frets again to the 2nd fret with a B root note and the B diminished 7th chord.
The diminished 7th chord trick – 3 is key
The trick is simple. 3 is key. If you take the diminished 7th chord shape that I gave you above and move it either up or down the fretboard by 3, you’ll have one of your inversions. This always works in any harmonic minor key without exception. You can test this out for yourself using the material and information above but just to prove the concept, let’s look at another simple example.
We mentioned D harmonic minor earlier so let’s go with that. The 7th 7 chord of the D harmonic minor scale would be a C# diminished 7th. You can perform this chord by playing the same chord shape as we’ve used throughout with the root at fret 4 on the A string.
The notes of the chord are C# E G Bb. If we move that shape up by 3 frets we end with a root of E. The notes of the chord that you’re playing are still the same. You have an inversion of a C# diminished 7th chord or if you like, an E diminished 7th chord. Therefore you could have a chord progression of Dm / Edim7 / C#dim7 and still be sounding good and in key. Give it a strum.
I’m hoping that you’ll take 2 simple things from this guitar lesson. Firstly I hope that you will take this little trick and include it in your own rhythm guitar playing but this for some of you will be your first experience of this chord so the second thing that I want you to take from this guitar lesson is the knowledge that diminished 7th chords can sound really cool, especially when you use this little trick.
Just remember. The diminished 7th chord is the 7th 7 chord built from the harmonic minor scale. That’s the key to using it correctly. D harmonic minor = C# diminished 7th, A harmonic minor = G# diminished 7th and so on.
I’ll leave you with a way to make using the diminished 7th chord and the diminished 7th chord trick even easier and I’ll do that by providing you with another lovely chord shape. This one is also a moveable chord shape.
Diminished 7th guitar chord shape 2
These chords sound great in both strumming and finger picking situations. Enjoy!
The first thing that I’d like to recommend is learning the song that inspired this lesson. Joe Satriani Tears in the Rain TAB and Guitar Lesson. Another lesson that I’ve written for Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat that uses this diminished 7th chord is this introduction to jazz chord progressions so be sure to take a look at that too.
Hello. My name is Ryan J Mellor and I play the guitar. I’m also the creator of Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I’ve ben a guitarist for many years and my guitar playing has been described as “above average”. My guitar and music knowledge is somewhat impressive but most importantly, I have a passion for creating great guitar and music related content.