Elevate Your Music With This Diminished Sound Exercise

April 22, 2024
Diminished Sound Exercise - Image of a mysterious Triangle

The diminished sound is a staple in music and holds a unique place in the world of bass guitar and offers a gateway to advanced musicianship and creativity.

In this guide we’ll dive into diminished sound approaches for bass guitar through a simple exercise exercise that’ll not only develop your ears but also enhance both your playing technique and musical expression.

In short, this harmonic exercise can be used to add spice to any of your melodic lines and harmonic chord progressions.

The concept of this exercise is simple, yet the sound is very effective with creating movement in your music.

So, grab your bass. Let’s dive in.


If you’re short on time, watch my video that breaks down this simple concept and exercise into actionable steps that you can use to elevate your music. This is the Diminished Sound Exercise.

YouTube video
Elevate Your Music With This Diminished Sound Exercise

What is a Diminished Chord?

A diminished chord is an unstable sounding three-note chord formed by stacking two minor third intervals on top of each other. Due to it’s instability, diminished chords are often used prior to a chord of resolution. These chords are excellent transitional chords and are often used in classical, jazz, and rock music. It’s because of this unstable sound, that the notes of a related diminished chord can be used to create “movement” in harmony and melody.

Here are some sonic characteristics of a diminished chord:

  • they often evoke a sense of mystery or unease
  • they possess a symmetrical structure, which means that each note in the chord is equidistant from the next
  • this distinct symmetry that can be exploited to create captivating harmonic progressions and melodic lines
  • they can act as passing chords, adding chromaticism and tension to your chord progressions
  • they also serve as excellent transition chords, smoothly connecting different tonal centers

In the following exercise, we’ll explore what I call the “Diminished Sound Approach” exercise, particularly in regards to the last bullet point.

What is a Diminished Seventh Chord?

Before we dive into the exercise, let’s get clear on the notes that create a diminished sound, which is a diminished seventh chord. Once you understand how to make this sound, the exercise (which makes use of diminished chord tones) will be more easy to follow along.

A diminished 7th chord is a four-note chord consisting of a root note, a minor third interval, a diminished fifth interval, and a diminished seventh interval.

The numeric formula for a diminished seventh chord, is: 1, b3, b5, bb7 (note the 7th is double-flatted).

This chord creates tension and instability, often resolving to a more stable chord. The unstable sound of this chord makes it versatile many musical situations, particularly when transitioning to another chord.

For example, the notes of a C Diminished Seventh Chord, are: C, Eb, F#,A.

Here are some characteristics of a diminished seventh chord:

  • Four notes: A diminished seventh chord consists of four notes stacked on top of each other, each a minor third apart.
  • Minor third intervals: A diminished seventh chord is constructed by stacking three minor third intervals.
  • Tension and dissonance: The combination of the minor third, diminished fifth, and diminished seventh intervals creates a dissonant and tense sound.
  • Resolving tendency: The diminished seventh chord has a strong tendency to resolve to a more stable chord due to the tension it creates. The most common resolution is to a Major or Minor chord.
  • Symmetry: Diminished seventh chords are symmetrical in structure, meaning that any note within the chord can be considered the root, resulting in four possible root positions.
  • Pro Tip: Adding a note that’s a half-step below any of the chord tones of a diminished seventh chord, will create a Dominant 7b9 chord.

The Diminished Sound Approach Exercise

Say you’ve worked out a chordal arrangement on the bass guitar. It could be a set of chord changes or even an arrangement for an entire song.

But, something feels missing and you’re not really sure what else you can do to jazz things up.

Or, say you’re playing a solo on the bass guitar and your lines don’t quite sound like they’re going anywhere.

Well, one thing you can start applying today, are diminished sounds. In other words, by introducing notes of a diminished 7th chord, or even just the notes of a diminished triad, you can instantly create movement in your music and make your music sound more sophisticated.

Now, note that I’m saying diminished “sounds,” instead of diminished “chords.” Here’s why.

The bass guitar can be a physically demanding instrument, especially when it comes to playing chords. So, don’t feel that you have to play every single note in a diminished chord in order to get that sound.

So, learn to play partial diminished seventh chords (in any inversion) and you can imply diminished sounds, simply because of the context of these notes.

Let’s first learn the basic concept.

Basic Concept

Once you get the basic concept you’ll be able to imply the sound of a diminished seventh chord to all of your lines an chord progressions.

All you’re going to do for this exercise is to approach a target chord (from either a half-step above or below) with a diminished seventh chord (or partial diminished seventh chord). That’s it.

Essentially, you’re implying the sound of a V7b9 Secondary Dominant of your target chord (if you’re approaching from a half-step below) or a temporary dominant quality of your target chord (if you’re approaching from a half-step from above).

Harmonic Application For Your Chord Progressions

So here’s how the Diminished Sound Approach exercise works. We’ll use the diatonic chords of a G Major Scale to apply this concept:

  1. First map out the diatonic chords for a G Major Scale: G Major, A minor, B minor, C Major, D Major, E minor, F# Diminished, G Major. Play these set of chords ascending.
  2. What you’re going to do next is to play a partial diminished seventh chord a half-step below each diatonic chord of the G Major Scale. You’re using the sound of a diminished chord to lead into your target chord.
  3. Then do the same thing with the G Major Scale descending, but instead you’ll play a partial diminished seventh chord a half-step above each target chord.

Inserting partial diminished chords that are either a half-step below or above a target chord is a great practice for any chord progression. It’s also an easy way to create more movement with your chords.

Watch the bass video bass lesson above to see and hear this potent bass exercise in action.

Melodic Application For Your Lines and Solos

The concept is the same when you’re applying this exercise in a melodic perspective. The only difference is that you’re focusing on single note lines.

Let’s stick with the G Major Scale for our example.

  1. Play a melody with the chord tones of a G Major chord.
  2. Play a melody with the chord tones of a G# Diminished Seventh chord.
  3. Play a melody with the chord tones of an A minor 7 chord.
  4. Play a melody with the chord tones of a A# Diminished Seventh chord.
  5. Play a melody with the chord tones of a B minor 7 chord.
  6. Play a melody with the chord tones of a B Diminished Seventh chord.
  7. Play a melody with the chord tones of a C Major chord
  8. Play a melody with the chord tones of a C# Diminished Seventh chord.
  9. Play a melody with the chord tones of a D Dominant 7 chord
  10. Play a melody with the chord tones of a D# Diminished Seventh chord.
  11. Play a melody with the chord tones of an E minor 7 chord.
  12. Play a melody with the chord tones of a F Diminished Seventh chord.
  13. Play a melody with the chord tones of a F# minor 7b5 chord.

Here’s a pro tip: Start each arpeggio with the next closest chord tone. This is the basic concept of voice-leading and it’ll make your lines flow smoothly.

Musicians To Check Out

Musicians from nearly any style of music from blues, rock, jazz, and classical music have used diminished seventh chords. You’ll hear this sound in musical compositions, solos, walking bass lines, and licks.

Here are 9 musicians to check out:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach (classical composer): Uses diminished sounds often in his compositions
  2. Barry Harris (jazz pianist): Uses diminished sounds often to add movement between two chords
  3. Oteil Burbridge (bass player): Uses diminished sounds often in his lines and chords
  4. Charlie Parker (jazz saxophonist): Uses diminished arpeggios often in his lines
  5. Zakk Wylde (rock guitarist): Uses diminished arpeggios and chords often
  6. B.B. King (blues guitarist): Uses diminished sounds often to transition to the IV chord
  7. Ray Brown (jazz bassist): Uses diminished arpeggios often to imply a Dominant 7b9 sound
  8. John Myung (rock bass guitarist): Uses diminished arpeggios in his bass lines
  9. Jonathan Kreisberg (jazz guitarist): Uses diminished arpeggios and inversions to create interesting angular melodic lines

Now It’s Your Turn

By exploring the mystical allure of diminished chords, you’ll unlock new dimensions of musicality and added spice to your chordal arrangements.

Remember, diminished chords sound great as transitional and passing chords.

Also remember, you don’t have to play every note of a diminished chord to achieve its distinctive sound. Context matters. So, focus on playing partial diminished chords in the context of your target chord.

Keep practicing, exploring, and pushing the boundaries of your bass guitar playing. The journey to becoming a proficient bass player is an ongoing one, and with each step, you’ll continue to unlock new sonic territories. Happy playing!

Want more actionable jazz theory, like this? Go here.


Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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