Guitar Diminished and Augmented Passing Chords

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Guitar Diminished and Augmented Passing Chords

Passing Chords
To connect chords that are a whole step apart or more, composers often use passing chords, which use some of the pitches in between a key’s chords. One example is a chromatic passing chord, which simply moves in half step motion between two chords as heard in “I’m a Man” by The Spencer Davis Group (G-F#-F-E).

Diminished Chords
Another type of passing chord is a diminished chord. Diminished chords sound very dissonant and unstable by themselves, almost unusable. But when placed between the right chords, they make complete sense. Just listen to “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks for a good example. The verse uses the chords A-A#dim-Bm-E.

Guitar diminished passing chord

Diminished chords are typically used to create chromatic half-step movement between chords as shown here in this guitar tab example based on Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”

Augmented Chords
Sometimes an augmented chord functions as a passing chord, bridging the gap between chords with chromatic half-step movement as heard in “Crying” by Roy Orbison. This song features the chord changes D-Daug-G-Gm-D-A7.

A full diminished guitar chord is based on all minor third intervals. It consists of a root, minor third (b3), flat fifth (b5th) and double flat 7 (bb7th). For example, a Bdim chord includes the notes B D F and Ab. Each note is a minor third, or three frets, above the note before it. And B is a minor third above Ab to complete and repeat the formula. The notes of a Bdim guitar chord can be seen in the tabs below.


Diminished Chord Fingerings
In order to combine these notes and make a chord shape you have to transpose some intervals up an octave. Three of the most common diminished chord fingerings can be seen in the guitar tab below.


Diminished Chord Inversions
The neat thing about guitar diminished chords is how their inversions are formed on the fretboard. Since diminished chords are built on fixed minor third steps, you can simply slide any diminished chord fingering up 3 frets for an inversion. Move the same chord fingering up 3 frets again and you have the next inversion, and so on until you match the first position exactly one octave higher.

Diminished Chord Guitar Theory
If you know anything about guitar music theory, then you know that true diminished chords do not fully occur in the major scale. The closest you come is the seventh chord (see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers). This scale degree has three of the four notes needed to build a full diminished chord. It has the root, minor third (b3), flat fifth (b5th), but no double flat 7 (bb7th). But many musicians refer to this as a diminished chord anyway. Other names include diminished triad and half-diminished.

Diminished chords also have many abbreviations. For example, 0, 07, dim, dim7, o, º, º(7), o7, º7. Unfortunately, some things are arbitrary. It can really get confusing to keep track of whether or not diminished means the four-note/all-minor-thirds form or the seventh degree of the major scale with its b7.

Diminished Chord Songs
The diminished chord gives us an unstable and restless chord that wants to lead to or resolve on something else. For this reason it’s often thought of as a “leading chord”. It acts like a stepping stone between chords. You can hear diminished chords used in popular songs like “Michelle” and “Glass Onion” by The Beatles, “Man In The Mirror” by Michael Jackson, “Crazy” by Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline, “Friends In Low Places” by Garth Brooks and “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis.

Jazz Guitar Chord Progression
Diminished chords are more common in jazz. Try this jazz chord progression: Bb Bdim Cm7 F7



Guitar Passing Chords

In Fretboard Theory Volume II Chapter 5, I am going to explain how chords a whole-step apart are sometimes connected with passing chords, similar to the way players use chromatic passing tones to connect different scale degrees. We will look at both chromatic passing chords and diminished seventh chords. We will also take a look at V7 substitutions and augmented chords. This chapter will help you understand chords that seem to neither belong to the parent key nor to be borrowed from another one. Understanding these concepts will help you understand more complicated music, music that at first glance may seem to not belong to any key. You can also add these ideas to your own compositions. You can watch a free sample of the video instruction below.

Purchase the full 33-hour Fretboard Theory video program here.

Comment ( 1 )

  • Roy T Benton

    The Dummies book on guitar theory has been the best go-to book in my guitar journey.
    The book, your writings, and lessons will live on long after we are “Dust in the Wind”
    I hope you realize how important that book is and will be for generations of music enthusiasts