If you are new to jazz guitar, one chord you’ll want to learn ASAP is the half-diminished chord (also known to jazz musicians as the -7b5 chord). This minor chord is widely used in jazz music and is an important chord in diatonic harmony.
In this post, we will dive into the half-diminished seventh chord, explaining how they are built, what they are used for, and how you can play them all over the guitar fretboard. By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to tackle any jazz chord progression with a half-diminished seventh chord (hint: there are many of them).
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Table of Contents
What is a Half-Diminished Chord?
First, let’s define what a half-diminished chord is. Half-diminished chords are seventh chords, which means they are made up of four notes—a triad (consisting of a root, a 3rd, and a 5th) plus a 7th.
So, to build our half-diminished chord, we’ll need four notes total. Three of those notes make a diminished triad; the fourth is a minor 7th interval above the root.
Let’s check out the diminished triad first.
As the name suggests, we’ll need a diminished triad to build a half-diminished chord. A diminished triad has a root, a minor 3rd interval, and a flat 5th interval.
However, to make this diminished triad a half-diminished seventh chord, we’ll need to add a 7th. Remember that the type of 7th you add determines whether or not the seventh chord is half-diminished or fully diminished.
Half-Diminished 7th Chords vs. Fully Diminished 7th Chords
Half-diminished chords and fully diminished chords both contain a diminished triad. However, half-diminished chords have a minor 7th interval, and a fully-diminished chord contains a diminished 7th interval (enharmonically equivalent to a major 6th).
So, to build a G half-diminished seventh chord, we need to add an F to a G dim triad. We’d take a G dim triad and add an Fb to build a fully-diminished seventh chord. (An Fb is enharmonically equivalent to an E, but they are not the same notes when talking theory.)
To learn more about fully-diminished chords, check out our fully-diminished chord workshop for guitar.
The Formula For Building Half-Diminished Chords
The formula for Half-Diminished Chords:
- minor third
- flat five
- minor seventh
Following our previous example of a Gm7(b5), the notes would be G-Bb-Db-F. A C half-diminished chord would be C-Eb-Gb-Bb.
Practice Tip: Try spelling out half-diminished chords from every note.
Half-diminished chords are important in diatonic harmony. They are constructed from the leading tone of the major scale, the 7th scale degree. In major keys, the chord built from the 7th scale degree of a major scale is a half-diminished seventh chord. In the key of C, it’s a B-7b5:
Mastering Half-Diminished Chords On The Guitar
We now know what half-diminished chords are, and we understand how to build them in root position.
However, in practice, you’ll encounter 7th chords in first, second, or third inversion. When learning different chords on the guitar, you’ll want to also study their chord inversions to become the most adaptable guitar player you can be.
Let’s look at what a Gm7(b5) looks like when notated in close root position, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, and 3rd inversion. Take note of how the chord tones move:
You’ll notice that the root moved to the top of the voicing for the first inversion chord. The 3rd is now the lowest note.
- F > G
- Db > F
- Bb > Db
- G > Bb
For the second inversion chord, the 3rd moved to the top, putting the 5th at the bottom:
- G > Bb
- F > G
- Db > F
- Bb > Db
For the third inversion chord, the 5th moved to the top, putting the 7th at the bottom:
- Bb > Db
- G > Bb
- F > G
- Db > F
Now that we have a better grasp on inversions in music theory, we can apply them to the guitar fretboard. We’re going to play through these chords on three different string groups:
- E (low)-A-D-G
- D-G-B-E (high)
1. Half-Diminished Chord Voicings (All Inversions) on the E-A-D-G String Group
If you are familiar with minor 7th chord voicings, you’ll notice some similarities between these two chords. The only difference between the chord shape for a minor 7th chord and a half-diminished 7th chord is the b5.
So, if you already know your minor 7th voicings, you’ll only need to change one note to change the chord into a half-diminished chord.
2. Half-Diminished Chord Voicings (All Inversions) on the A-D-G-B String Group
If you are familiar with jazz chord voicings on guitar, you’ll probably recognize the root position voicing for this minor seventh flat five chord—it’s a stock voicing.
3. Half-Diminished Chord Voicings (All Inversions) on the D-G-B-E String Group
Half-Diminished Chords Practice Tips:
- Practice the shapes on each set of strings in time. Make sure you can play them up and down the neck.
- Once you feel comfortable with one string group, move on to the next.
- Ultimately, to master these Half Diminished chords, you must take them through all 12 keys. This is the only way to master these voicings all over the fretboard.
If you want to know more about major chords, minor chords, and other 7th chords, check out our Ultimate Guide to 7th Chords.
Where Do You Find Half-Diminished Chords in Jazz?
In music theory, the half-diminished chord is a diatonic chord based on the major scale’s 7th scale degree (the leading tone). However, in jazz, half-diminished chords are used in minor ii-V-i progressions.
Half Diminished Seventh Chords in iiø-V-I Chord Progressions
These chords are often used as a iiø chord in a minor iiø-V-I, which appears in many jazz standards.
Here are some classic jazz standards that make use of the minor iiø-V-I progression:
- Blue Bossa
- Black Orpheus (Manha de Carnaval)
- Stella by Starlight
- Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
- Alone Together
- My Funny Valentine
- Autumn Leaves
- Beautiful Love
- Night and Day
- I Love You
- How Insensitive (Insensatez)
What Scales Work Best Over a Half-Diminished Chord?
When improvising over half-diminished chords, it’s best to consider the harmonic context of the chord within the greater chord progression. The following scales will work when played over all half-diminished chords, but some will be better suited to certain harmonic situations than others.
For example, if the half-diminished chord is part of a minor ii-V-i progression, you’d likely choose the Locrian ♯2 scale.
Check out the following scale options for soloing over half-diminished chords:
The Locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale and is perhaps the most directly associated scale with the half-diminished chord.
For example, over Gm7♭5, you could play the G Locrian scale: G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G.
Locrian ♯2 (also known as Locrian Natural 2):
This mode comes from the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale and has a natural 9 (or 2) compared to the Locrian mode.
For example, a G Locrian Natural 2 scale would come from the Bb melodic minor scale and be spelled like so: G-A-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G
Locrian Natural 6:
The Locrian Natural 6th scale is the 2nd mode of the harmonic minor scale. As the name implies, it’s a Locrian scale with a natural 6th.
When playing over a Gm7♭5, the scale would be G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-E-F-G.
Minor Pentatonic b5 (also known as the “Blues Scale” ):
This scale is a modified version of the minor pentatonic with an added ♭5. It gives a bluesy flavor to the half-diminished sound.
For Gm7♭5, the scale would be G-Bb-C-C#-D-F-G.
Locrian Bebop Scale:
The Locrian bebop scale can be played over a m7♭5 chord. Bebop scales contain a chromatic passing note that helps to keep all chord tones on the downbeat in 8th-note phrases. The Locrian bebop scale is just the Locrian mode with a natural five added in between the flat five and the minor sixth.
For Gm7♭5, the scale would be G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-(D)-Eb-F-G.
If you want to improve your jazz guitar playing, check out our Intro To Jazz Guitar Beginner’s Guide.
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