HomeBlogMastering The Half-Diminished Chord On Guitar (With Chord Charts!)

Mastering The Half-Diminished Chord On Guitar (With Chord Charts!)

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).

If you are interested in jazz guitar but feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, you aren’t alone. Many people put off learning jazz guitar because they don’t have a process or know where to begin.

Luckily, the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle offers a structured and time-tested process for systematically learning how to play jazz. Plus, our Jazz Guitar Accelerator Course is designed specifically for guitarists who want to get better at all aspects of jazz as applied to the guitar.

Ready to overhaul your jazz guitar playing? See what the Inner Circle is all about.

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.

Diminished Triad

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.

G diminished chord showing root, minor 3rd, and flat 5th

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.)

G half-diminished vs. G fully-diminished seventh chords

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: 

  • Root
  • 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:

Diatonic Chord Scale in the Key of C

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:

Half-diminished chord in root position, first inversion, second inversion, and third inversion

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:

  1. E (low)-A-D-G  
  2. A-D-G-B  
  3. D-G-B-E (high)

1. Half-Diminished Chord Voicings (All Inversions) on the E-A-D-G String Group

Gm7b5 half-diminished chord on EADG 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

Gm7b5 half-diminished chord on ADGB 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

Gm7b5 half-diminished chord on DGBE 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 chordsyou 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.

Also, check out Minor 7th chords, Major 7th chords, and Dominant 7th chords for guitar-specific voicings.

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:

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:

Locrian Mode:

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.

G Locrian: 7th Mode of Ab Major

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

G Locrian Natural 2: 6th Mode of the Melodic Minor Scale

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.

G Locrian Natural 6: 2nd Mode of the F Harmonic Minor Scale

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.

Minor Pentatonic b5 (also known as the "Blues Scale")

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.

G Locrian Bebop Scale

If you want to improve your jazz guitar playing, check out our Intro To Jazz Guitar Beginner’s Guide.

Accelerate Your Jazz Guitar Chops By Joining The Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle

If you found this article helpful and want more content like this, check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle. The Inner Circle contains everything you need to master the jazz language, learn jazz standards, and become the best jazz guitarist you can be.

Plus, members receive access to the Jazz Guitar Accelerator Course, which is designed to get your technical jazz guitar playing where you want it to be.

Become the jazz guitarist you want to be. Join the Inner Circle.

James Melton
James Melton
James Melton is a jazz musician, writer, producer, and educator who operates out of the greater Philadelphia area.

Follow Us

Get Our Free Guide

LJS Smart Way Ad Home

Join the LJS Inner Circle Membership

I want to...