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Diminished Chords

A diminished triad is a minor triad with a flattened 5th. It sounds like this:

C dim

While it’s not the easiest chord to base a track on, the diminished triad is a powerful chord for transitioning between others, as the tone of the chord creates unease and tension. This tension is largely due to the ‘tritone’ interval between the root note, C, and the flattened 5th, Gb, highlighted above in red. The opening chord progression of Justice’s ‘Let There Be Light’ is a perfect example:

The piano roll below shows the chord progression, which is in the key of D flat minor – Db minor / C dim / Bb min7 b5 (or ‘half-diminished’ – a diminished triad with a minor 7th) / Ab major:

Let There Be Light

We can hear how the diminished chords create a strong sense of tension and anticipation, pulling the progression along and giving it a sense of inescapable momentum:

Long-time Attack readers might also remember that we covered the use of diminished chords in our Breakdown feature on Gesaffelstein’s ‘Viol’ last year.

Applying these chords to dance music production

So how should these slightly more complex chords be used in the context of dance music composition? Is it really necessary to learn every type of interval and aim to throw as many obscure chords into a track as possible? Of course not. Over-thinking the theory before you make a track rarely works well unless you’re specifically aiming for something wilfully complex.

Instead, the lesson should be to feel free to experiment beyond the obvious confines. If a track feels like it needs a slightly more complex harmonic structure, don’t be scared to refer to an online chord chart or calculator for something a little more unusual. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to break out of the habit of sticking to major and minor triads like so many of us tend to. A greater understanding of chords and their construction is an invaluable tool for anyone writing music in any genre.

If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.

Author Oliver Curry
7th March, 2014

Passing Notes is sponsored by

Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.

They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.

With offices in Central London and a growing workforce of experienced music, film and recording professionals, their revolution continues.


  • Great, thank you, these are my favorite posts on here!

  • Love these theory related posts, thank-you. Would be great to hear about changing keys within songs and cadences, that stuff always baffles me.

  • change key to the 5th in the original key is easiest like C major to G major

  • Google ‘Pivot chords’ Andy, that should help.

  • Which piano are they using here? Is there a good free plugin for Ableton?

  • I love posts like this that put theory in plain English and include many musical snippets. Thank you thank you!


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