Half-Diminished Chords

Half-diminished seventh chords are minor chords with a flat five and are commonly used as the first chord in minor-key ii V I progressions. It’s important to have this type of chord with all its inversions under your fingers because they are used in almost every jazz standard.

In this lesson, you will learn how to build, play, and improvise over half-diminished chords in your jazz guitar playing.

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Half-Diminished Chord Construction and Notation

Half-diminished chords are also known as minor seven flat five chords (m7b5) because they are built as a minor chord with a flat five (b5).

Half-diminished chords are four-note shapes that contain the interval pattern 1 b3 b5 b7.

Here is Cm7b5 for example.

Notation: Cm7b5, CØ, Cm7(b5), or Cmin7b5

CEbGbBb
1b3b5b7

 

Basic Half-Diminished Chord Shapes

Below are four common voicings for Cm7b5.

 

C half-diminished 7 jazz guitar chords

 

The Similarities Between Maj7 and Half-Diminished Chords

If you look at the half-diminished chord voicings above and you know your major seventh chords, you will notice that the m7b5 chord shape looks familiar.

If you lower the root of a m7b5 voicing with a half tone and keep the rest of the chord tones, you will get a maj7 voicing.

For example, if you lower the root of a Cm7b5 with a half note, you get a Bmaj7:

 

The similarities between half-diminished and major 7 chords

 

The Difference Between Half-Diminished and Diminished Chords

The difference between half-diminished and diminished chords lies in the seventh.

Half-diminished chords have a flat seven (b7), while diminished chords have a diminished seven (bb7).

You can see the difference in the following chord diagrams:

 

The difference between half-diminished and diminished chords

 

Half-Diminished Drop 3 Voicings

Drop 3 chords are the type of chords we use the most in jazz.

Drop 3 half-diminished chords are built with the following interval structure:

Drop 3 m7b5 root position1b7b3b5
Drop 3 m7b5 1st inversionb3b51b7
Drop 3 m7b5 2nd inversionb5b3b71
Drop 3 m7b5 3rd inversionb7b51b3

 

Below you will find all drop 3 half-diminished chords and their inversions for Cm7b5.

 

Drop 3 Half-Diminished Inversions – E-string Bass Note

C half-diminished 7 drop 3 chord chart

 

Drop 3 Half-Diminished Inversions – A-string Bass Note

Cm7b5 drop 3 inversions 2

 

Half-Diminished Drop 2 Voicings

Drop 2 chords use the same notes as drop 3 chords, but in a different order, which results in a different kind of sound.

Here is the interval structure of the m7b5 drop 2 chord and its inversions:

Drop 2 m7b5 Root Position1b5b7b3
Drop 2 m7b5 1st Inversionb3b71b5
Drop 2 m7b5 2nd Inversionb51b3b7
Drop 2 m7b5 3rd Inversionb7b3b51

 

Drop 2 Half-Diminished Inversions – A-string Bass Note

C half-diminished 7 drop 2 chord chart

 

Drop 2 Half-Diminished Inversions – D-string Bass Note

 

How Are Half-Diminished Chords Used?

The II In Minor II V I Progressions

The main use of half-diminished chords is as the iim7b5 in minor-key ii V I progressions.

Here is an example in the key of G minor:

 

Jazz guitar ending 16b

 

The Flat-Five In Major Progressions

Half-diminished chords are also used in a flat-five chord progression. This progression is often used to end a jazz standard.

Here is an example in the key of C major.

 

The flat-five chord progression

 

How To Improvise Over Half-Diminished Chords

Below you will find twelve tools (scales and arpeggios) you can use to solo over half-diminished chords.

 

The B Locrian Mode

The Locrian mode is one of the seven modes of the major scale and the obvious scale choice to play over half-diminished chords.

Over a Bm7b5 we play the B Locrian mode:

B Locrian ModeBCDEFGA
1b9b311b5b13b7

 

Here is the B Locrian mode in its root position on the guitar neck:

 

B Locrian mode diagram

 

Locrian mode guitar fingering

 

Here is an example of the Locrian mode over a ii V I chord progression in A minor:

Half-diminished chords example 1

 

The B Locrian #2 Scale

The Locrian #2 scale has a more modern sound compared to the regular Locrian mode.

In the Locrian #2 scale (aka Aeolian b5), the C from the Locrian scale is raised with a half step. This is the 6th mode of the D melodic minor scale.

B Locrian #2 scale = D melodic minor scale

 

B Locrian #2 ScaleBC#DEFGA
19b311b5b13b7

 

B Locrian #2 scale

 

Here is an example of how you can use the Locrian #2 scale.

 

Half-diminished chords example 2

 

The B Locrian 13 Scale

The Locrian 13 (or Locrian 6) scale is the second mode of the harmonic minor scale.

B Locrian 13 scale = A harmonic minor scale

Piano player Bud Powell frequently used this scale to play over half-diminished chords.

When you play the A harmonic scale over Bm7b5, you get a natural 13 (G#) instead of the b13 (G) of the normal Locrian mode.

You can continue playing A harmonic over the E7 as well. A harmonic over E7 is called the E Lydian dominant scale.

 

B Locrian 13 ScaleBCDEFG#A
1b9b311b513b7

 

B Locrian 13 scale

 

Here is an example lick:

 

Half-diminished chords example 3

 

The E Minor Pentatonic Scale

The E minor pentatonic scale is a good choice to play over Bm7b5.

 

E Minor Pentatonic ScaleEGABD
Played over Bm7b511b13b71b3

 

In this example, I play E minor pentatonic over the entire chord progression.

 

Half-diminished chords example 4

 

The B Minor Pentatonic Scale With a Flat Five

This is also a nice one: the minor pentatonic scale, but with a b5 instead of a natural 5.

You can also look at it as a B blues scale without the natural 5.

In root position, this pentatonic scale looks like this:

 

B minor pentatonic b5 scale

 

Here is an example of how you can use this scale.

 

Half-diminished chords example 5

 

The B Locrian Bebop Scale

The Locrian bebop scale is the Locrian mode with a chromatic note (Gb) between b13 and b5.

This is the third mode of the G (dominant) bebop scale.

B Locrian bebop scale = G dominant bebop scale

B Locrian bebop scale

 

In the following example, I play the B Locrian bebop scale over Bm7b5 and the E (dominant) bebop scale over E7.

 

Half-diminished chords example 6

 

The Bm7b5 or Dm6 Arpeggio

Playing a Bm7b5 arpeggio, which has the same notes as Dm6,  is the obvious arpeggio choice to play over Bm7b5.

 

Half-diminished chords example 7

 

Dm7 Arpeggio / Relative Major ii V I

A Dm7 arpeggio sounds good over Bm7b5.

Dm7 arpeggioDFAC
Played over Bm7b5b3b5b7b9

 

This leads to something interesting for minor ii V Is: if you substitute the E7 in bar two with G7 and the Am7 in bar three with a Cmaj7, you get a major ii V I.

This means you can play major 2 5 1 licks over its relative minor 2 5 1.

 

G7 arpeggioGBDF
Played over E7#95b7b9

 

Cmaj7 arpeggioCEGB
Played over Am7b35b79

 

Here is an example:

 

Half-diminished chords example 8

 

G7 Arpeggio

A G7 arpeggio over Bm7b5 sounds good as well.

G7 arpeggioGBDF
Played over Bm7b5b131b3b5

 

In this example, I play a chromatic voice leading going from G7 to Abdim7 to Am7.

 

Half-diminished chords example 9

 

Fmaj7 Arpeggio

Fmaj7 is another arpeggio that works well over Bm7b5.

Fmaj7 arpeggioFACE
Played over Bm7b5b5b7b911

 

Half-diminished chords example 10

 

D Minor Major 7 Arpeggio

Playing a Dm/maj7 arpeggio over Bm7b5 sounds more modern compared to the previous examples because of the natural 9.

Dm/maj7 is the first chord of the D melodic minor scale.

 

Dm/maj7 arpeggioDFAC#
Played over Bm7b5b3b5b79

 

Half-diminished chords example 11

 

Fmaj7#5 Arpeggio

An Fmaj7#5 arpeggio over Bm7b5 has the same modern sound as the previous example because of the natural 9.

Fmaj7#5 arpeggioFAC#E
Played over Bm7b5b5b7911

 

In the following example, I play three augmented major chords in a row.

 

Abmaj7#5 arpeggioAbCEG
Played over E73b131#9

 

Cmaj7#5 arpeggioCEG#B
Played over Am7b3579

 

Half-diminished chords example 12

 

Do you have more ideas? Let us know in the comments below…

 

 

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

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