Just thought Id throw up a quick note -about this topic.
Had a friend say they were having trouble hearing the difference between augmented and diminished chords when listening to music – and possibly working out to include or not in writing songs – and wondering if I have any tips.
I wrote something down for him and thought maybe this might be of interest to others who may not have had detailed theory training etc. So I have tried to make it simple and provided some explanation of the difference and what to ‘listen for’.
The other reason for including – as well as mentoring and speaking on arrangement and song development, I am often asked to be a judge of songwriting competitions (done Tamworth Songwriting Contest and ASA a few times, couple of regional ones etc). In my comments I often ask – ” while still being in genre context – what makes your music stand out from the pack?” If you are doing a country song with the same 4-6 chords that everyone does (and usually just the famous 4 – 1, 4, 5, 6m – with maybe a 2m or 3m thrown in)- whats different ? why would anyone buy and listen to yours over the established artist) – Creating some difference helps the song get interest, listen through the whole song etc etc etc – one way is to may add an inversion or a variation on a chord. And thinking of augmented or diminished chords in that context may add some further value and thought to your song writing.
PS remember I’m being pretty basic here and please read in that context.
In any setting, to augment something is to make it larger, and to diminish something is to make it smaller. A triad, as you know, is built of two stacked thirds, and most triads on the white keys (diatonic C major) will consist of both a minor third and a major third.
A diminished triad, then, is a regular triad made smaller into two stacked minor thirds. The only one that appears on the white keys starts on B. Note that the top note, when the intervals are written as 3rds, appears on the staff like a 5th but sounds like a tritone; this interval is known as a diminished 5th, which is where the chord gets its name.
An augmented chord, conversely, comes when the triad is augmented out to two stacked major thirds. Note that the second note appears (on the staff) a fifth away from the root but sounds like a minor 6th; this interval is known as an augmented 5th, which is where the chord gets its name.
Note that the term “diminished chord” is ambiguous, as it could refer to either a diminished triad (three notes, like B D and F) or a diminished 7th chord, which stacks another minor third (in this example, A flat). Note that the interval between the bottom note and the top note, when the chord is written as three stacked thirds, appears as a 7th but sounds like a major 6th. This interval is known as a “diminished 7th” as it is a normal (minor) seventh, made smaller.
Difference in sound:
The diminished chord of any type sounds unresolved and the diminished 7th, especially, can sound very dramatic. The augmented triad sounds a bit alien as it does not appear in the diatonic scale, and can give a very eerie or dream-like impression
An augmented chord (triad) has a # (or raised) 5th degree.. so its like playing Major thirds on top of each other..
Caug = C E G#
A diminished chord (triad) has a b (or lowered 3rd) and a b(or lowered 5th).. so its like playing minor thirds on top of each other
Cdim = C Eb Gb
On 7th chords.. they are either half diminished or fully diminished.. and this is indicated by the o sign (fully dim) or the o with a / through it.. (1/2 dim)
C half diminished = C Eb Gb Bb
C fully diminished = C Eb Gb Bbb (A)
So listen for those differences – maybe even try playing with the chords on keys or guitar to hear., consider if incorporating sometimes into your songwriting (if not already) would add some extra flavour or colour etc. – – or not.
Cheers till next time.