Don’t Diminish the use of
Diminished & AUGMENTED ChordS
practical advice on songwriting FROM OUR TEAM OF EXPERTS
Professional songwriting coach JAMES LINDERMAN advises on the best
use of these lesser-known chords, and how they can ‘augment’ your song
(^10) DIM AND AUG CHORDS (^12) WHEN THE MUSE GOES MISSING (^14) ASK THE MU’S PAUL GRAY
sometimes come to hear about
diminished and augmented chords...
and some even know one or two, usually
because at one time or another they had to
play a ragtime styled piece or a holiday classic
like Frosty The Snowman. And there it was, a
G#dim in bar six of the eight-bar bridge.
In this article we are going to have a look
at the role diminished and augmented chords
might play in writing a contemporary song
and how they can help the right section of
your chord progression really make a bold
and evocative statement.
To get started, it helps to have a bit of an
understanding of what diminished and
augmented chords even are, and also how
they fit into the understanding of chord
chemistry that you might already possess.
There are four basic chord qualities, or
chord personalities, if you will!
● Major – happy
● Minor – sad
● Diminished – anxious
● Augmented – the sound a hangover
might make (if a hangover was a chord!)
The two chord qualities from the above
list, that you are probably most familiar with,
and use the most are the major and minor
chords. They are a songwriters bread and
butter and they help the lyrics and melody
create a mood that is either happy or sad or a
nuanced blend of those two broader feelings.
A great use for a diminished chord in your
progression would be something like this
from a song in the key of D.
G / A / A#dim / Bm
This example comes from the Orleans song
Dance with Me and interestingly enough, just
like in Frosty The Snowman, this diminished
chord can be found in the 6th bar of the
eight-bar bridge section.
This four bar section provides a lift that
can be attributed, firstly, to starting out on
the G chord, that then lifts to the A chord
which is dominant in the key of D and creates
a lot of initial tension. That tension, however,
is then made greater by the A#dim chord
lifting chromatically from the A bass note to
the A# bass note before resolving to the Bm
with a B bass note.
Play through this set of four chords
repeatedly and listen for the rise in tension
and the release of that tension on the Bm and
then project how you might use this chord
change in one of your own songs, maybe
by taking a song that is already written and
inserting an A#dim between an A chord and
In the Orleans song this chord section is
played under a melody that rises with the
increase in harmonic tension and then falls
with the Bm resolution and the lyrics are
about being taken “where you want to go”
which is an uplifting sentiment. This has all
of the elements of the song; lyric, melody and
chord progression all working together for
a single unified effect on the listener. That is
Augmented chords can be great in what is
called a ‘vamp’. There are some confusing,
and sometimes even conflicting, explanations
for what a vamp might actually encompass
but for our purposes here we are going to use
the most widely agreed on definition and that
is (paraphrased) that one or two chords (or a
small number of chords) move back and forth
in a short time frame.
A two-chord vamp is considered the
convention, so it is what we will look at here.
C / CAUG / C / CAUG
This vamp gets repeated for a majority of a
songs section, such as six bars of an eight-bar
This example is taken from the Danny
O’Keefe song The Road that was more
famously recorded by Jackson Browne.
The song is about how life on the road
for a musician is an unreal world and this
“hangover” sounding vamp helps create a
backdrop that is supported by the melody and
lyric content. Try and extend and contract
the duration of each of the chords changing