Half-diminished seventh chord

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord (also known as a half-diminished chord or a minor seventh flat five chord) is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh (1, 3, 5, 7). For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as C, has pitches C–E–G–B:

: { override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f elative c' { clef treble ime 4/4 key c major 1 } }

It can be represented by the integer notation {0, 3, 6, 10}.

In diatonic harmony, the half-diminished seventh chord occurs naturally on the seventh scale degree of any major scale (for example, B in C major) and is thus a leading-tone seventh chord in the major mode. Similarly, the chord also occurs on the second degree of any natural minor scale (e.g., D in C minor). It has been described as a "considerable instability".

Chord symbols and terminology

Half-diminished seventh chords are often symbolized as a circle with a diagonal line through it, as in C or simply C. It also can be represented as m, −, m etc.

The terms and symbols for this chord break expectations that derive from the usual system of chord nomenclature. Normally a symbol like "Bdim" indicates a diminished triad and "B" indicates a major triad plus a minor seventh. Thus, one would expect the term "Bdim" to indicate a diminished triad plus a minor seventh. Instead, it means a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh. To make this distinction clear, the term "half-diminished" and the symbol (ø) were invented. Since the term dim (as in Bdim) meant something else, the accurate but unwieldy term "minor seventh flat five" (as in B) came to be used.Jazz musicians typically consider the half-diminished chord (more commonly known as the minor seventh flat five chord- m7b5- amongst jazz musicians) as built from one of three scales: the seventh mode (the Locrian mode) of the major scale, the sixth mode of the melodic minor scale (the latter scale is nearly identical to the Locrian mode, except that it has a 9 rather than a 9, giving it a somewhat more consonant quality): or the "half-whole" diminished scale. See chord-scale system.

The "Tristan chord" is sometimes described as a half-diminished seventh chord; however, the term "Tristan chord" is typically reserved for a very specific harmonic function, especially determined by the chord voicing and sometimes even the way the chord is spelled.


Most common functions

The half-diminished seventh chord has three functions in contemporary harmony: predominant (also called "subdominant"), diminished, and dominant function.

The vast majority of its occurrences are on the II chord in the minor mode, where it takes a predominant function, leading naturally to the dominant V chord. Not including the root motion, there is only a one-note difference between a half-diminished seventh chord and a V chord with a flat ninth. Since it is built on the diatonic II chord of the minor scale, most of the time the II-V pattern resolves to a minor tonic (such as in the progression D – G – Cm), but there are also instances where there is a major tonic resolution. {{Image frame|content= ew Staff << set Staff.midiInstrument = #"violin" clef treble key d minor ime 3/4 partial 2 elative c'' { a4. a8 e'4 e4. e8 f4 } \ { } \ elative c'' { s2 bes4 a2 a4 } \ { } \ elative c'' { f,2 g4 g2 f4 } \ elative c' { d2_markup { concat { "i" hspace #7 "ii" aise #1 small "ø" combine aise #1 small 4 lower #1 small 2 hspace #1.5 "V" combine aise #1 small 6 lower #1 small 5 hspace #5.5 "i" } } d4 cis2 d4} >> |width=300|caption=The first three measures of the Ciaccona movement of J.S. Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor}}

For example, over the first three bars of the Ciaccona movement of J.S. Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, the tonic in the first measure progresses to the ii chord (in third inversion) for the first beat of the second measure, then to the dominant (a V in second inversion), and then back to the tonic in the third measure.

Diminished chord function is rarer but still exists. Half-diminished chords can function in the same way as fully diminished chords, such as in the chord progression CM – Cdim – Dm, or Em – Edim – Dm, where the diminished chord serves as a chromatic passing chord preceding a chord with a diatonic root. A typical example of this is when IV progresses to IVm, such as in the Cole Porter song "Night and Day", where there is the progression F – Fm – Em – Edim – Dm – G – CM. If analyzed in its predominant function, it wouldn't sufficiently explain how it functions preceding the Fm chord.

In dominant function, the VII half diminished chord, like its fully diminished counterpart, can take the place of the dominant V chord at a point of cadential motion. This chord, sometimes called a leading-tone diminished seventh chord, is represented by the Roman numeral notation vii, the root of which is the leading-tone to the tonic.. In the key of C, this is chord is B, as shown below.

: ew PianoStaff << ew Staff << ew Voice elative c' { stemUp clef treble key c major ime 4/4 f1 e } ew Voice elative c' { stemDown d1 c } >> ew Staff << ew Voice elative c' { stemUp clef bass key c major ime 4/4 a1 g } ew Voice elative c { stemDown b1_markup { concat { "vii" aise #1 small "ø7" hspace #4.5 "I" } } c ar "||" } >> >> This generally occurs in a major key, since the flattening of the sixth degree in the natural minor scale renders a dominant diminished seventh chord fully diminished if played within the scale. Indeed, the VII half diminished chord in a major key is identical to a dominant ninth chord (a dominant seventh with a major ninth) with its root omitted.{{Image frame|content= { #(set-global-staff-size 16) ew PianoStaff << ew Staff << ew Voice elative c' { stemUp clef treble key c major ime 6/8 4.^~ 4^~ 8 d'4^( c8 e4 c8) b^( c d) 4^~ 8 } ew Voice elative c' { stemDown override DynamicText.X-offset = #-4 override DynamicLineSpanner.staff-padding = #4 b8_(p c d g,4 c8) 4.< 4.> 4! f8 e,4_( c'8) } >> ew Staff << ew Voice elative c, { clef bass key c major ime 6/8 stemUp g8^( g' b d c e) stemNeutral f,,( f' aes fis fis' a) stemUp g,,8^( g' b d c e) } ew Voice elative c { stemDown s4._markup { concat { "V" aise #1 small "7" hspace #16 "ii" aise #1 small "o" combine aise #1 small 6 lower #1 small 5 hspace #6 "vii" aise #1 small "ø7" "/V" hspace #4 "V" aise #1 small "7" } } g s2. s4. g } >> >>

|width=370|caption=A secondary leading-tone half-diminished chord in Brahms's Intermezzo, op. 119, no. 3 (1893)}}

The dominant function of the half-diminished seventh chord may also occur in a secondary dominant context, i.e., as part of a progression where the chord performs the dominant function with respect to the overall key's dominant chord. In this scenario, the half-diminished seventh chord is built on the tritone of the overall key and is equivalent to a secondary dominant seventh chord with added ninth and omitted root. If written with respect to the overall key, this chord is styled "iv," but in terms of its function in the progression, the styling "vii/V" is more descriptive.

Other functions

A variant of the supertonic seventh chord (ii) is the supertonic half-diminished seventh with the raised supertonic (ii), which is enharmonically equivalence to the lowered third (in C: D = E).

:D–F–A–C = F–A–C–E :D = Fm

The sharpened subdominant diminished triad with minor seventh chord is represented with the Roman numeral notation iv; the root of this chord is the raised subdominant (sharpened fourth). That root also serves as the leading tone to the dominant when used in the vii/V function described above; such a function is the diminished, secondary-dominant equivalent of a backdoor progression. For example, in the key of C major, the chord playing this role is F.

The half-diminished seventh chord is the inversion of the German augmented sixth chord. The minor seventh interval (between root and seventh degree, i.e.: { C B } in { C E G B } ) is enharmonically equivalent to an augmented sixth { C E G A }. Rearranging and transposing, this gives { A C D F }, a virtual minor version of the French augmented sixth chord. Like the typical augmented sixth chord, this enharmonic interpretation gives on a resolution irregular for the half-diminished seventh but regular for the augmented sixth chord, where the two voices at the enharmonic major second converge to unison or diverge to octave.

Half-diminished seventh chord table