What is a half diminished chord

What's a Half-Diminished Chord (m7b5)

This guitar lesson explains what is m7b5 chord, how to play it on guitar and how to apply it in common harmonic contexts as major and minor II-V-I progressions.

What is a Half-diminished Chord?

Minor 7 flat 5 chord is close to a diminished 7th chord, the first 3 notes are identical, but the 4th is different. This chord can be written in two ways: m7b5 or Ø. If you do not know how to play and what is a diminished 7th chord, you can read this page about diminished chord voicings. 

As is it shown in the chart below, the half-diminished chord is built with a root (1), a minor third (b3), a flat fifth (b5) and a minor 7th (b7). The diminished 7th chord has a diminished 7th instead of the minor seventh. This is the only difference between these two chords.

Half-diminished 7th chord 1 b3 b5 b7
Diminished 7th chord 1 b3 b5 bb7

 

You can find the half-diminished chord in a number of harmonized scales. For example the 7th degree of the major scale, the 2nd degree of the harmonic minor scale and the 6th and 7th degree of the melodic minor scale.

The major harmonized scale

When you harmonize in thirds the degree VII of the major scale you obtain a m7b5 chord.

Degrees I II III IV V VI VII
C major scale C D E F G A B
Quadrad chords CMaj7 D-7 E-7 FMaj7 G7 A-7 B-7b5

 

The harmonic minor harmonized scale

When you harmonize in thirds the degree II of the harmonic minor scale you get a m7b5 chord.

Degrees I II III IV V VI VII
C Harmonic minor scale C D Eb F G Ab B
Quadrad chords C-maj7 D-7b5 EbMaj7#5 Fm7 G7 AbMaj7 Bdim7

 

The melodic minor harmonized scale

When you harmonize in thirds the degrees VI and VII of the major scale you obtain two m7b5 chords.

Degrees I II III IV V VI VII
C Harmonic minor scale C D Eb F G A B
Quadrad chords C-maj7 D-7 EbMaj7#5 F7 G7 A-7b5 B-7b5

Half-diminished guitar chord diagrams

Here are the three main m7b5 guitar chord shapes. The first one is drop 3 voiced whereas the two other voicings are drop 2.

How to use the half-diminished chord

The m7b5 chord can be found in different contexts and is used in different substitutions. For example, when playing a minor II V I progression, the 2nd degree is a m7b5.

The half-diminished chord is specially a leading chord, the sound strongly pulls towards resolution. It is possible to use it as a diatonic substitution for a dominant 7th chord. Try to play the m7b5 a major 3rd higher than the dominant 7 chord to replace it. For example, use Bm7b5 for G7. 

  • This II-V-I : Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 becomes Dm7 | B-7b5 | Cmaj7

You can use the m7b5 as a substitution for a minor 7th chord, built from a minor third below. Meaning that you can replace Cm7 chord with Am7b5.

  • This II-V-I : Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 becomes Bm7b5 | G7 | Cmaj7

The minor seventh flat five chord is also an inversion of the minor 6 chord. This is a minor 6 chord with the sixth in the bass. Here is a comparison between them.

Drop 2 Minor 6 chord formula (root position) R 5 6 b3
Drop 2 D minor 6 chord  D A B F
Drop 2 minor 6 chord formula - 3rd inversion (6 in the bass) 6 b3 5 R
Drop 2 - D minor 6 chord - 3rd inversion B F A D
Drop 2 Half-dimished chord formula (root position) R b5 b7 b3
Bm7b5 Drop 2 half-diminished chord B F A D

 

As you see in the guitar neck diagrams below, the minor 6 and m7b5 chord shapes are exactly the same. 

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