Restless Harmony: Meet the Anxious m7b5 Chord

Of all the different chord types there are, such as major, minor, dominant seven, sus4 and whatnot, among my favorites is m7b5 (minor seven flat-five), also known as “half-diminished seven.” A rather sophisticated entity, m7b5, which is theoretically spelled “root, minor third, diminished fifth, minor seventh” (or more colloquially, among working musicians, “1, b3, b5, b7”) has a somewhat anxious, restless quality, as it seemingly begs to move on to some other chord. So you would never want to end a song on it, unless you want to mess with people’s heads. As always, the key factor, if your goal is to create appealing music, is placement, meaning how or where you employ the chord within a progression. Let’s look at a few examples of ways in which world-renowned songwriters have harnessed this harmonic beast and put it to good use in a non-jazz context. (We’ll explore that in another lesson.)

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Jimmy Brown

Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.