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In any chord that isn't a diminished 7th, you can tell the inversion of the chord by the intervals against the bass(eg: 6-3=1st inversion triad, 6-4=2nd inversion triad, 5-3=root position, more complicated for 7th chords, but the same idea). But in a diminished 7th chord, such as the Adim7 below (clef is bass):

Diminished 7th chord

Every interval is the same(minor third). So how can you tell if a diminished 7th is in an inversion, and which inversion it is in?

1 Answer 1

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Differentiating inversions

All seventh chords, when inverted, contain a second somewhere in the stack of notes. Diminished sevenths are no different. Somewhere in the inversion will be an augmented second.1

Thus, one can tell the inversion in the same way as any other seventh chord:

  • First inversion = 6-5-3 (the second is between 6 and 5)
  • Second inversion = 6-4-3 (the second is between 4 and 3)
  • Third inversion = 6-4-2 (the second is between 2 and 1)

Example

As an example, consider Adim7 and Cdim7. Both chords contain the same keys on the keyboard. However, the spellings are different, and therefore the inversion also clear.

  • Cdim7 in root position = C-Eb-Gb-Bbb (all minor thirds)
  • Adim7 in first inversion = C-Eb-Gb-A (augmented second between Gb and A)

Enharmonic spelling

Where there can be genuine confusion is when diminished sevenths are "misspelled". This can happen for two reasons.

  1. The chord is being used to pivot between two keys, so it's correctly spelled only relative to one of those keys.
  2. The chord is easier to read if written enharmonically.

For an example of (1), see How to analyze mm. 5-8 in the first movement of Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 8.

For an example of (2), see What's the Reason for Naming Major Second a Diminished Third?.


1. An implicit assumption is made, for the purposes of this post, that chords are in close position.

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    "All seventh chords, when inverted, contain a second somewhere in the stack of notes. Diminished sevenths are no different." So, a root position Dim. 7th chord is when every interval is spelled as a minor third, and no augmented seconds exist?
    – OprenStein
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:21
  • @OprenStein Correct.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:25
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    I learned something today. Always considered that a dim chord had all intervals as m3, but you've explained why that can't be so. To explain all to readers - here's the same dim7 chord, with all of its root positions. 1-m3-d5-d7. Spelled as such - C Eb Gb Bbb; A C Eb Gb Bbb: Eb Gb Bbb Dbb; Gb Bbb Dbb Fbb.That's without going unto their enharmonic names!Note, each note needs to be a 3rd of some kind above the last - the 'stack of thirds'.The very reason why some notes sound the same, but will need a different name, hence the reason the chord's inversion can be distinguished.If I understood it !
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 10:48

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