I'm sure this fairly stupid question comes up periodically.

Still, here's the verse from "Puttin' on the Ritz":

F Abdim7 Gm7 C7
Have you seen the well to do?
F Abdim7 Gm7 C7
Up and down Park Avenue?
Ab Bdim7 Bbm7 Eb7
On that famous thoroughfare?
Ab Bdim7 Bbm7 Eb7
With their noses in the air?
C C#dim7 Dm7 G7
High hats and arrowed collars
C C#dim7 Dm7 G7
White spats and fifteen dollars
Am D7
Spending every dime
G7 C7 Caug
For a wonderful time!

There are sevenths, diminished chords, and augmented chords. The song is played in F, which means (for instance) that C# is not even part of the scale, and yet the music seems to call for a diminished C# 7 - how? why?

I mean, yes, try them all out and see which one sounds best, I get that.

But is there a general rule of some sort?


2 Answers 2


It is a little difficult to answer your question without knowing your understanding of theory. C'est la vie. I will do my best.

The first progression is fairly common: F, A♭ dim7, G min7, C7. F is the tonic (I) chord, the G min7 is the II chord, and the C7 is the dominant (V) chord. The function of a dominant chord is to lead you back to tonic. In jazz, the II chord is a chord that leads you to the dominant chord to provide harmonic interest preceding the V chord. In this progression, there is a Ab dim7 before the II. This occurred frequently in earlier jazz to add chromaticism to the progression. Non technically, it sounds bluesy.

The second progression is a transposition of the first.

In regard to seventh chords, jazz almost always uses seventh chords or other added note chords. Most chords with a '7' are constructed with a minor seventh above the root of the chord. The only exception is a FULLY diminished seventh chord, which has a diminished seventh (enharmonic with a major sixth) above the root. If there is a major seventh above the root, the chord symbol will indicate that (G maj7 or [less frequently with minor chords] A min maj7).

In the third progression, C, C♯ dim7, D min7, G7, the C♯ dim7 chord, being a half step below the D min, is leading you to the D min7 chord, and is a substitute for a dominant chord of the D min (very common in baroque music as well). You might get a clearer answer by (if you have not done these things already) studying a general music theory book, studying jazz theory specifically, and playing many jazz tunes. Aebersold play alongs are great sources for jazz tunes. Bon chance!

  • This is, in fact, a pretty clear answer, thank you. Unless I'm much mistaken, the "extra" chords lead to the "principle" chords, making the ear long for resolution.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 6:08

... and yet the music seems to call for a diminished C# 7 - how? why?

I can answer to you how and why:

Actually we have here only one progression in which the diminished chord is easily fitting:

It is the famous I-VI-II-V. (first in F, then in Ab and in C.

Depending of the melody VI and II can be minor or major chords. As major chords they are secondary dominants. In some tunes they can be both used.

Now the diminished chords are just substitutions for the VI and secondary dim. seventh of the predominant VIIdim7/IIm.

e.g. in C major key:

a,c,e,g respectively a,c#,e,g can be replaced by eb,gb,a,c or c#,e,g,bb

How does one know ...

a) by knowing the theory and functions as explained above

b) by listening and analyzing what you here

c) and if there is no fixed progression or version that you will play along then it‘s up to you and you can decide whether you will bring more colors in your accompaniment

try it out!

  • "Now the diminished chords are just substitutions for the VI and secondary dim. seventh of the predominant VIIdim7/IIm." Please elucidate that. Using simple English words.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 17:19
  • the VIIdim7 is the diminished seventh chord you are asking for. The IIm is the second degree (in your example the minor chords following the dim. chords. The slash / between the roman numbers means that the chord in front of the slash is a “secondary” chord leading to the chord following the slash). In my example the VIm is Am and this VIm can be replaced by the dim7 of the augmented tonic (c#dim7) or the dim7 of A. You can transpose this progressions to the keys of your song. Commented May 3, 2019 at 17:35
  • My question was, and is, is there a general rule? You're just listing chords.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 19:05
  • 1
    There is no general rule. You can accompany an entire song only by the root and the fifth of the key tonic, or only with the tonic and the dominant chord. But this will sound like medieval or like folk music, or bag-pipe. The pattern I-vi-ii-V is very popular in Jazz and Pop and will fit to many songs but not to all. e.g. if the tune is on the root tone or the fifth it is quite useful ... but no, there us no rule! Commented May 6, 2019 at 12:31
  • I wish I could give you 20 plus-ones.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 19:07

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