Diminished Chords


A lesson plan for High School Music Theory




Joseph Abramo



1.     Students will understand how to construct, and play diminished triads and half and whole diminished chords (as well as other chords) on the keyboard and/other instruments

2.     Students will create appropriate sounds to accompany sections of the movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors. 

3.     Students will understand the basic aesthetics of expressionist Movies, Music and Painting.



1.     This lesson will allow students to construct diminished (and other) chords in a situation that is relevant, engaging and useful. 

2.     It allows students another opportunity to experiment with and explore harmony

3.     It allows students another opportunity to be musically creative

4.     Students can explore how music and images are related and how the can effect and enhance each other.



1.     At least 1 computer for every 3 students

2.     Internet access to search the following cite and others:

a.  (Video of Nosferatu)

b. Example of contemporary music put to a clip of Nosferatu.

c. General overview of Expressionism

d. Expressionism in Film

3.     Sequencing and recording software with video capability such as Sonar (PC) or Logic (MAC).

4.     Clips of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922).[1]



Ask students: “Have you seen any good horror movies lately?  What was the music like for these movies?  What types of Chords do you think they used?”





1.     Review Diminished Chords.

a.     Diminished triads (m3, m3) or (ti, re fa)

b.     Fully diminished (m3, m3, m3) or (ti, re, fa, le)

c.     Half Diminished (m3, m3, M3) or (ti, re, fa, la)

d.     Practice and have students play chords on the piano

2.     Show clips of and discuss Nosferatu

a.     Discuss aesthetic of hyper-acting, exaggerated sets and scenes.

b.     Consult websites to get information on expressionism in Music, Film and Painting.

c.     Explain historical context of Germany of between the World Wars.

d.     View clips of people who have added their own music to Nosferatu

3.     Have students compose their own music for Nosferatu

a.     Discuss parameters

                                               i.     Must use at least 2 diminished triads, 2 full diminished and 2 Half diminished.  At least two of those must resolve “correctly” (in the Western canonical sense)

                                             ii.     Must have at least 2 tracks

                                            iii.     Must somehow follow the images and the mood of the movie

b.     Show students their options of which scene to score

c.     Have students open the proper scene in Logic.

d.     Have students compose their music alone, in pairs or trios

                                               i.     Help students with any technical or artistic problems

4.     Display recording

a.     Have each group show their scoring to the class.

b.     Discuss:

                                               i.     What difficulties did you find?

                                             ii.     Please locate some of the diminished chords

                                            iii.     Did their music slightly change the mood of the movie?  If so, how?

                                            iv.     Any other questions students might have?



Successful completion of the task, as well as students’ responses to questions in the subsequent discussion will show an understanding of diminished chords as well as the expressionist aesthetic. 


CLOSURE-The simple question: “What did you learn from this experience will generate discussion towards summing up and closure.


EXTENSIONS-Have students trade clips.  One group can add another layer to the composition already created by another group



[1] This film is in the public domain therefore does not pose a copyright issue. 

Some clips that might be useful are:

1.     “The first time Orlack appears as Nosferatu” (c. 28:30—32:00).  Some editing may be necessary to remove the intermittent shots of Ellen and to decrease the time.

2.     “Nosferatu and the First Mate and Captain” (48:27—50:20)

3.     “Nosferatu’s demise” (1:15:11—1:18:04).  Some editing may be necessary to remove the intermittent shots and to decrease the time.

4.     Any other scene that seems appropriate.