would you say it is ok to think of a diminished 7 chord in a song as simply a chord in itself, or would you usually try to perceive it in terms of a 7b9 which it might be representing/disguising?

often when i practise 'from this moment on' i get sidetracked trying to work out which 7b9s those dims are really suggesting. i can hear probably g7b9 for the abdim7 in bar 14, but no 7b9 chord really sounds right to me for the eb dim played over the lyrics '...sweet lips'. it could be ab7, but that doesn't quite have the tension and the other 3 possible 7b9s aren't right either i think.

how do you guys think of dim 7 chords when improvising?
There are 16 comments, leave a comment.
it opened up my playing when i finally realized i could change dim7 chords into dom7 and when i finally realized thats exactly how hundreds of pianists were making lots of old standards rock that sounded corny as heck when i played them.  its not so much i change em anymore so much as they are one in the same. whenever i think dim7 now there is just this wonderful panorama of awesome choices and i rock.
i always treated them as dom 7 b9 but that became a trap too. i think you should think of them as dim 7 and secondly as dom 7 b9, think of them as subs for each other.
generally you're right about dim7 = 7b9 but you gotta be careful.  for example, here are the first two bars of rhythm changes:

| bb  g7  |  cmi  f7  |

here's a common chromatic variant using dim7s:

| bb  bdim7  |  cmi  dbdim7  |

bdim7 is certainly functioning as a version of g7b9.  but the dbdim chord isn't related at all to f7b9 - it's a reharmonization rather than a substitution.  there are many such examples, so it's necessary to stay on your toes.

it's interesting to hear how people think of dim7 chords. i like mike's way of thinking of them as providing a "wonderful panorama of awesome choices".  

when reharmonising rhythm changes as per sid's example above i might follow the dbdim7 with dm7:

|bb bdim7 | cmi dbdim7 | dm7 g7 | cm7 f7 |

so it's possible that the dbdim7 could be hinting at an a7b9, which then leads into the dm7...
then there is wave in d:

| dmaj7 | bbdim7 |  a-7 |  d7  |
| gmaj7 |
p-paul is right - i didn't continue the rhythm changes into measure 3 but yes dbdim7 goes to dm7 (or even some form of d7 such as the #9).

another instance of the dim7 that isn't a sub for 7b9 is the "basie ending" - for example dm7 : ebdim7 : c6 (1st inversion).  this looks like a ii v i except the v isn't.

very interesting subject.

i do not see db dim 7 as the right dim chord for the f7 chord there.  that is where i am a little lost with the thread here.  the dim chord for f7 has to be f# dim 7.  by choosing db dim 7 you are you are substituting eb7, gb7, a7 or c7 for f7 which does not work in my world.  
in my world you can sub b7, d7, or ab7 for f7 there all relatives of the f# dim 7 chord.  if you are thinking of it as a chromatic passing chord it is just not a good place to use that because of the above reasons.
thanks for the clarification mike that rocks and it makes a lot of sense.  i've substituted b7 for f7 plenty but never d7 or ab7.  i'll have to try it out.
mike i think (someone correct me if i'm wrong) that the dbdim7 is just an a7b9 which leads nicely into the dm7 in the next bar.
mike, the dbdim chord is not a sub for f7. it would only be played in bar 2 if bar 3 begins with a dm7 (itself a sub for bbmaj). as piano paul points out, it's a reharmonisation, not a substitution - see the chord sequence he gives about three posts back.

in this situation, a bassist would gave to follow suit to avoid a clash. in fact, it's a bebop device to create a bass line that ascends in half steps.

ellington and strayhorn sometimes used diminished chords on the same root as the tonic major, so two bars of cmaj7 become cdim - cmaj7. the tension created in the first bar is resolved, but cdim is not a sub for ab7, b7, d7 or f7. this is similar to the basie ending, where ebdim goes to c6 (ebdim is an inversion of cdim).

the wave example given by jazz+ is interesting. in my opinion, the bbdim in bar 2 is a sub for a7b9, which is the v chord of d7 in bar 4. before the d7, though there is a ii chord, am7, which confuses the issue. the simplified sequence for the first four bars would look like this:
dmaj7 - a7 - d7 - d7.
with the subs it becomes:
dmaj7 - bbdim - am7 - d7

does anyone agree?

which appears in bar 4.
in answer to mike, the reharmonisation i mentioned for the rhythm changes is one from a book i have by 'carl humphries' called 'the piano handbook'. as drjazz points out, it creates chromatic movement in the bass. when i look at those changes, i see dm7 is a substitution for the original bb, and the dbdim as indicating the a7b9 leading into the dm7 (maybe) - so the a7b9 is relating to the dm7 that follows, not anything to do with the f7 from the original rhythm changes.

as for the wave example i agree to my ears dm7, a7, am7, d7, gm7 sounds fine and so bbdim7 could be a sub for a7.

i am just a plodding amateur as you know though so don't take my comments toos seriously.

the ellington/strayhorn example is interesting...
oh yeh,  i was missing that you can think of the bb as d-7... then the f7 can become a7...  ok im with ya now....    so now because of that there is two different diminished 7 chords or eight different dominant 7 chords that could go into that measure depending on whether you are going to think of the next measure as bb or d-7...  cool.

thinking dom7 instead of diminished is helping to open up my soloing.  
for example, embraceable you chords: instead of f to abdim7 in the first bar i play f to g7. man, i would rather solo over the g7 even though my note choices are the same as the abdim7!  

i have made a table where for each diminished 7 chord i can look up the dom7b9 that uses the same notes/scale (dominant diminshed scale or lydian dominant); with each dim7 chord giving four dom7 chords to pick from.

the benefits for me from this knowledge are smoother changes, better voice leading and many, many more roads to travel down!

anyone else do this?

another way to think about this is in relation to bebop or b6 scales (as promoted by barry harris and david baker).  that's where you add a chromatic passing note to the major scale between degrees 5 and 6.  in c, this would be ab, which just happens to be the b9 of the dominant g7.  incidentally, it also offers the option of b5 on the ii chord (dm7b5 in c).  there's a whole world of fascinating theory and practice around this subject.

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