Resources

Chord Construction : 6) Constructing and Identifying Chords
Bernard McDonagh

[ contact the author ]
[ view printable version ]
[ recommend this article to a friend ]


Here is a list of the ‘spellings' for most commonly used chords. It is fairly extensive, but it's not intended to be exhaustive. Keep in mind that there are a multitude of inversions possible too. Each chord has been written with a ‘C' root for ease of reference, and all spellings describe the notes of each chord as they relate to the root, and to the major scale; even if the chord is not Major. Notes numbered in parentheses are considered ‘optional'. This and other potentially sticky areas are marked with an asterisk, and have some clarification following.

MAJOR CHORD

SPELLING

 

 

C

1 - 3 - 5 [C - E - G]

C6

1 - 3 - 5 - 6 [C - E - G - A]

C(add9) *

1 - 3 - 5 - 9 [C - E - G - D]

C(add11) *

1 - 3 - 5 - 11 [C - E - G - F]

C6/9

1 - 3 - 5 - 6 - 9 [C - E - G - A - D]

CMA7

1 - 3 - 5 - 7 [C - E - G - B]

CMA9

1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9 [C - E - G - B - D]

CMA11 *

1 - (3) - 5 - 7 - (9) - 11 [C - E - G - B - D - F]

CMA13 *

1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - (9) - (11) - 13 [C - E - G - B - D - F - A]

CMA7(#5)

1 - 3 - #5 - 7 [C - E - G# - B]

CMA7(#11)

1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - #11 [C - E - G - B - F#]

C(#5) (a.k.a. ‘C+') *

1 - 3 - #5 [C - E - G#]

C(b5)

1 - 3 - b5 [C - E - Gb ]

 

 

The major chords are identifiable by their ‘third' being ‘major'. Also necessary to determine whether a chord is major is the 7th. In any major chord ( e.g. CMA7 etc.), the seventh will be a ‘natural' 7th from the major scale. If it had a major 3rd, but a minor 7th (b7), it would be a Dominant chord, not a Major chord.

SOME CLARIFICATION:

* An ‘add9' chord refers to when the 9th is present without there being a 7th as well. Some publishers may also write them simply as a ‘2' chord. For example, it's quite common to see chords written as C(2) in published popular music, and it refers to an ‘add 9' chord.

* Similarly, an ‘add11' chord refers to the addition of an 11th without a seventh also present.

* The Major 11th chord is not very common. In the CMA11 chord above, the 3rd is listed as optional, despite it being critical in most chords. The 3rd may be omitted here as it may clash with the 11th, which is the main extension note in this chord. If the natural 7th is present as it should be, the chord won't sound Minor or Dominant. ( i.e. It won't sound like CMI11 or C11 .)

* Extended chords from the three chord families are named after the highest interval present, whether 7th, 9th, 11th, or 13th. Technically, all of these notes could be present, but practicality usually determines that some are omitted. Only the 7th and the specific, relevant extension are necessary. For example, in a C13 chord the 7th and the 13th are critical, but both the 9th and 11th , which could be also added, are optional.

* For the C#5 chord, please see the ‘Special Situations' notes at the end.

 

MINOR CHORD

SPELLING

 

 

CMI

1 - b3 - 5 [C - Eb - G]

CMI6

1 - b3 - 5 - 6 [C - Eb - G - A]

CMI(add9)

1 - b3 - 5 - 9 [C - Eb - G - D]

CMI6/9

1 - b3 - 5 - 6 - 9 [C - Eb - G - A - D]

CMI7

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 [C - Eb - G - Bb ]

CMI9

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 9 [C - Eb - G - Bb - D]

CMI11 *

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - (9) - 11 [C - Eb - G - Bb - D - F]

CMI13

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - (9) - (11) - 13 [C - Eb - G - Bb - D - F - A]

CMI7(b5)

1 - b3 - b5 - b7 [C - Eb - Gb - Bb ]

CMI(MA7) *

1 - b3 - 5 - 7 [C - Eb - G- B]

 

 

The minor chords have a flatted or ‘minor' third (b3), and this is really the only essential thing about them. When we have extended minor chords, e.g. Minor 9th, Minor 11th, etc., the b7 must be present too. For example, in a C Minor 11th chord the ‘ b7' note, which in this case is a ‘Bb ', is essential to the chord.

In the minor chord family, the seventh is not as crucial in determining it's basic quality ( i.e. it's ‘Minor-ness') as it is in the other two chord families.

SOME CLARIFICATION:

* The 3rd of the minor 11th chord needs to be present. It is important, in order for the chord to sound like a minor 11th and not a dominant 11th, which could otherwise have exactly the same notes. Here the 3rd is a whole-step away from the 11th interval, and doesn't clash. ( i.e. create an overly dissonant sound.) This is unlike the major and dominant 11th chords, whose 3rd is major and only a semitone away. (See under the Major 11 th chord.)

* It is possible to have a minor chord with a major 7th instead of a minor one, as in the CMI/MA7 chord listed above. (Pronounced “C Minor/Major 7th.”) It's spelling is 1- b3-5-7, and it's simply a minor triad with a major seventh interval on top. Even though it has a major 7th note added, it is still a minor chord, because the 3rd is minor. It is also possible to extend this chord further, such as CMI/MA9, etc.

 

DOMINANT CHORDS

SPELLING

 

 

C7

1 - 3 - 5 - b7 [C - E - G - Bb ]

C9

1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - 9 [C - E - G - Bb - D]

C11

1 - (3) - 5 - b7 - (9) - 11 [C - E - G - Bb - D - F]

C13

1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - (9) - (11) - 13 [C - E - G - Bb - D - F - A]

C7sus

1 - 4 - 5 - b7 [C - F - G - Bb ]

C7(#5) *

1 - 3 - #5 - b7 [C - E - G# - Bb ]

C7(b5)

1 - 3 - b5 - b7 [C - E - Gb - Bb ]

C7(#9)

1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - #9 [C - E - G - Bb - D#]

C7(b9)

1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - b9 [C - E - G - Bb - Db ]

C7(#9#5)

1 - 3 - #5 - b7 - #9 [C - E - G# - Bb - D#]

C7(b9b5)

1 - 3 - b5 - b7 - b9 [C - E - Gb - Bb - Db ]

C7(#9b5)

1 - 3 - b 5 - b7 - #9 [C - E - Gb - Bb - D#]

C7(b9#5)

1 - 3 - #5 - b7 - b9 [C - E - G# - Bb - Db ]

C9 ‘altered' *

see below

C11 ‘altered' *

see below

C13 ‘altered' *

see below

 

 

The crucial distinction between the dominant and major chord families is the 7th. The dominant family members have the all important flatted or ‘minor' seventh (b7) interval, while major chords have a ‘major' seventh (7). Both have a ‘major' third.

SOME CLARIFICATION:

* For the C7#5 chord, please refer to the ‘Special Situations' notes overleaf.

* With the Dominant 11th chord, the 3rd is optional. (see under CMA11 and CMI11.)

* ‘Altered Dominant' Chords: It is common for dominant family chords to have a ‘raised' or ‘flatted' 5th, 9th, or both. These chords are then referred to as ‘Altered' chords.

The dominant 7th chord entry in the table above shows these various combinations of #5, b5, #9, and b9. The same possibilities also apply to the dominant 9th, 11th and 13th chords. For the sake of clarity and space they are not all written here, as the list would be too long. One good example that's fairly common is the ‘13b9' chord:

e.g. C13b9, 1 - 3 - (5) - b7 - b9 - (11) - 13.)

In the altered dominant chords above, there may be times when the notes in some chords may appear confusing. For example, in a C Dominant chord of some kind, there may also be an Eb present. In this case consider the Eb to be a ‘sharp 9', i.e. the same as a D# . As the C chord will have an E for it's Major 3rd, this is the only conclusion to make. Another example could be a C Dominant chord having a C# as well. That C# note should be thought of as a Db , which therefore makes it a b9. You get the idea… (Please refer to the article ‘Chord Construction' no 5: ‘Intervals and Chords'.)

 

SPECIAL SITUATIONS

SPELLING

 

 

C5 *

1 - 5 - 8 [C - G - C]

Csus (a.k.a. Csus4) *

1 - 4 - 5 [C - F - G]

Csus9 (a.k.a. Csus2) *

1 - 9 - 5 [C - D - G]

C(#5) (a.k.a. ‘C+') *

1 - 3 - #5 [C - E - G#]

C° *

1 - b3 - b5 [C - Eb - Gb ]

7 *

1 - b3 - b5 - bb7 [C - Eb - Gb - Bbb ]

 

 

  * C5 is the name given to those Rock-type chords that don't use a third. When using distortion sounds, the presence of a major third in chords can sound undesirable. (Depending on the amount of distortion being used.) To combat this, these so-called ‘power-chords' have emerged; a phenomenon peculiar to rock music. A typical guitar (or even a keyboard imitating a guitar) power-chord would have the root, the natural 5th and an octave of the root. e.g. C - G - C, but they can also just have the two notes, the root and the 5th.

* The term ‘sus' is short for ‘suspended'. (It does not mean ‘sustained'.) A chord is ‘suspended' when it has no third, and is therefore neither major or minor . The difference between a Csus and a Cadd11, is that the latter has the 3rd present as well as the 4th/11th. There are also dominant ‘sus' chords, e.g. C7sus, C13sus, etc.

The sus chords will usually resolve to another chord. For example, a G7sus is nearly always going to resolve to a G7 chord. However, in today's music many writers and players will leave the unresolved sus chord sound in the music as a desired effect.

* Sometimes the 3rd is suspended with a 9th or 2nd, instead of the 4th. These chords are quite common, and are called either a ‘sus9' or ‘sus2'.

* When the 5th of any chord is raised, that chord is commonly referred to as ‘Augmented'. The symbol ‘+' is commonly used to indicate the raised 5th, such as C+ (C augmented), and C7 + (C7 augmented). Writing it as C(#5) and C7(#5) is preferred by some, but both ways of writing the chord are common.

* The ‘+' symbol should never be used in place of a # sign. ( i.e. as if C7#9 = C7+9.) The two are not inter-changeable. The ‘+' sign refers only to a raised 5th. If the 11th is raised, we must write ‘#11', not +11, etc.

* The ‘+' sign should also not be used to indicate the addition of a note, such as an added 9th or 11th, e.g. C(add9) should not be written as C+9, etc.

* Similarly, the minus symbol ‘–' should not be used to represent a minor chord; for example, writing C Minor 7th as ‘C–7'. It would be correctly written as ‘CMI7'.

* In Diminished chords the 3rd is minor, so technically we could argue that they are part of the Minor chord family. However, they are used as passing chords, and are functionally more like Dominant chords in that they connect other chords. The diminished triad can be found on degree VII of the major scale, but the diminished 7th chord is formed from either the ‘Diminished', or ‘Harmonic Minor' scales.

SUMMARY :

•  Major chords have a major 3rd interval from the root.

•  When extended, Major chords (i.e. Major 7ths, Major 9ths, etc.) need only have the major seventh (7), plus the specifically relevant extension. ( i.e. the 9th, 11th, or 13th.)

Other extension notes are considered optional.

•  The natural 7th is critical for determining their character as major chords.

•  Minor chords have a minor third (b3) interval from the root.

•  When extended, minor chords need the minor 7th (b7), plus the specifically relevant extension (the 9th, or the 11th, etc.). Other extension notes would be optional.

•  With minor chords the 7th is not critical in determining the minor character of the chord. e.g. They can have a major 7th note added and still be Minor chords.

•  Dominant chords have a major 3rd (3), plus the all-important minor 7th (b7).

•  When extended, dominant chords need only to have the b7, plus the specifically relevant extension. ( i.e. the 9th, or the 11th, etc.) Any other extension notes are optional.

A WORD ON ‘OPTIONAL' NOTES:

The summary charts above show that with extended chords the 7th needs to be present; and this applies to all the families and their extensions. Other notes in extended chords are fine, and sometimes desirable, but not essential .

Dominant 13th chords for example ( e.g. C13), technically have: 1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - 9 - 11 - 13. That is obviously going to be impossible on a guitar, which only has 6 strings! Our summary above says that all we need is the b7, plus the main extension, which is the 13th. That's why it's spelling (in the ‘Dominant' chord family list) puts the 9th and 11th in brackets. The 9th and 11th are considered ‘optional' because they're not essential for the 13th chord to sound and function like a dominant 13th chord. However, they will certainly add richness should you include one or both.

Just about anything else in major, minor or dominant extended chords can be omitted, including the root! Can you leave out the C from a C ma 9? Yes! You normally wouldn't, but it's possible. However, the first note to be considered ‘optional' is the 5th. It's the “least important” note in the chord. Then the root or some of the extension notes would be next to go. It may be necessary to omit some notes for several reasons. It would probably be mostly for ease of playing or fingering. Trying to achieve a unique voicing for your chords is another good reason, but reasons will vary from case to case.

 

Click here for our course on harmony

© 2004 Bernard McDonagh
Email : author@gsus.biz
http://www.gsus.biz


[ return to top ]

All articles are copyright of their respective authors. Used with permission.

 
 

You are not logged in.

email
password

Click here to register as a member

Or find out more about member benefits!

Forgotten your password?

 

© 2004 G.SUS. All Rights Reserved