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Keith’s Guide To Chord Symbols & Shorthand

Posted by Keith Freund On November - 11 - 20092 COMMENTS

theory-lesson2Note: this post requires a basic knowledge of intervals.


To understand why some chords have intervals of 9, 11, and 13, read our explanation of tensions.


This post will give you abbreviations for the most common chords we’ll be dealing with in our Compositional Analysis series. While some of the naming conventions and rules are confusing, this list should get you started. Also note that our analyses usually use Roman numerals instead of note names (e.g. C minor 7 in the key of C would be written I-7). This is called ‘functional analysis.’


Sample:

  • How the chord is written … Full chord name … Notes in the chord, listed by intervallic relationship with the root of the chord. These notes can be in any order.*

*See inversions below.


Triads (three notes):

  • G … G major … 1, 3, 5 (i.e. G, B, D)
  • G- … G minor … 1, b3, 5
  • or Gdim … G diminished … 1, b3, b5
  • G+ or Gaug … G augmented … 1, 3, #5
  • Gsus2 … G suspended 2 … 1, 2, 5
  • Gsus4 … G suspended 4 … 1, 4, 5


Seventh Chords:

  • Gmaj7 … G major 7 … 1, 3, 5, 7
  • G-7 … G minor 7 … 1, b3, 5, b7
  • G7 … G dominant 7 … 1, 3, 5, b7
  • Gø7 … G half diminished 7 … 1, b3, b5, b7
  • Gº7 … G fully diminished 7 … 1, b3, b5, 6


Extended Chords (seventh chords+tensions):

  • Gmaj9 … G major 9 … 1, 2, 3, 5, 7
  • Gmaj9/13 … G major 9 with 13 … 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7
  • G9 … G dominant 9 … 1, 2, 3, 5, b7
  • G-9 … G minor 9 … 1, 2, b3, 5, b7
  • G-11 … G minor 11 … 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b7,
  • G-13 … G minor 13 … 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7


Other Common Chords:

  • G5 … G with no third (guitarists: a power chord) … 1, 5
  • Gmaj7(no3) … G major 7 no third … 1, 5, 7
  • Gadd9 or G2 … G add 9 … 1, 2, 3, 5
  • G6 … G major 6 … 1, 3, 5, 6
  • G69 … G69 … 1, 2, 3, 5, 6


Inversions:

  • G/3 or G/B … G major first inversion … 1, 3, 5 – 3rd must be the lowest note, others can be in any order
  • G/b3 or G/Bb … G minor first inversion … 1, b3, 5 – 3rd must be the lowest note, others can be in any order
  • G/5 or G/D … G major second inversion … 1, 3, 5 – 3rd must be the lowest note, others can be in any order


Things To Know…

  • When referring to a note or Roman numeral, the sharp (#) and flat (b) symbols come after the note or Roman numeral they are modifying.
  • When referring to a pitch interval, the sharp (#) and flat (b) symbols come after the number they are modifying.
  • These chord symbols are used by musicians and scholars trained in Jazz (and Pop). The Traditional/Classical school of thought uses a different nomenclature.
  • If you find a chord that is written (chord)/(note other than a chord tone), it’s not an inversion, it’s a polychord, which means you should play both chords simultaneously, with the top chord above the bottom chord. For example, a C/F chord is a C major chord with the note F in the bass.
  • For chords with perfect 5th intervals above the root, these 5ths can generally be omitted and it will still be considered the same chord.


For a more extensive list of chords, check Wikipedia: Types of Chords (they actually did a pretty good job with this one).

Keith’s Easy Explanation Of Chord Tensions

Posted by Keith Freund On November - 11 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

theory-lessonsNote: this post requires a basic knowledge of intervals.


A chord tension is any note in a chord that is not considered integral to the chord (the integral notes are called ‘chord tones’). Tensions are also referred to as ‘added colors’ or ”non-chord tones’ (I try to avoid using the latter term because means something different in Traditional/Classical harmony).


There are only three possible tensions: 9, 11, and 13 (in other words: 2nds, 4ths, and 6th, respectively). But these notes are not considered tensions on every chord–the only way to know for sure is to have a good knowledge of chords (to get started, read our article on chord abbreviations). These tensions may also be modified by a # (sharp) or b (flat).


Chord tensions are written up an octave (by adding 7 to the interval number) because chords can sound muddy or cluttered if the note intervals are too close together. Tensions tend to come in between chord tones, so these notes are often placed in higher octaves to keep things clean (not to say that chord tones are usually all within one octave-they aren’t). The only exception that comes to mind is that a Cadd9 chord (C major chord with a major 2nd added) is sometimes written C2.

THEORY LESSONS: Table of Contents

Posted by Keith Freund On August - 11 - 2007COMMENT ON THIS POST

Refer to this archive of our Theory Lessons as needed while you follow along with our Compositional Analysis series.


Key Concepts:

Additional Concepts:

Advanced Reading:

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