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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.

This Solfege Syllables to Intervals Translation Chart was designed to help self-taught musicians follow along in future FYM Blog posts, particularly our Compositional Analysis series. This guide uses intervals relative to the root note of the key going up in half steps. Also be sure to check out Keith’s Crash Course On Intervals For Self-Taught Musicians.


Solfege Syllables To Intervals Translation Chart

Text (For Copy & Pasting):

* do – Perfect Unison (Root)

* ra – Minor 2nd

* re – Major 2nd

* me – Minor 3rd

* mi – Major 3rd

* fa – Perfect 4th

* fi – Tritone

* sol – Perfect 5th

* le – Minor 6th

* la – Major 6th

* te – Minor 7th

* ti – Major 7th (Leading Tone)

* do – Perfect Octave (Root)


For example: in the key of C, C# is called ra, G is sol, Bb is te, and so forth.


 


 


Also note that some of these intervals can have a different solfege name in certain contexts, but these are the “default” names and they are all you need to know in order to understand our song analyses.


 

theory-lesson2This post is #2 in my series of music theory lessons. My feeling is that music theory resources on the internet are fairly scattered and typically not for beginners. Theory lessons shouldn’t make anyone run away screaming or scratching their heads, but good luck prying through Wikipedia’s music theory knowledge base, which explains things in thorough, but often highly confusing ways. Much of what I talk about in my Compositional Analysis series requires a basic understanding of theory, but anyone who is interested should be able to read along. I will be using these posts as references for that series. If anything is not clear, feel free to leave a comment.


The distance between two notes is known as an “interval.” Each interval has it’s own name, and these names are useful for analyzing, understanding, and talking about music. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, here are the 13* basic note intervals in order, with examples starting from C:

  • Perfect Unison (C to C – must be identical pitches, no octave displacement)
  • Minor 2nd (C to Db)
  • Major 2nd (C to D)
  • Minor 3rd (C to Eb)
  • Major 3rd (C to E)
  • Perfect 4th (C to F)
  • Tritone (C to F#)
  • Perfect 5th (C to G)
  • Minor 6th (C to Ab)
  • Major 6th (C to A)
  • Minor 7th (C to Bb)
  • Major 7th (C to B, a.k.a. the “Leading Tone”**)
  • Perfect Octave (C to C – displaced by an octave up or down)

Listen to these intervals.

As you can see, each of these intervals are classified as major, minor, or perfect except for the tritone. In a simple world, it would follow that major intervals come from the major scale, minor intervals come from the minor scale, and perfect intervals are present in both. But it’s slightly more complicated than that. You may notice, for example, that the major 2nd is present in both the major and minor scales and the minor 2nd isn’t in either scale (I’m referring to intervals from the root, not intervals between the other notes in the scale).


In order for an interval to be considered “perfect” it must meet two requirements:

  1. It must be present in both the Ionian (major) and Aeolian (minor) scales.
  2. When inverted***, that interval must be present in both the Ionian and Aeolian scales. Though the major 2nd interval is present in both Ionian and Aeolian scales, it is not considered perfect because it inverts to a minor 7th–an interval which is only in Aeolian. Calling it a major 2nd works out nicely because it means that all major intervals invert to become minor intervals and vice versa.

So who cares whether an interval is major or minor? Why not just have a unique name for everything? Why not just call them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 […] 11, 12, 13? The reason is because chords are built in stacks of thirds and the types of thirds which make up a chord determine its very essence.


There are two main types of chords: triads and seventh chords.


Triads


Triads consist of three notes stacked in intervals of thirds moving up from the root.**** Check out a G major chord: G, B, D. That’s a triad. From G to B, there is a major third interval. The interval from B to D is a minor third, however note that only the intervals from the root to the other notes determine a chord’s quality.†


When someone says “play a G chord” they’re referring to a G major triad by default. When someone says “play a G minor chord” they’re referring to the G minor triad. There are other chords other than triads which are based on G, but if someone refers to a chord, they mean a triad unless otherwise indicated by additional words or numbers (other than major or minor).††


Seventh Chords


All seventh chords have four notes: a triad with a seventh. If we add the next third from the G major scale (F#) on top of our G triad, we have a G major 7 chord.  There are four different types of seventh chords: major 7, minor 7, diminished 7, and dominant. I won’t go in depth on these chords for now, but know that if you keep building in thirds on top of a 7th chord, all additional notes are called tensions. Tensions are not considered functionally essential to a chord but are said to add color.


*Inversion means you flip the interval. So a minor 2nd inverts to a major 7th, a perfect fifth inverts to a perfect fourth, etc.


**Only known as the leading tone in the context of a scale or key signature, not in the context of chords. So the major 7th on the chord would not be called a leading tone unless it were the Imaj7 chord.


***If you have ever looked at a jazz chart or tried to learn songs out of a guitar magazine, you’ve probably also seen 10ths, 11ths, etc. These are called tensions. They’re all based on the 13 basic intervals but have additional octaves in between them.


****There are also suspended triads, which use a major 2nd or a perfect fourth to take the place of a third.


†But if you really want to get crazy when thinking about chords, think of the relationship between every note in a chord and how this might subtly effect its impact on a listener. The spacing between the notes of a chord (the order in which you place notes, the octave registers you put them in, and the number of instances of any given note in a chord) is known as the chord’s “voicing.” Certain styles use certain types of voicings, and most instruments can play certain types of voicings more easily than others.


††For example, suspended (sus), augmented (aug), add 9, major 7 (“maj 7”), etc.

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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