Chord Names Demystified | Moosiko

This blog was written by Sonametro, an app that makes it easy for guitarists to document new songs they are writing. If you teach a song writing unit in your curriculum, this app would be perfect for your students. 

Funky Chord Names

Once you get beyond your basic open string G, C, D, A, E, there’s a world of amazing chords out there.

In fact, you could probably put your fingers in just about any pattern on the fretboard and it’s got a chord name. It may not be a common one, but technically it has a name, and probably more than one.

Most chord books cover the common chords, because there are far too many to list them all. It would amount to almost every possible finger permutation on the fretboard. But from a logic standpoint, you can fairly easily understand every chord by learning how they are named and constructed.

Quick refresh:

  • There are 12 notes in western music and instruments. (The Chromatic scale)
  • A Scale has 7 notes (if you don’t double count the root note). So, it drops 5 of the 12 notes to create a KEY to work in.
  • A Chord skips every other note in the scale to create a harmonic pattern. 1-3-5 or 1-3-5-7, etc.
  • A flat ♭ means down a half-step (down one on the chromatic scale)
  • A sharp ♯ means up a half-step (up one on the chromatic scale)

Chromatic Interval

Using the C octave above as an example, we can see that in Notation we use the scale/chord intervals (1-7, 9, 11, & 13) rather than the chromatic position. The extended interval is effectively the next octave up, if you continued the scale past the first 8 notes. We use the term “interval” as it describes the “distance” between any note and the root note, being 1. For example, the interval between 1 and 5 is called a 5th.

A major scale, then, uses interval steps 1-7.

C Major Scale

And major chord consists of the 3rd and 5th intervals.

C Major Triad

So then what the heck is a C9♯5/E ??? Well, you can build chords out of a huge number of patterns. For example: 1-3-5-7 is called a Major 7th chord (i.e. Emaj7). 1-3-5-♭7-9 is a Ninth chord (i.e. G9). Every chord is named by its root note (one) followed by the type of chord.

The way a pattern is translated into a name has a degree of logic, so here are some of the general rules for chord name abbreviations. Note that although we often say “major chord” for a 1-3-5 pattern, in the abbreviated chord names a major chord is simply the root note name (i.e. “C”).

5 Only 2 notes, the root and the 5th.
6 Adds the 6th to the chord.
7 Adds the flat 7th to the chord.
maj Major. Adds the natural 7th to a major chord. Exception is a m(maj7) which has a minor 3rd.
9 Adds the 9th note to a 7th chord.
11 Adds the 11th note to a 7th chord. 9th is optional.
13 Adds the 13th note to a 7th chord. 9th and 11th are optional.
m Minor. Has a minor 3rd.
sus2 Suspended. A 2nd replaces the 3rd in the chord.
sus4 Suspended. A 4th replaces the 3rd in the chord.
dim Dimished. Flats the 3rd, 5th, and if present the 7th (making the 7th a double flat, or 6)
aug Augmented. A sharp 5th.
add Adds a note, such as add9, where there is no 7th.
/ Slash chord or inversion. A note other than root is lowest.
6/9 Exception to the slash notation. Adds a 6th and 9th to the chord.
dom Dominant. Optional/legacy nomenclature used when a flat 7th is added to a major triad. (For example C7 = Cdom7).
triad A chord with three notes.

 

Using the above legend, you can determine a chord pattern by dissecting the name. Here’s how those abbreviations can be combined to create almost any chord.

 

Chord Abbreviation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 13 Pattern
Major C C E G 1-3-5
Fifth (power chord) C5 C G 1-5
Sixth C6 C E G A 1-3-5-6
Sixth, added ninth C6/9 C E G A D 1-3-5-6-9
Added ninth Cadd9 C E G D 1-3-5-9
Seventh (dominant seventh) C7 C E G B♭ 1-3-5-♭7
Seventh flat fifth C7♭5 C E G♭ B♭ 1-3-♭5-♭7
Seventh sharp fifth C7♯5 C E G♯ B♭ 1-3-♯5-♭7
Seventh flat ninth C7♭9 C E G B♭ D♭ 1-3-5-♭7-♭9
Seventh sharp ninth C7♯9 C E G B♭ D♯ 1-3-5-♭7-♯9
Ninth C9 C E G B♭ D 1-3-5-♭7-9
Ninth flat fifth C9♭5 C E G♭ B♭ D 1-3-♭5-♭7-9
Ninth sharp fifth C9♯5 C E G♯ B♭ D 1-3-♯5-♭7-9
Eleventh C11 C E G B♭ D F 1-3-5-♭7-(9)-11
Thirteenth C13 C E G B♭ D F A 1-3-5-♭7-(9)-(11)-13
Major seventh Cmaj7 C E G B 1-3-5-7
Major ninth Cmaj9 C E G B D 1-3-5-7-9
Major eleventh Cmaj11 C E G B D F 1-3-5-7-(9)-11
Major thirteenth Cmaj13 C E G B D F A 1-3-5-7-(9)-(11)-13
Minor Cm C E♭ G 1-♭3-5
Minor sixth Cm6 C E♭ G A 1-♭3-5-6
Minor seventh Cm7 C E♭ G B♭ 1-♭3-5-♭7
Minor, major seventh Cm(maj7) C E♭ G B 1-♭3-5-7
Minor flat fifth Cm7♭5 C E♭ G♭ B♭ 1-♭3-♭5-♭7
Minor ninth Cm9 C E♭ G B♭ D 1-♭3-5-♭7-9
Minor eleventh Cm11 C E♭ G B♭ D F 1-♭3-5-♭7-(9)-11
Minor thirteenth Cm13 C E♭ G B♭ D F A 1-♭3-5-♭7-(9)-(11)-13
Diminshed Cdim C E♭ G♭ 1-♭3-♭5
Diminished seventh Cdim7 C E♭ G♭ A 1-♭3-♭5-6 (♭♭7 = 6)
Suspended second Csus2 C D G 1-2-5
Suspended fourth Csus4 C F G 1-4-5
Seventh, suspended second C7sus2 C D G B♭ 1-2-5-♭7
Seventh, suspended fourth C7sus4 C F G B♭ 1-4-5-♭7
Ninth, suspended fourth C9sus4 C F B♭ D 1-4-7♭-9
Augmented Caug C E G♯ 1-3-♯5
Ninth augmented Caug9 C E♭ G♯ B♭ D 1-3-♯5-♭7-9

Guitarists may not always be playing a chord pattern in standard formation from the lowest string to the highest. It’s very common to use inversions or at least the chord sequence out of order. This doesn’t matter, it’s the same chord name whether you play C-E-G-B or C-G-B-E from lowest note to highest.

However, if you shift your perspective on which note you consider to be the ROOT note (position 1), that may affect your chord name. It’s kind of like an alias or synonym for a chord name. As you can see below a C chord is the same as an E minor, sharp fifth, second inversion chord. It just depends on which note is the root note.

What actually determines which chord name is used may be the sequence of chords it is played with. Chords work together harmonically to create progressions in the key of the song.

Chromatic Positions

Getting back to the slash, it’s pretty simple. It means that the note after the slash is the lowest note on the guitar/piano. There are two possible scenarios:

  1. It is an inversion, which is a type of slash chord where the low note is one of the notes of the chord, other than the root. If the lowest note is the 3rd, it’s the first inversion. If the low note is the 5th, it’s the second inversion. If it’s the 7th, you get it. As you move a chord up and down the fretboard or keyboard, you’re usually creating inversions. The same notes, different order.

  2. If the note does not belong to the chord, it is just a plain slash chord. This is often used when you want a bass note to underscore the chord as part of a chord progression. It might mirror what the bass player is playing, or it helps transition to the next chord.

I hope this helps deconstruct some of the methodology behind chords and their names. We hope Guitar Notebook (coming summer/fall 2021) helps you notate the songs you’re writing and make some new chords along the way.

This blog was written by Sonametro, an app that makes it easy for guitarists to document new songs they are writing. If you teach a song writing unit in your curriculum, this app would be perfect for your students.