In different situations I have found and seen fellow musicians, students and others doubting about writing, interpret and of course, playing a chord symbols. At first it seems a totally complex science and very hard to achieve but then after learn and implement some tips and rules, this becomes an activity that can be develop smoothly and solve musical situations much more effectively and quickly.
One important thing to understand before starting is that the chord symbols most of the time, it represents an abbreviated information (scale degree, tensions, function, etc) and this allows, with the right knowledge, to interpret and re- interpret a chord in the desired manner.

 

Letter Notation

The main thing to know is what referred to as Letter Notation. Each note is transformed into a letter. All accidentals (sharps, flats, etc.) are valid and are placed after each letter.

 

Do     Re     Mi     Fa     Sol     La     Si

C        D        E        F        G        A       B

 

Triads

Chords without seventh, called triads, are written with the letter corresponding to each note and as follows.

  • Major: just the uppercase letter. Example: C (do major), A (la major), etc..
  • Minor: uppercase letter plus a lowercase m or the – sign. Example: Cm o C- (do minor).
  • Augmented: uppercase letter plus (#5) or the + sign. Example: C(#5) o C+ (do augmented).
  • Diminished: uppercase letter plus, a lowercase m or the – sign, plus b5 or the o sign. If the sign o is used is not necessary to use the m or -. Example: Cm(b5) o Co.

 

Seventh Chords

Seventh chords are written with the letter corresponding to each note and as follows.

  • Major Seventh: uppercase letter plus maj7 symbol or a triangle symbol. Example: Cmaj7 (do major seventh). If you have augmented fifth, it is written in the same way plus (#5) or + sign. Example: Cmaj7(#5) or Cmaj7+.
  • Minor Seventh: uppercase letter, lowercase m or the – sign, plus number 7. Example: Cm7 or C-7 (do minor seventh).
  • Dominant: uppercase letter plus number 7. Example: C7 (do dominant).
  • Half Diminished: uppercase letter, lowercase m or the – sign, number 7, plus b5; or also a crossed zero symbol. Example: Cm7(b5) (do half diminished or do minor seventh flat five).
  • Diminished: uppercase letter, o sign, plus number 7. Example: Co7 (do diminished seventh).

 

Tensions

To both Triads and Seventh Chords, it can be add harmonic tensions. The tensions are the notes 2 (9), 4 (11) and 6 (13) of each scale and will vary depending on the mode (scale) being used for each chord. They are written as follows.

  • Ninth: can be natural (is used only number 9), flat (9 plus b before the number) and/ or augmented (9 plus # sign before the number). Example: Cmaj7(9); C7(b9); etc. When there is no seventh in the chord can be referred as 2 instead of 9 and is added usually the word add. Example Cadd2 (do major triad plus 2).
  • Eleventh: can be natural (is used only number 11) or sharp (is used number 11 plus # sign before the number). Example: Cm7(11), Cmaj7(#11), etc. For suspended chords use the word sus followed by number 4. Example: C7sus4, Esus4.
  • Thirteen: can be natural (sis used only number 13) or flat (13 plus b sign before the number). Example: C7(b13), Cmaj7(13), etc. When there is no seventh in the chord can be referred as 6 instead of 13. Example: C6, Cm6, etc.

Note: there is the possibility of writing chords directly with their respective tensions without previously add the number 7. Example:  C13 (do seventh with thirteen), C9 (do seventh with ninth), Cm9 (do minor seventh with ninth), Cmaj9 (do major seventh with ninth).

Note 2: for dominant chords deriving from the symmetrical diminished scale, the correct way of write it is C13 (b9) or C13 (# 9). In the case of dominant altered chords, the right way is C7Alt.

 

The above represents the basic ways to properly write a chord symbol within the popular music like Jazz and others. There are other types of chords as inversions, chord with bass changed, poly chords, among others, which will leave for a second part of this post.
I hope you have enjoyed and now there is no excuse for misspelling a chord. 🙂
Peace.

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