In the last post I explained how chords were built; from simple triads, to 7th chords, all the way to complex chords with higher tensions, (like 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc.). All chords, no matter how complex, can be simplified down to one of the 4 basic triads. This knowledge can help when you encounter a chord you’re not sure how to play, just simplify it down to a chord you know! In this post I will explain how to read a chord name and also what all those alterations (#5’s, b9’s, etc.) mean and how to deal with them.
HOW TO READ A CHORD NAME: If you can’t read a chords’ name correctly, you can’t play it correctly. Chord names are almost never written out in full, it would take too much space, instead they are abbreviated. To make it more confusing, there are 2 different ways chords are abbreviated; standard (the way most people would shorten a name), and a mysterious symbol that pro’s use (because it’s faster). For even more “fun” sometimes the 2 styles are mixed! In the table below I will list the full chord name on the left, followed by the standard abbreviation/pro. symbol. (In all cases I am assuming a C root)
- Major* C/C
- Minor C min./C-
- Diminished C dim./ Cº
- Augmented C aug./ C+
*A major chord name has no symbol, the name is assumed. Any chord written with a plain letter; E, G, C#, Bb, etc. is major.
NAME Standard/ Pro.
Major 7 C Maj.7 / CΔ7
Minor 7 C min.7 /C -7
Dominant 7 * C 7 /C 7
Diminished 7 C dim.7 / Cº7
HIGHER TENSIONS (9,11,13’s)
NAME Standard/ Pro.
Major 9,11, etc. CMaj.9/ CΔ9, etc.
Minor 9,11,etc. Cmin.9/ C-9, etc.
Dominant 9,11,etc. C9/C9, etc.
*Notice that Dominant is assumed, for 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths. A plain 7 means Dominant 7. You can’t substitute another kind of 7th chord, if you don’t know how to play it, simplify to a major triad.
READING ALTERATIONS (#5, b5, #9, b9, etc.): Like the name says, you have to change one or more notes in the chord. This means you have to locate the correct note in the chord voicing you are playing and alter it the way the name tells you (# the 9, b the 5, etc.). This is actually not that difficult to do, I explain this in my Chord Theory chapter in “Take Control: for guitar”. Unfortunately it takes a couple of pages and it is too long for this article. What I will be able to do in the next post is show you how to get around the alterations problem with a concept I call, Jazz Fakes.