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Abbreviations Used With Chord Symbols

Andy McLeod (978) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

This lesson requires an understanding of intervals. See "Intervals" by Charles Gacsi or "Intervals" by Chris Bond to learn about intervals.

Below are some abbreviations used with chord symbols that you should know, along with the intervals they deal with. Note: a major chord consists of the following intervals: unison (root), major 3rd, and perfect 5th. The abbreviations below change or add intervals to the major chord.
  • M=major=a major triad. This abbreviation is not necessay with a chord symbol to show that a chord is major. A capital letter by itself is enough to represent a major chord. For example, "C" represents a C major chord.
  • 7--a minor 7th interval is added to the major triad
  • maj7--a major 7th interval is added to the major triad. Somtetimes "maj" alone will be used for a major 7th interval
  • min or m (minor)--by lowering the 3rd in a major chord to a minor 3rd interval, the chord becomes minor
  • 5 and b5--for "5", the only intervals in the chord are the unison and perfect 5th. This type of chord is known as a power chord. For "b5", the only intervals in the chord are the unison and diminished 5th
  • 6--a major 6th interval is added to the major triad
  • aug (augmented)--the perfect 5th interval from the major chord is raised to an agmented 5th. This makes the chord "augmented"
  • dim (diminished)--the major 3rd interval from the major triad is lowered a minor 3rd and the perfect 5th is lowered to a diminished 5th. The overall distance of intervals in the major chord becomes smaller, or "diminished".
  • half-diminished (usually shown as a degree sign with a slash through it)--a diminished chord with a minor 7th interval added
  • dim7--a diminished chord with a double flat major 7th interval (the same sound as a major 6th interval)
  • 9, 11, and 13 (also used with sharp or flat signs in front of them)--these are called extensions. An extension is an interval not occuring in the first octave of a major scale. The 9th interval is the same note as the major 2nd, the 11th interval is the same note as the perfect 4th, and the 13th interval is the same note as the major 6th. When "9" is used, it's assumed that there is also some kind of 7th interval in the chord. When "11" is used, it's assumed that there are also some kind of 7th and 9th intervals in the chord. When "13" is used, it's assumed that there are also some kind of 7th, 9th, and 11th intervals in the chord. If an extension is used, and intervals are left out of the chord, then the chord is an "add" chord.
  • add?--an extension (the "?" represents an extension) is added to the chord name given, and intervals between the chord and extensions are left out. Ex. If you have a chord with the intervals 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th, the chord would simply be a "9" chord. If the intervals are 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 9th, there is no 7th, so the chord would be an "add9" chord
  • sus2 (suspended 2nd)--the major or minor 3 is replaced with a major 2. The name "suspended" comes from the idea that one of the tones of the previously played chord were suspended and used in the new chord. In this case, the major 2nd of the "sus2" chord was the note that was suspended
  • sus(4) (suspended 4th)--the major or minor 3rd is replaced with a perfect 4th interval. This time the perfect 4th is the interval of the "sus" chord that was suspended from a previous chord

Any chord that doesn't have its root as the lowest note is an inverted chord, or an inversion of the original chord. These are named as follows: original chord name / bass note (lowest note). An example of a symbol for an inversion would be C/E. Chords with symbols like this are called slash chords. The bass note may also be a note not included in the origional chord.

Some chords cannot be shown by only one abbreviation. If you see a chord symbol with more than one abbreviation, separate each one and and make the appropriate changes or additions to the major chord as needed. Here's an example of a chord symbol with more then one abbreviation: Cmin/maj7(b9)/Eb. Start with the C major chord: C, E, and G. The "min" then makes the notes C, Eb, G. The "maj7" would make the notes C, Eb, G, and B. Now put a "b9" with those notes: C, Eb, G, B, and Db. Now when you play the chord, you would play with an "Eb" as the lowest note.