Chord symbol

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Chord symbols are used in music to denote chords . They only specify the names of the chord tones to be played, but not the octave space , not even the respective inversion of the chord, etc. In this respect, they do not really represent the chord, but only the "harmony".

The symbols described here as chord symbols are mainly used in jazz and popular music . With them, the harmonies occurring in a piece can be represented compactly without notes. This allows a melody to be accompanied improvising with great freedom. The compact harmonic representation helps the melody playing soloist during improvisations.


Chord symbols are not standardized worldwide. In most popular systems, a chord symbol begins with a capital letter, which denotes the root of the chord. Without additional signs, it means a major triad or (with an addition like m or - ) a minor triad with the specified root note. As long as the root note remains the lowest note of the chord, any order and / or doubling of the base note or the remaining two notes of the triad (third and fifth) are permitted. If the root note corresponds to a black key on the piano, write a or a after (not in front of) the root note , depending on the musical environment . (Example: G means G sharp, A means As).

Other chord tones are designated by numbers that indicate their tone level in the major scale belonging to the root . All chords, including minor chords, are numbered with the pitches of this major scale. This means that the additional tones are independent of the tone gender and the step-related function of the chord. This unifies and simplifies the spelling of the chord symbols; they only indicate the currently valid harmony without providing a harmonic analysis.

Additional notes that deviate from this major scale are provided with the musical accidentals or or with plus and minus signs (after the number). The only exception is the 7: it always means the minor seventh, written in the chord symbol . The major seventh of the major scale, on the other hand, is called maj7 (after the English major seven ), j7 or Δ. This exception is probably explained by the emergence of symbol script (or chord symbol script ) in the time of blues and early jazz music, when seventh chords only occurred with a minor seventh; the major seventh chord (maj7) was only adopted later. For example, in the dominant seventh chord F 7, the 7 stands for the tone es .

Most of the chords relevant to chord symbols are created by layering thirds . Within a scale you can stack seven thirds on top of each other until you get back to the root note. In C major are the tones C, E, G, H, D, F and A . In chord symbols, however, the seventh is always small (unless marked with maj7 or Δ), so that the following pitches are relevant for the layering of thirds in relation to chord symbols: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 . The tones 9, 11 and 13 , the so-called option tones , are in the second octave of the layering of thirds. Altered option tones are marked with and : 9, 9, 11 and 13 . Option tones and altered option tones are often in jazz as voltage tones ( tensions used).

In the first octave of the Terzschichtung to the base triad can (1, 3, 5) , the tone levels 2, 4 and 6 (but not always uniform) rules are added to those listed below. If at least one optional tone is added, the minor seventh automatically becomes part of the chord; it then no longer has to be specified in the chord symbol. For example, C 9 consists of the levels 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. It is not necessary to write C 7/9 , because C 9 already requires the minor seventh. If only the None be added without seventh, C add9 (of English. Add written add).

If there are more than four-part chords, the degree of the perfect fifth (5) becomes optional. There are several reasons for this: As a partial tone, the fifth already resonates strongly in the root note of the chord, and it also has no defining chord gender function (e.g. it does not decide on major or minor). Although it is a tone that makes every chord much stronger (which is why the fifth is so important in a power chord), it does not steer it as an additional timbre in a certain direction. On instruments like the guitar, chord tones sometimes have to be left out in order to make the desired sounds playable. But even on the piano, the sound often appears “tidier” if the fifth is not included in the chord (this is especially true when playing with other chordal instruments).


In the examples in the following table, C is assumed as the root note. The following spellings result for the most important chords:

Accidentals example
[ Tone letter ] Chord on the tone one semitone higher (example: G = the tone G increases one semitone, i.e. G sharp) G, G C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
[ Tone letter ] Chord on the tone one semitone lower (example: G = the tone G lowered a semitone, i.e. Gb)
(The tone designated as "H" in the German-speaking area is written in English or internationally as "B", the one in the German-speaking area Tone designated as "B", on the other hand, B (B flat) see also article Other language tone names )
G , G C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Individual pitches example
2, 3, 4 etc. Individual pitch as part of a chord name

2 = major second, 3 = major third, 4 = fourth, 5 = fifth, 6 = major sixth, Δ or maj7 = major seventh, 9 = major ninth, 11 = pure undecimal, 13 = major treble

2 3 4 5 6 maj7
and the options 9 11 13
Root C
5 (also 5 ) or -5 (also 5-) Lowered pitch as part of a chord name

5 = diminished fifth, 6 = minor sixth, 7 = minor seventh, 9 = minor ninth, 13 = minor third

5 6
7 9 13
Root C
5 (also 5 ) or +5 (also 5+) Elevated pitch as part of a chord name

5 = excessive fifth, 9 = excessive ninth, 11 = excessive undecimal

with respect to C
Triads example
C. Major triad C. C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm Minor triad Cm C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cdim, Cm −5 reduced (ger .: diminished ) triad (two small third intervals, frame interval diminished fifth) Cdim C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C + or Caug excessive (ger .: augmented ) triad (two major third intervals, frame interval augmented fifth) C + C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Four and multiple sounds example
with major- third
C 6 Triad with added sixth C 6 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 6/9 Triad with added sixth and ninth C 6/9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 7 Four chords with a minor seventh ( seventh chord ) C 7 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C maj7 or C Δ or C j7 or C 7+ Four sound with greater (ger .: major ) Septime C maj7 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 9 Five-note, seventh chord with ninth C 9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C maj9 , C Δ9
(also C 7 + / 9 )
Five-tone with a major seventh and added ninth C maj9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 11 Six tones, constructed like C 9 with an additional decimal . In practice, the second dissonant tone (tone level 3) can be omitted and / or the chord can be played inverted C 11 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 13 (also C 7/9/13 ) Seventh chord with optional ninth and trebles . If C 13 also contains the undecimal , the third is omitted and the chord becomes C 13 sus C 13 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 13 sus C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C add9 Triad with an added None (the add (engl. Added ) indicates that the clay without adds the seventh) C add9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 7 5 or C 7 + 5 Seventh chord with an upwardly altered or excessive fifth C 7 5 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 7 5 or C 7-5 Seventh chord with (a semitone) down altered or diminished fifth C 7 5 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 7alt.
or C 7 9 5
or C 7 5 9
A class of so-called altered chords . In jazz music , a chord labeled old denotes a chord that does not contain either the 5 or the 9 unaltered. There are therefore the steps 5 and / or 5 and 9 and / or 9 individually or in any combination. C 7 9 9 5 5 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
with minor -Terz
Cm 6 Minor triad with added major sixth (designation of the pitches always after the respective major scale) Cm 6 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm 6/9 Minor sixth ninth chord Cm 6/9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm 7 or C– 7 Minor seventh chord Cm 7 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm maj7 or Cm j7 Minor seventh chord with a major seventh Cm maj7 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm 9 Minor seventh chord with a ninth Cm 9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm 11 Minor seventh chord with ninth and undecimal Cm 11 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm add9 Minor triad with added ninth, without seventh (correspondingly with add11, adding the undecimal (or fourth), without seventh and ninth) Cm add9 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
Cm 7 5 or Cm 7-5 or C Ø half diminished seventh chord (minor seventh chord with diminished fifth) Cm 7 5 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C ° or C dim7 Diminished seventh chord on C (three minor thirds, the frame interval is the diminished seventh, which, when confused enharmonically, results in the sixth; for C: C, Eb, Gb, A) C ° C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
more chords example
C sus4 or C 7 sus4 or C 7 sus The fourth replaces the third in the chord as in a lead . suspension (which, however, is not dissolved in jazz). C 7 sus4 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C sus2 The second replaces the third in the chord (see explanation in C sus4 ) C sus2 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
C 5 Power chord (chord without a third, often with an octave doubled root) C 5 C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
particularities example
D / C or A 7 / C or Am / C etc. so-called slash chord - the chord is a behind the slash (engl slash.) indicated bass added. This bass note can come from the original chord (e.g. Am / C) or it can be a different note, whereby all notes contained in the basic chord ( specified before the slash ) are retained. D / C C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
A 7 / C C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
B / C C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
On / C C.D.E.F.GA.HC.D.E.F.GA.HKey4border.png
B °
 C ° 
So-called poly or upper structure chord (two chords played at the same time - usually on the piano: the upper chord with the right hand, the lower with the left) B °
 C ° 
The altered chord tones and options are not combined indefinitely. The following standard spellings can be assumed:
  • Because of the enharmonic confusion between an excessive tredezime and the octave of a minor seventh, there is practically no 13.
  • Because of the enharmonic confusion of a diminished fourth with a major third, there is practically no 11.
  • 13 means that there is no major third in the chord, but there can be a perfect fifth (despite semitone spacing)

In addition, the chord symbols can be combined and changed as required, so that even less common multi-sounds can be noted if necessary. Examples: 9, 9, 11 / 5, 5 / 13 etc.


  • Instead of marking the minor chords with an “m”, you can also use small tone letters (this system is out of date). In English-speaking countries, the terms “mi” or “min” (minor = minor) or a minus sign ( Real Book spelling) are often used after the tone letter.
  • If more than one note is added to the basic chord, note names (at least if it stays with two numbers) are also written on top of each other:
  • In German-speaking countries there are also notations in German notation such as F sharp, Ges and H (next to B ).
  • Instead of the root letters, you sometimes write Arabic or Roman numbers for the steps of the chords, e.g. B. 1 or I for the tonic , 4 or IV for the subdominant and 5 or V for the dominant . This allows a notation of the harmony progression that is independent of the key and thus easy transposing . This “chord steno” was developed in the Nashville Music Factory by studio musicians who have to react quickly and flexibly to different keys ( Nashville Number System ).
  • The diminished triad hardly occurs as an independent chord, but almost only as an incomplete four-note chord. A chord specifically designated as diminished always contains the diminished seventh. It is therefore superfluous to add a 7 after the abbreviation °.

More symbols

The symbol NC (for no chord ) indicates a pause in the accompanying instrument.

Web links


  • Jamey Aebersold : A new way to jazz improvisation. 6th, completely revised and expanded edition, German translation. Advance Music, Rottenburg / N. 1996.
  • Peter Autschbach : Theory basics for guitarists. Harmony with DVD Vol. 1 and 2, Fingerprint, Osnabrück 2011, ISBN 978-3-938679-74-6 and ISBN 978-3-938679-75-3 .
  • Carlo Bohländer : Harmony. Schott, Mainz et al. 1961.
  • Wolf Burbat : The Harmonics of Jazz. 5th edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag et al., Munich et al. 1998, ISBN 3-423-30140-6 .
  • Sigi Busch : Jazz & Pop - harmonic foundations. Advance Music, Rottenburg / N. 2005, ISBN 3-89221-067-5 .
  • Richard Graf, Barrie Nettles: The Chord Scale Theory & Jazz Harmonics. Advance Music, Rottenburg / N. 1997, ISBN 3-89221-055-1 .
  • Frank Haunschild : The new theory of harmony. A musical workbook for classical, rock, pop and jazz. Volume 1. Extended and revised edition. AMA-Verlag, Brühl 1997, ISBN 3-927190-00-4 .
  • Axel Jungbluth : Jazz harmony theory. Functional harmony and modality (= Edition Schott. 6911). Schott, Mainz et al. 1981, ISBN 3-7957-2412-0 .
  • Frank Sikora : New Jazz Harmony. Understand, hear, play. From theory to improvisation. Schott, Mainz et al. 2003, ISBN 3-7957-5124-1 (with 2 CDs).
  • Chord symbols in a Bach analysis: Peter Schleuning, Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Art of Fugue'. dtv / Bärenreiter, 1993, pp. 134, 136 et al
  • Gerald Smrzek: The Book Of Chords. Edition Canticum, Vienna 2005.
  • Joe Viera : Basics of the Jazzharmonik (= Series Jazz. 2, ZDB -ID 192564-7 = Universal Edition. 24002) Universal Edition, Vienna 1970.

See also


  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 220 ( chord symbols ) and 222 ( figured bass ).
  2. A. Jungbluth: Jazz harmony theory. 1981, p. 10.
  3. Note: The symbol 7 is used differently in chord symbols and in scales: In chords it stands for the diminished seventh, in scales, however, for the 7th degree. Example: The symbol 7 stands in the dominant seventh chord F 7 for the tone es , in the F major scale for the tone e .
  4. See for example: Tensions. In: Retrieved March 15, 2020 .
  5. Chuck Sher (Ed.): The New Real Book . Volume 2: C - Vocal Version. Sher Music Co., Petaluma CA 1991, ISBN 0-9614701-7-8 .
  6. ^ Herbert Hellhund : Jazz. Harmony, melody, improvisation, analysis. Reclam, 2018, ISBN 978-3-15-011165-9 , p. 34.
  7. Some authors explain the symbol sus instead with the fact that the third from the chord is " suspended " , see
  9. P. Autschbach: Theory Basics for Guitarists. 2011, p. 15 ff.