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I'm confused about the chord naming convention for the chord C-D-E-G.

Is it Cadd2 or Cadd9?

Similarly, I'm confused about the chord C-E-F-G.

Is it Cadd4 or Cadd11?

EDIT: I understand what is the difference. I am talking about the chord notation convention. Some people say it has to be noted as Cadd2 and others say it does not matter whether the D is one octave or another, it is always Cadd9. I just want to find a full consensus on what is more professional or conventional. It's the same as in sus9 and sus11, I've seen them written both, but there is theoretically not such a thing like sus9 and sus11, even if the secondth or fourth is in the next octave.

Indeed, there should not exist even sus2 because every sus2 chord is an inversion for sus4 (eg Csus2 is an inverted Gsus4), and originally sus = sus4 = suspended third, not reduced.

But theory and practice are different (like C5 power chords new age notation), and I am now finishing some tabs, I want to know what is the best standard and less confusing for all kind of musicians.

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The 2nd paragraph of your edit : sus 2 is C-D-G with no 3rd. Sus 4 is C-F-G with no 3rd. They are not inversions, as inversions use the same original notes in differing orders,e.g. C-E-G, root; E-G-C, 1st inversion; G-C-E, 2nd inversion. Thus C-D-G cannot be an inversion of C-F-G. –  Tim Jun 13 '13 at 17:10
Thank you. I know sus != add. I named this example as a matter of a fact regarding naming conventions, since one could even say a sus2 doesn't exist as one. Any sus2 is an inverted sus4 (real supsension). For instance, Csus2 = C D G is the same as Gsus4/C (G C D). But yes, my primary question is regarding keeping Cadd9 always no matter the octave of D or Cadd2, so describing voicing –  user1352530 Jun 13 '13 at 17:21
Although Csus2 and Gsus4 use the same notes, the author would not have used the first notation if he had thought of those notes as some G chord, which can hint at a functional difference. –  Marcks Thomas Jun 13 '13 at 17:37
So then I infer there's no standard/convention. I mean what depends on? What's the functonial difference? Shouldn't be an universal consensus, since chords doesn't describe voicings/fingerings/implmentations but notes? –  user1352530 Jun 13 '13 at 17:45
But sus does NOT = add. It means put in INSTEAD.Take C6 =C-E-G-A and Am7 =A-C-E-G. Same notes, different chord. –  Tim Jun 13 '13 at 20:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

To be clear:

"sus" does not equal "add" - they are two different types of notation used for different purposes:

Sus chords show a substitution of a pitch within a chord - whether it is sus2, sus9, etc etc, and typically illustrate the function of a moving line. A suspension is just one of three parts for controlling dissonance: preparation (sometimes called "anticipation"), suspension (the actual dissonance), and resolution (where the dissonant tone is resolved to a chord tone.

Add chords show an addition of a pitch to a chord that would normally not contain the note being added. For example, the chord Cm7add2 indicates the pitches C, D, Eb, G, Bb respectively. Contrastingly to "Sus" chords, "Add" chords do not show the function of a moving line.

Whether or not you use a "2" or a "9", a "4" or an "11" depends on the voicing of the chord. If the chord is an open voicing - that is, contains notes outside of an octave, then you use the appropriate intervals to illustrate this voicing. If the chord is a closed voicing (all notes within the octave) then again, the appropriate numbers should be used.


  • Cadd2 = C, D, E, G respectively
  • Csus4 = C, F, G respectively
  • Cadd9 = C, E, G, D respectively
  • Csus11 = C, G, F respectively

While it is logical to think that either sus2 or sus4 chords should not exist because they can be perceived as inversions of one another, and indeed, works within the realm of macro-analysis, when dealing with quartal and quintal harmony / theory, it becomes all the more important to distinguish between the two.

As others have hinted, chord nomenclature is contingent upon the original author's intended function for that chord. If the original function is unclear, either the author did not have a specific function in mind, or it is something interesting for theorists to puzzle over. It is for this reason why many analyses of different pieces vary (sometimes greatly!)

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Wow good explanation!!!! But there is also a conventional view. I mean both add2 and add9 can express different things, but it seems the first one is not valid for some jazz players, for instance. Should I trust the voicing for naming the chord (as guitar players have been doing lately), or stand with the tradition? I never wrote any pro book that is why I'm asking. –  user1352530 Jun 13 '13 at 19:44
@user1352530 - If you like my explanation, feel free to up-vote :) Anyway, the view I described is the conventional view. "add2" and "add9" do in fact express different things as I pointed out in my answer. Notation's job is to reflect the music as accurately as possible. Generally, guitarists traditionally do not have a strong foundation for notation theory (referring not to classical / jazz guitarists here.) Since you are working from a TAB it is better to go with tradition as TAB inconsistencies sparked your confusion to begin with. –  jjmusicnotes Jun 13 '13 at 21:53
@jjm - how are sus 2 and sus 4 chords perceived as inversions of one another ? –  Tim Jan 4 at 8:25
@Tim - plug some notes in and work it out! :) –  jjmusicnotes Jan 4 at 14:21
Csus2 =Gsus4; Csus4 =Fsus2.Is that what you mean ?That makes them inversions, but of one another ? Help ! –  Tim Jan 4 at 15:11

Numbers higher that 8 are used when an additional note is added above the normal notes of the chord.

So C-D-E-G is Cadd2, because it's a C chord (C-E-G) with a 2nd added in.

C-E-G-D is Cadd9, because it's a C chord (C-E-G) with a 9th added, that is, the note one octave up from the 2nd.

The same principle applies to Cadd4.

These chords on a stave

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The order being C-D-E-G it's called C add 2,;had it been C-E-G-D it'd be C add 9.Don't see how 9 comes into it until you pass the octave. It depends how it's voiced,as to how it's labelled. Sometimes on guitar, it's tricky to see the voicing, much easier on keys.

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