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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

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 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.

Therefore:

  • 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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1  
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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Having been a professional music educator, copyist and performer for over 40 years, I see some issues that are based on the habit of mixing "pop lead sheet" theory and knowing the actual spellings of chords. Too many times, writers try to dumb-down chord spellings to make them easy for novices to understand. Not meant as condescending statement, but there are many books aimed at the novice that attempt to explain chord structures simply, but those chord books wind up giving the impression that they accurately display how the chords are to be structured.

  1. "Add" is only used when a note is added to a standard chord structure. (e.g. D9 add#11.)
  2. Suspended is only used to describe when 4 is in place of 3. No other note can be suspended.
  3. Chord symbols are not normally used to describe the voicing of the chords. The exception is guitar chord sheets for some pop lead sheets or student guitar books, which often have a voicing built into the spelling. (i.e. C2 or Dm7add2). This is not the same chord spelling the other players (piano, bass, instrumentalists) would see.
  4. 11th is a note that is an extension of the chord octave in sonority, but not necessarily in the voicing. Thus chordal 3rd and 4th can not occur in the same chord- 11 is to be used in stead. Hence, CEFG is always C(add11) no matter where the F occurs above the C (same as CEGF).
  5. There is no such thing as C add 4 or C add 2. That merely shows an attempt to use a chord symbol to explain a possible guitar voicing. The notation (staff and written pitches) takes care of the voicing
  6. While I'm at it, the typical other chord "mis-spellings" occur when a chord is spelled simply and then accidentals are added to change the quality of the chord. Common examples are Em7b5 instead of being correctly spelled as Eø7, and C7#5 which should be correctly spelled as C+7.

I guess the reason is that novices can learn Em7 and then they learn to lower the 5th. But this teaching method of chord spelling actually prevents students from ever learning the difference between major, minor, diminished, augmented, suspended basic chord structures and qualities. Not to mention, means that quartal and other harmonies are never even approached.

Most people would agree that an Em triad is not to be written E(b3) because most people are taught the difference between major and minor structures. Why not also teach augmented and half-diminished structures instead of considering them being variants of major and minor (G7#5 and Gø7 respectively) ?

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"Suspended is only used to describe when 4 is in place of 3. No other note can be suspended." Out of interest, what is the correct way to spell a Csus2? Nice answer though, I had no idea I had been spelling them incorrectly all these years –  CurlyPaul Dec 16 at 10:41
    
Thorough answer! With 11ths, surely we need a 7th and maybe a 9th of some sort to qualify? This means that a chord with a 3rd and a 4th , close harmony, can be called 'add 4', as that is exactly what is happening. If that's not applicable, then something of a misnomer is present.The dots are not always present to give clarification! Em7-5 (or Em7b5) are used frequently, although I tend to write E0 or E07.I also tend to write E4 for Esus4, as that is all it could be! Help - my 0 needs a line through it! –  Tim 2 days ago

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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Guitar's a bit weird anyway though - apart from (generally) trying to get the bass note right you frequently have inversions due to practicalities of playing the combination of notes with human fingers! It would be helpful if the OP specified the instrument in question. –  Mr. Boy Dec 16 at 11:09

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