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I'm a songwriter in the jazz-pop idiom, and when playing through a chart with a guitarist, he told me that, in his opinion, I had labeled a chord inaccurately / incorrectly. Here's the chord as I voice it on the piano:

(Left hand) G

(Right hand, ascending) F A C D

The key of the song in that particular moment is C major, so functionally it's the V7 chord.

I wrote this chord using the symbol G11. To my understanding, it's a dominant 11th chord which excludes the 3rd, with the 5th voiced above the upper extensions. The guitarist argues that it's an F/G.

I'm less interested in who's "right", and more interested in what's most helpful for a player, and the reason why.

I've heard many people calling it a 9sus4 chord although there's an 11 present (the C), because the 3rd isn't included and therefore the C is a suspension.

And some people believe that, theoretically, the tritone interval provided by the 3-7 relationship is essential to the dominant function, and that without it you have a subdominant.

However, a large number of players feel that including the 3rd causes dissonance or an overly crowded sonority, and would never voice a dominant 11 chord with a third in practice.

Is this an 11 chord? If not, what would be the voicing that would make this an 11 chord?

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Everyone who has responded so far calls it a 9 chord although there's an 11 present (the C). What would be the voicing that would make this an 11 chord? –  Duncan Malashock Jun 26 at 19:00
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Could you please edit that comment into your question? You may also want to mention that many musicians recommend omitting the 3rd from the 11 chord to avoid semitone dissonance, because the answers saying that this just can't be done conflicts with my experience. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 27 at 18:29
    
Thanks Bradd, just edited. I'm curious to hear the responses to this aspect of the question. –  Duncan Malashock Jun 27 at 22:39
    
@BraddSzonye - there is no semitone dissonance, as the 3rd is in one octave and the 11th is in another. Very much like someone may argue that you can't have a major 7th because of the semitone between maj.7 and octave. Just don't play them that close. Put them (nearly) an octave apart.No dissonance ! –  Tim Jun 28 at 16:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

It would be a G9sus4. It could technically also be F6/9/G but that would look very confusing on a lead sheet. When naming a chord you have to look at what you have and what you are missing. You have the notes G F A C D. While there is an F major triad, having a G as the bass doesn't make it feel like a chord based off F major because it is rare to put a 2nd/9th in the bass. Even though there is no 3rd, there is a 9th(2nd) ,a 4th(11th), a 5th and a dominant 7th so the G can be be a 9th chord with a suspension.

Quick Lesson in Chords

Western chords are all built in 3rds. The most basic chord is a triad (three note chord) which has a root, 3rd and a 5th. The next set of chords are tetrads(seventh chords) which are just triads with a 7th. The most popular 7th chord is a dominant 7th which is built from a root, a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th.

Extensions (9, 11, and 13 chords) are all built from a dominant 7th. In C they would each look like this:

  • C9 - C E G Bb D

  • C11 - C E G Bb (D) F

  • C13 - C E G Bb (D) (F) A

In these chords the root, major 3rd, and dominant 7th must be present. The extensions under them (i.e. the 9th in an 11th chord) are optional. If the 7th is not there it becomes the following:

  • Cadd9 - C E G D

  • Cadd11 - C E G F

  • C6 - C E G A

The 3rd in any chord needs to be present. If the 3rd is not present then it must be a sus chord. If the 4th (11th) is present then the chord is a sus4. If not and a 2nd (9th) is present then the chord is a sus2 chord. If the 3th is not there it becomes the following:

  • C7sus2 - C G Bb D

  • C7sus4 - C G Bb F

  • Am7b9/C - C G Bb A

While typically the 3rd is omitted from an 11th chord without it, it isn't a 11th chord because it is then functioning as a suspension since chords need a 3rd or need it to be suspend. The modern example is if you take away a 3rd from a major or minor chord it becomes a "power chord" which is neither major or minor and has a completely different function. Chords need 3rds. Without them there is no chord.

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Thanks- that reasoning makes sense to me, but why a G9sus4, and not a G11? What would a G11 be? –  Duncan Malashock Jun 26 at 19:09
    
Lack of B, substituted by C, makes it sus. –  Tim Jun 26 at 19:13
    
So if it were G B F A C D, with the inclusion of the B, you'd say G11? –  Duncan Malashock Jun 26 at 19:15
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Related question– is there a book I can read that describes these rules? I've never heard of the "sus trumps an extension" idea before, although it makes sense. –  Duncan Malashock Jun 26 at 19:17
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That's why Dom11 chords are actually pretty rare. Much more common to see G9 or G13 or G7#11. –  Iain Duncan Jun 27 at 18:58

F6/G is one choice.G9sus4 is another. And because Dm7 has exactly the same 4 notes as F6, Dm7/G is another.As the piece is in C, any would do, although it would be helpful if the name it used was a V of the next chord. (Cycle of 4ths/5ths).

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It sounds like, given that explanation, G9sus4 would be the one that most immediately conveyed the idea. –  Duncan Malashock Jun 28 at 2:19

There is one overarching reason it's not a G11 chord, and that's because it's missing the third. You need to have a major 3rd and flat 7 in there for it to be any part of the G dominant family, those are the defining notes. So G7, G9, G11, G13, none of those can be voiced missing the B or F, no matter what. After that point, it's arguing enharmonics as to whether you want to call it a Gsus of some kind or a slash chord. Jazz chords are often described as having two kinds of notes (other than the root): the guide tones and the colour tones. You can't skip the guide tones or it sounds like a different tonality. For a Dom they are 3 & b7, for min b3 & b7, for half-dim, b5 and b7, etc. Gotta have 'em!

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I thought it was fairly conventional to omit the 3rd from an 11th chord, as the question notes. How is this different? –  Bradd Szonye Jun 27 at 8:09
    
@BraddSzonye - the 3rd is necessary in most chords, except of course sus, where it doesn't exist.Without a 3rd, it's neither maj or min.The 11th is effectively a 4th AS WELL as the 3rd, albeit an octave higher to avoid a clash. –  Tim Jun 27 at 14:31
    
In jazz, musical theatre, and the American songwriting tradition, the standard practise is that G9,G11,G13 would all indicate a dominant chord, so that third needs to be there. The dominant chord is the one chord that clearly tells you what is being tonicized by the 3-b7 relationship. Without the third, that C would be considered a 4th in sus context instead of an 11 in a dominant context. –  Iain Duncan Jun 27 at 16:20
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Several people are saying that the 3rd is necessary in an 11th chord, but I have seen many musicians and teachers recommend omitting the 3rd from 11s because of the extreme dissonance it causes. So while I find this answer helpful (+1), it's also incomplete without addressing that part of the question. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 27 at 18:26

First, I would say G9sus4. To simplify or leave it open to interpretation (depending on the context), Gsus.

I've seen it written as F/G, is technically correct (or F6/G in your case).

If it should be helpful for a player like you said, then use Gsus, IMO.

update

Maybe F/G (or F6/G) is not technically correct, because it's not an inversion. But I believe many people are used to it anyway.

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Why would it be an add9 instead of just a 9? –  Dom Jun 26 at 18:45
    
good question, i don't know. –  zok Jun 26 at 18:52
    
I believe add9 refers to a chord that doesn't serve a dominant function (which this does, although the 3rd is suspended). 9 means a dominant 9. Right? –  Duncan Malashock Jun 26 at 18:59
    
I got informed: G9 implies a 7h, as G13 implies a 7th and a 9th. You would use 'add9' when you don't have a 7th. In your case then, you would use G9sus. –  zok Jun 26 at 19:00
    
Duncan: yes, I guess that's an even better explanation –  zok Jun 26 at 19:03

I'd say forget the all-to-common fetishistic obsession over forcing notes into extended chords and just label what's there: As has been written already, F6/G. Dm7/G is also possible. The context of the notes during and preceding it will influence how it's perceived by a listener.

There's no 3rd (B or Bb) for it to be a G and that influences the G's reign over the other notes. One could call it an inversion of a Dm7+4 but, again, no reason to force notes into familiar boxes.

Listen to its place in the song and decide which note governs as you hear it.

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I don't think anyone's being fetishistic or obsessed here– I'm asking because I want to write symbols that help players to best understand the music, and all the answers have been level-headed and well-informed. –  Duncan Malashock Jun 27 at 1:16
    
Not a lot of help to someone trying to sight-read the piece.Perception by a listener would probably not manifest itself as "Oh, it's a so-and-so chord there!" –  Tim Jun 27 at 10:11
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Dm7/G would be an ok way to indicate it as that's pretty normal practise for indicating a sus chord. It tells you what's going on pretty well in that it indicates you're susing over a ii-V that would have been Dm-G7. F6/D is not common and is way more likely to trip up someone reading the chord. –  Iain Duncan Jun 27 at 16:22
    
It's helpful to understand the intent -- if you're implying a partial resolution to a G within C major which 'hangs' on the F, F6/G is good because it shows the G in the bass while the rest of the notes give the F + a D. Or, if you mean to fully resolve to the G, though more ornately (higher harmonics) and leaving the third undefined, maybe G11 fits. In such cases I think that the composer's/arranger's choice of notation help me to understand the harmonic intent. On 'fetishism': Some people go overboard looking to force notes into traditional chords. C E F# Bb C#, e.g., doesn't need that. –  Wanky McSpanky Jun 28 at 1:44
    
Sure, I see your point. The next chord is a Cmaj7, so the the suspension in the G chord doesn't resolve– the B note is just avoided entirely. So it's as though it were a normal G7, just voiced differently. That's why G11 seemed appropriate. –  Duncan Malashock Jun 28 at 2:28

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