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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 '14 at 19:00
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 '14 at 18:29
Thanks Bradd, just edited. I'm curious to hear the responses to this aspect of the question. – Duncan Malashock Jun 27 '14 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 '14 at 16:01
I would call it F⁶/G, but that's more, like, my personal opinion. – leftaroundabout Jun 16 at 16:56

6 Answers 6

up vote 17 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 '14 at 19:09
Lack of B, substituted by C, makes it sus. – Tim Jun 26 '14 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 '14 at 19:15
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 '14 at 19:17
That's why Dom11 chords are actually pretty rare. Much more common to see G9 or G13 or G7#11. – Iain Duncan Jun 27 '14 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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 at 16:20
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 '14 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.


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 '14 at 18:45
good question, i don't know. – zok Jun 26 '14 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 '14 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 '14 at 19:00
Duncan: yes, I guess that's an even better explanation – zok Jun 26 '14 at 19:03

This is what I have been taught in High school and university: Theoretically, you can say that G11 is the chord with the notes G, B, D, F, A and C. But in practice, the third (in this case B) should be omitted, because of the dissonance! The 5th (the note D in G11) may be omitted, but not necessarily. So in practice G11 is the same as G9sus4. This is also the same as F/G or Dm7/G, depending on the existence of the 5th.

Calling your chord G11 is therefore definitely not wrong, but saying that G11 is F/G is not wrong either. If it is important that a musician include the 5th in an arrangement, it is probably a good idea to write Dm7/G or F6/G. I think Dm7/G and F6/G mean the exact same thing in theory, because generally a chord symbol only gives information about the bass note and which notes to include in the chord, not the specific order. On the other hand, as a pianist I would probably play the chord differently depending on the symbol. So if I really want the D in the top, I would write F6/G.

In sheet music books these chords are often not written as 11th chords or 9sus4 chords. One reason could be that for some people F/G or Dm7/G is easier to understand. Probably, more people know how to interpret these symbols than symbols with 11 or 9. Another reason is sometimes the order of the notes. I have seen things like the symbol Fadd9/G in a book with sheet music for piano and vocal. This points out that the arranger wants the note G to be played not only in the bass.

As you can see, there are different reasons to write the eleventh chord in different ways. I prefer reading G11 (because it looks nice :P, and I can choose whether to include the D or not), but some people would misinterpret and play the whole theoretic 11th chord and include B as well, and that would sound very differently. Others would think it is to complicated and play a G or a G7 instead. That would sound bad if the 11th (F) is in the melody or something like that.

I hope I made some things clearer...

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Or Dm7/G. Beware of G11. It's often used as a rough shorthand for F/G. If it matters to you whether the D is included or not, say so by writing F/G or Dm7/G. Think Plagal cadance with a dominant root.

Calling it "G something" opens up the possibility of including the note G in the upper structure. I doubt this would be intended.

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