I regularly see the 5th of the chord being omitted/replaced in extended chords. Is this common practice? Examples below (there are others I've seen but I cannot recall them):

However, in the video referenced above by Adam Neely, the C6 chord DOES have the 5th and the 6th (timestamp), and when he introduces the 6/9 chord it also contains the 5th (timestamp). It is later removed when he voices it.

Further, this book on jazz voicings always includes the 5th in all four hand positions for voicing chords, with the exception of the 13 where the 13th replaces the 5th.

When I was originally trying to voice, say for example a 9 chord, I would make sure that all intervals in the chord appeared in the voicing somewhere. This could result in muddy chords.

Is removing the 5th the initial step to 'thinning out' a muddy chord?

I'm confused about what can and cannot be omitted in a chord. Is there are hierarchy of intervals that can be omitted, with say the root last?


4 Answers 4


A few points to supplement Tim's answer:

  • For the M6 chord, you must include the fifth so it's clear you're not playing a minor triad. The CM6 chord, for example, is CEGA. Leaving out the fifth -- the G -- gives CEA, which will sound very clearly like an A minor chord. Including the G allows the C major sound to predominate, with the A serving as a "color" tone.

  • When the piano is also accompanied by a bass player, it's very common also to leave out the root of the chord and play the third, the seventh, and any extensions. Pianists often train to play "thirds and sevenths" and treat that as the basis for their voicings. This can carry over into solo playing, but the presence of a bass player helps keep things clearly grounded.

  • In the "muddy" results mentioned in the OP, that problem most commonly arises from 1) playing a "close" voicing -- where all the notes are stacked up in order -- and, even more importantly, 2) playing notes close together in the low range of the piano. As a general rule, the lower on the piano you're playing, the more open you want the voicing. CEG sounds muddy when played low enough, but CGE will sound quite satisfying in the same range.

  • 1
    ACEG also produces Am7, so where does that leave us?
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 8:45
  • @Tim could it be that the interpretation would more depend on what's the lowest note? so that G in CEGA adds a much stronger inclination toward C major, and is more easily seen as a A minor coloring in ACEG?
    – noncom
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 11:34
  • 1
    @Tim It leaves us here: Can a chord be both major and minor?.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 16:43
  • @Aaron - and my answer was... is - over 5 yrs old. still sort of happy with it !
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 16:56

While playing (piano) only, there needs to be a root (1), to establish what the name of the chord is. That note usually emanates the 5 of it as a harmonic, so the 5 is catered for.

Is it major or minor? That is answered by inclusion of the 3rd. That sorts out the triad. And who said a chord couldn't be just two notes..?

Next, we have the 7th - of any kind at all. Definitely included, otherwise it can't be a 7th chord. That continues with the 9th, which inevitably contains that 7th - without it, it's an 'add' chord.

So, the 5th is the first to be sacrificed. It can stay, depending on the voicing. If including it makes the sound muddy, don't include it. That's the point of voicing. What sounds best, or appropriate.

On piano, there's the possibility to include all notes, depending on octave, whereas on guitar, for instance, that is precluded.

If playing with others, particularly a bass instrument, then the root will probably go, being played, as often is, by said bass.

  • The major 3rd also often emanates strongly as a harmonic, so if we can omit the fifth, can we omit the third by the same logic, and play one-note major chords..? Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 21:15
  • @topoReinstateMonica - depending on the instrument? Feel a question coming on?
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 8:47
  • 1
    @topoReinstateMonica - Based on my reaction to "Mars" from The Planets, probably not: I have always interpreted its initial measures as being in G minor, regardless of what everyone else says, even though its first several measures consist of only Gs playing. Why? Because its A flats and D flats/C sharps more strongly suggest G minor than G major (at least, those notes appear more often in G minor than G major).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 12:05
  • @Dekkadeci - how would Ab and Db have any bearing on key Gm?
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 12:47
  • @Tim - Ab is the flattened supertonic and corresponds to the Neapolitan chord, which is more common in minor-key music than major-key music. While Db/C# can correspond to chords that are equally common in major-key music and minor-key music, it also can compound with Ab to support a minor-key sound. Later in "Mars", long Db chords sound, and major/power chords on the note a tritone away from the tonic are more common in minor-key music than major-key music from my experience.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 14:45

It is actually very common and one of the rules of thumb in classical multi voice harmony theory. The fifth is often a common tone between two chords in a progression, or it does not move smoothly from one chord to a chord tone in the next chord. As Laurence points out "The fifth adds no extra information". There is no reason why we can't try and include it but from a harmony point of view its presence in already benign. For guitarists, who are already digit limited, being able to remove notes makes life easier and the 5th is the first to go.

I do not think there is a "hierarchy" of sacrificeable intervals but I would say these rules are often used in guitar voicings of extended chords.

  1. The 5th is unnecessary.

  2. The 11th and 9th are not necessary for 13th chords (though the 9th will sound good if you can get it).

  3. If there is a chord sub that works harmonically and is easy to fret use it. For example the vii diminished triad is part of the V7 chord but is missing the 1 of the V chord. vii --> I is a cadence in its own right but a good substitute for V7 --> I.

  4. Extended chords can often we expressed as a poly chord, two simpler chords merged together. In this case one can just grab the upper chord (which contains all the extensions) and forget the rest.

In trying to determine how to voice a chord listen to what the other players are doing. For example, if your bassist is voicing the roots of chords you really don't need to and that makes the root a note you can throw out! That may seem counter intuitive but I'm not suggesting that the root be gone from the entire piece, just that in an ensemble the guitarist or pianist need not play it.


The root tells us what chord it is. The third tells us if it's major or minor. The seventh tells us if it's an 'active' chord or one that's happy to just sit there. The fifth adds no extra information. It's the one you can lose without losing the identity of the chord.

There are exceptions. Without the 5th, C6 is going to be heard as Am.

  • 2
    Try telling that to guitarists who love 'power chords'..!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 14:51

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