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 the difference is. 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 second 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 kinds of musicians.

  • 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. Jun 13, 2013 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?
    – Whimusical
    Jun 13, 2013 at 17:45
  • 1
    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, 2013 at 20:09
  • I did not say the opposite. And yes I love this example, I almost never use 6ths, I prefer seeing them as inverted m7 chords most of the time
    – Whimusical
    Jun 13, 2013 at 20:37

7 Answers 7


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) ?

  • 10
    "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, 2014 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
    Dec 16, 2014 at 14:55
  • I think Cm7(b5) may be used notationally for consistency with C7(b5) which would be C-E-Gb-Bb--a chord which doesn't fit any "normal" pattern.
    – supercat
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:56
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    @CurlyPault this is a while late, but I've never heard the argument that "sus2" doesn't exist before, I think that sentence should read "Suspended is only used to describe when a 2 or 4 is in place of 3. No other note can be suspended." When (s)he says no other note can be suspended (s)he's talking about the 3rd.
    – Some_Guy
    Sep 28, 2016 at 9:36
  • 2
    Sus2 "doesn't exist" in the most narrow common practice theory. You may as well argue that 9add#11 doesn't exist. Same argument regarding m7♭5, you might not like it, but it's so ingrained in common use (especially in jazz theory) that it very obviously "exists" in modern contexts (and the name is based the observation that as a chord built on the second scale degree, leading to V, it kinda is a minor chord in that it often serves the same function as minor ii; it's a weird name to quibble over).
    – Esther
    Feb 25, 2021 at 3:08

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!)

  • 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.
    – Whimusical
    Jun 13, 2013 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. Jun 13, 2013 at 21:53
  • @jjm - how are sus 2 and sus 4 chords perceived as inversions of one another ?
    – Tim
    Jan 4, 2014 at 8:25
  • @Tim - plug some notes in and work it out! :) Jan 4, 2014 at 14:21
  • Csus2 =Gsus4; Csus4 =Fsus2.Is that what you mean ?That makes them inversions, but of one another ? Help !
    – Tim
    Jan 4, 2014 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

  • 1
    In general, the chord symbols are not there to tell you about how the chords are voiced. Hence the two first chords in your example, should both be named Cadd9. Dec 27, 2022 at 23:41

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.

  • 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, 2014 at 11:09

I’ll use add2 or add4 to indicate closed voicing (within one octave). Add9 or add11 tend to imply voicings beyond one octave but could be interpreted within an octave. That seems pretty intuitive to anyone without a “purist” theoretical axe to grind. The limitations of guitar versus piano will muddy that up though.

To me the most important thing is effective communication within a community. Definitely don’t be that “chord Nazi” guy that insists on a certain chord name unless it really, truly matters.

There are different naming conventions for different musical contexts and communities. And the naming conventions evolve over time. For example, in jazz circles you’ll see Em7b5 rather than Eø7, typically because the b5 implies a different function than ø7. Classical circles will strongly favor ø7. Similarly, in pop circles you’ll generally see A/G whereas in jazz it will usually just be called A7. There are always functional exceptions though.


Interesting if wonky discussion. Re sus v add, I see it as a matter of function. As another commenter pointed out, a "suspension" is heard as a dissonance to be resolved (regardless of whether the resolution actually occurs) while an "add" is a coloration of the chord. In some melodic contexts the second scale degree could be heard as a dissonance to be resolved to the tonic, but in a choral context in pop music, particularly on guitar, a "C add 2 " is often never resolved and simply is used to add harmonic fullness to the sound of the chord.

Also IMO, an "add 4" within the base octave of a chord would only accurately describe a situation where the third is also present. Otherwise that would be heard as and function as a suspension.


People can get very pedantic over this! Some will steadfastly disallow 'Cadd2' because chord symbols 'tell us nothing about the voicing' and MUST be spelt as a 'pile of 3rds' (though they seem to allow 'C6' as an exception). But those of us who read pop charts will have seen both 'Cadd2' and 'Cadd9' and know that using one or the other DOES give useful information to the player.

It's valid to use chord symbols as harmonic analysis, it's valid to use them as a playing aid - though I do get uncomfortable when I see 'C' in a guitar part when the harmony is Am7 or 'Em7' when it's Cmaj9, on the basis of 'that's all he needs to know'.

  • You are stating there's a difference without saying what the difference is. Is it like slim hints at voicing or something else? I could just say the chord is the set [0, 2, 4, 7] and leave it at that as it's valid for set theory, but I would never do that in tonal music as it misses the point of what is being conveyed. What are you suggesting this distinction is conveying?
    – Dom
    Oct 2, 2023 at 20:49
  • The difference is in the voicing. Difficult, maybe, to formulate a precise definition! But if you play the styles of music where 'C2' is used, you know what it means! If you're going to talk about pitch classes, OK, it doesn't exist!
    – Laurence
    Oct 3, 2023 at 22:29
  • Can you try to explain it? Chord symbols do not typically indicate anything about voicings and just saying there's a difference isn't useful especially when if people don't know what you are talking about we're getting into the territory of compounding errors due to not understanding the notation. If you can't explain it to others I don't know how you can justify claiming they are different with the same set of notes. I think you also missed the point of the set notation. I can use it, but in a tonal song it won't convey to the musican the goal so how does this symbol convey meaning?
    – Dom
    Oct 4, 2023 at 3:55

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