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As far as I understand, these are two different names for the exact same chord...when should I use each? Maybe the slash chord is best in line cliches, and maj7#11 everywhere else?

I'm working on a tab for Let It Ride by Robert Glasper, and so far I have:

Cm7b13  Fsus2/A
       I've never been a gambler
Bbm11    Fm9
            I stay on the same side
Dm7b13  Csus4/Db
            in all
Fm9  Fsus4/Gb
        So I know I'm alright

2 Answers 2

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Although both chords contain the same (enharmonically equivalent) pitches (the Ab in the DbMaj7 notwithstanding), they are different chords in their underlying purposes.

Csus4/Db indicates a chord where C is the root and the bass motion moves through Db. In this case, however, the Db is not part of the chord. Were this an inversion of a C chord, it would be more clear to call it something like Csus4(addb9)/Db.

DbMaj7#11 indicates a Db chord in root position.

However, since popular music and jazz often privilege clarity and ease of playing over theoretical pedantry, a chord chart would likely use whichever is more convenient or better expresses the desired voicing.

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  • I have an example of a song where slash chords seem unavoidable even though the bass isn't moving :) Gentle Thoughts by Herbie Hancock...also would make a great question what the chords are, but my guess is Gmaj13 G9 A/G Am7b5/G
    – Andy
    Mar 19, 2021 at 7:53
  • @Andy Slash chords can also indicate a pedal tone. See What does the chord notation X/Y (“slash chord”) mean?. In the section labeled "Contextual meaning", see item #3.
    – Aaron
    Mar 19, 2021 at 7:56
  • +1 One thing I have to point out: "Csus4/Db indicates a chord where C is the root and the bass motion moves through Db" That is one way to view it, but I don't think that logic applies to all slash chords - at least, not as they appear in the wild. F#m/D, by that logic, would indicate F# as the root, when clearly it is more likely D. Same with Eb/F: the root is not always contained in the upper part of the slash chord. I think a better way to describe the usage of slash chords is that slash chords indicate that the bass is independent of the rest of the harmony.
    – user45266
    Mar 19, 2021 at 17:32
  • Actually, you know what? I'm going to ask a question about this! I'm interested now :)
    – user45266
    Mar 19, 2021 at 17:32
  • @user45266 I suggest reading the linked question first, if you haven't already.
    – Aaron
    Mar 19, 2021 at 17:45
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I don’t know the exact voicing of this chord but I would opt for Dbmaj7b5 in this case since I think the G is meant to be fairly low in the voicing and there probably is no P5 anyway. The Csus4/Db might not give your desired result and give some pause since it’s an unusual slash chord and also jazz players sometimes add 9’s and 13’s to sus4 chords even if they are not indicated.

One more point, by calling it Dbmaj7#11 it is actually not the same as Csus4/Db because that chord could technically contain an Ab. Using b5 takes away the possibility of an Ab.

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  • A number of sites I'm looking at say that maj7#11 doesn't contain the 5 though...it's often hard to tell what the true consensus is on the finer points of chord theory...
    – Andy
    Mar 19, 2021 at 7:51
  • That’s true but the b5 takes that ambiguity out of it, Db, F, G, C. Not to mention some may throw in a 9 when they see #11. Mar 19, 2021 at 7:54
  • Yeah that's a good point
    – Andy
    Mar 19, 2021 at 7:55

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