I'm absolutely new to music theory and really wanna learn piano myself at home without teacher. I've got a new sheet for a song and trying to figure out why B flat major chord can have different notes. I attached an image. As far as I know, B flat major chord in two flats key signature is Bb - D - F. However as you can see below, F-Bb-Eb is also written as Bb in F position for inversion but it doesn't make sense to me. Thought other sus2,4 but not able to make it. I'm absolutely beginner about piano. so any kind help would be really appreciated. Bb/F chord symbol over notated F-Bb-Eb

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    Thought-provoking question: how did you decide which notes are the chord tones?
    – user45266
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 21:44
  • Thanks! Bb major scale has two flats key signature and major scale is connected by two tetra chords by whole step? Also triads are build 1st-3rd-5th in given scale? Am I correct?
    – Alex
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 21:48
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    That is all correct information (well, not all triads fit that formula, but most do). What I was trying to get at, though, was that there are four different notes in that half of the measure: F, Bb, D, and Eb. Not all notes in music are chord tones, though, so if you can figure out how to pick which notes are part of a chord and which are simply decorative (non-chord tones), then that will solve the underlying problem!
    – user45266
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 21:55
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    Yes. it makes sense to me 100%. some melody notes made me confusing. I really appreciate your help!
    – Alex
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 21:56
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    Chord symbols aren't promised to be a theoretical analysis of the notes under them, they are more often an accompaniment guideline. music.stackexchange.com/questions/86556/… Commented May 18, 2021 at 11:35

5 Answers 5


Melodies do this pretty often-- move by step into the note. So even though at the 2nd chord you indicated it doesn't look like a B-flat chord, it really is-- just that the D is delayed a little for melodic reasons.

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    It's called a "suspension" - when a note from the previous chord hangs around and then drops down one to the "correct" note. Commented May 18, 2021 at 13:57

The purpose of the chord symbols above the staff is to describe the harmonic structure of the music, not every melodic detail, as Bennyboy1973 notes in his answer. Think of the chord symbol as saying "if the guitarist (or second keyboard, or ukulele, or whoever) plays this chord, it will fit." Many pianists, if not most, will ignore chord symbols altogether.

In other words, you generally should not expect every note directly under a chord symbol to be a chord tone. Usually, most of the notes under a chord symbol will be chord tones, and that's the case here: the symbol is in effect for half a measure, and if you want to count note heads, 90% of them are chord tones. If you prefer to go by duration, the percentage is 92%.

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    Sometimes the chord symbols are only a very loose match for the actual harmony.  They may be simplified to avoid chords that are hard for guitarists to play; they may reduce the number of chords in fast-changing harmony; they may even be a different interpretation of the song's harmony.  If you're playing the score, it's often best not to look at the chord symbols too!  (That said, they look pretty close in this case.)
    – gidds
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 8:58
  • Just my curious, so as a beginner like me, It's good to see sheets for pianist only to avoid such confusing due to my poor music theory? @gidds
    – Alex
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 9:11
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    @Alex pianists can always ignore those chord symbols. There's no reason to avoid music that has them, though, unless you find them confusing and difficult to ignore. Depending on the kind of music you want to play, you may eventually want to develop the skill of playing from a lead sheet, which is just chord symbols and a melody, leaving the details of which notes to play to the pianist's imagination. A good way to develop that skill is to play from sheet music like this that has both a written-out piano part and chord symbols.
    – phoog
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 14:51
  • Thanks. This is really must-to-do lesson for me
    – Alex
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 15:56

It's not written as clearly as it could have been. The 'B♭/F' stands well for the rest of that bar, E♭ note resolves almost straight away to the M3 of B♭ - the D note.

All the other notes in the rest of that bar constitute B♭ major, so maybe the symbol could have been 'B♭sus4,' followed by 'B♭', but that takes up more space than there is.


The slash indicates the bass note, so it's Bb over F in the bass. It doesn't necessarily suggest an inversion unless the bass note is part of the triad. So for example, the Bb/D is the first inversion (Ib).


Think of the chords as a bed or cradle and the melody weaves around it like a humming bird darting about flowers. When the melody plays these tension notes, which our brains thrive on because they resolve, you can think of them as passing tones or upper and lower neighbor notes. It is okay and desirable for the melody or chords to clash with one another. Again, tension. Our brains thrive on the resolution, like a sung Amen.

Every note doesn't have to be chord defined and you can just "throw them away." For example, play an A minor chord in your left hand (A C E) and in your right hand play this line: D B C F D D# E C B F#(lower). You can either see that as a melody with passing tones, upper and lower neighbors and tension notes or litter your page with melodic appropriate chords such as augmented, flat fifths, 11's, flat 13's, ninths etcetera.

If you want to be a teacher or composer, you need to know these things. If you want to be a performer, you need to feel them. Hone one or the other, preferably both. Guys like Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans love to target ninths, flat 5ths and flat 13ths. They both feel the tension and know which notes are needed to create those tensions. I don't think they think "I'm going to play a flat 13th here but rather, hear in their mind what they want to play and know where it is.


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