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I’m working on writing a chord sheet for Switchfoot’s song “Living Is Simple.” One of the chords during the second post-chorus has the notes G#, B, D#, and E. On the guitar, it’s fingered x-6-6-4-0-0 (it could technically have the low E string fretted on the 4th fret, but that’s a difficult shape to form unless the thumb is used to fret that note). It’s basically a G#m with open instead of 4th-fret barred B and high E strings.

I’m confused as to what the name of this chord is. I’ve narrowed it down to G#m(add#5) or G#m(b6), but since I’m somewhat of a novice when it comes to music theory I don’t know which is correct. If it helps, I’m pretty sure the song is in the key of Emaj just based on the chords as well as Emaj feeling like the “home” chord (although it does include the chords Dmaj and F#maj a few times, so I’m not totally sure – again because I don’t know all that much about theory). Also, the chord is preceded by A(add2) (A, B, C#, and E, fingered 5-5-7-6-0-0 on the guitar) and followed by F#m(7/11) (F#, A, B, C#, and E, fingered x-4-4-2-0-0 on the guitar).

Can anyone help me properly name this chord? Thanks!

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Option 1

My preference is G♯m♭6.

Slimming things down to basic triads, we have A G#m F#m, a perfectly reasonable sequence of descending triads.

By naming the chord this way, it best reflects the descending bass line as well as the fact that B and E are present in each chord.

Option 2

The chord is EM7/G#, making the overall progression A(add2) EM7/G# F#m7/11.

To understand the chord progression itself, consider two simplifications:

  1. We're momentarily in the key of A major, and
  2. We're dealing with basic triads.

That would give us A E F# or I V vi. That progression, I V vi, is the first three chords of Pachelbel's Canon — a very common chord progression.

Now invert the E chord to create a stepwise bass line:

A E/G# F#

and we have the chord progression in question, with just the alterations to be added: A(add2) EM7/G# F#m7/11.

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  • I’ll comment the same thing on your answer that I did on @Bennyboy1973’s... I guess that makes sense. The problem is that I’m pretty sure G# actually is the root of the chord, since the chords before and after it in the song are A(add2) and F#m(7/11). Dec 26 '21 at 19:46
  • @1dareu2mov3 Please edit your question to add that. It makes all the difference in the world to the answer(s).
    – Aaron
    Dec 26 '21 at 19:49
  • @1dareu2mov3 I should say, it will change how the answer is explained, though the chord itself is still rooted on E.
    – Aaron
    Dec 26 '21 at 19:51
  • I suppose this gets to the function of the chord in context, like you were talking about. Since on guitar (the main instrument in the song) it’s played like a G#m chord with open instead of 4th-fret barred high E and B strings, and since it’s preceded by Aadd2 (5-5-7-6-0-0) and followed by F#m7/11 (x-4-4-2-0-0), I think it’d be best to name it with G# as the root. What do you think? Dec 26 '21 at 19:52
  • Sure! I can definitely add that to the question. Dec 26 '21 at 19:53
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Generally, spread out the notes in 3rds if you can for naming: E, G#, B, D#

That's an inverted major 7th. (i.e. a major 7th but the lowest note isn't the root of the chord)

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  • I guess that makes sense. The problem is that I’m pretty sure G# actually is the root of the chord, since the chords before and after it in the song are A(add2) and F#m(7/11). Dec 26 '21 at 19:44
  • @ToddWilcox Right, but I think it’s important to remember the chord shapes. These chords would normally be barred, making the progression A, G#m, F#m, G#m. However, the high E and B strings are left open. That’s why I still think G# is the root – it’s as if the B and E notes are being added to the standard chords. Dec 26 '21 at 20:14
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    @1dareu2mov3 - Note that A -> G#m is not an acceptable chord progression in common practice period harmony, I have personally never heard this chord progression, and the only genre I have ever heard the related i -> (#)vii chord progression in is heavy metal (and even then with power or minor chords only). Categorizing A-B-C#-E -> G#-B-D#-E as A(add2) -> G#m♮6 should immediately raise suspicion next time when A(add2) -> EM7/G# is an option that actually can be derived from an extension of common practice period harmony.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 26 '21 at 20:41
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A ♭6 chord isn't a thing. No-one's fingers fall automatically into a ♭6 shape when they see that symbol.

A maj7 chord is. Call it Emaj7/G♯. A quick read of the symbol won't result in anything WRONG. As always, if you want a specific voicing write notation.

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