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I am a beginner piano player here. I have been studying Barry Harris’s maj 6/ diminished chord approach. It seems that often you can have a shell in you left hand and different chord in the right hand (often a diminished, major 6 or minor 6) in order to get a particular sound. For example (I think) C#dim/C will give you a C dominant 7 sound. Depending on the situation in a given tune you could use a different inversion of C#dim. (And yes I know that inversion of a diminished chord are just a different diminished chord)

My question, is there a notation for quickly indicating what inversion of a chord to play? I guess I could do something like C#dim(iii)/C where the iii tells me to use the third inversion of C#dim played in the right hand over a C shell in the base but I'd rather not reinvent the wheel if a common notation already exists.

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First, remember that the Barry Harris system uses dim7 chords, not dim triads, a big distinction. A C#o7/C will give you a C7b9 sound, not a C#o/C. You need the Bb for the C7 dominant sound. Your statement about inversions of dim chords applies to dim7 chords, not dim triads.

As for your second paragraph question, alas the answer is no. Chord symbols don’t imply or guarantee specific voicings. Only notes on staff paper will do that. Even figured bass from hundreds of years ago only guaranteed you a specific bottom note.

You can try and come up with some type of proprietary system for chords and explain it with a key at the beginning of a piece but I would certainly avoid something like (iii) as this looks like chord analysis.

You could also specify to a player that the upper half of dim7 slash chords should be played in root position with close voicing at the beginning of a piece. That might come close to what you want. This would most likely be limited to keyboards as other chording instruments like guitar may not have the capability to play those chords specifically in that way.

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It can be useful, while playing rather than analysing, to think of (say) C7(♭9) as C♯dim7/C. But it's only really one chord! Same way a pianist very likely thinks of that 'dirty' final chord C13(♯11) as a D major over C7 polychord. But again, that's a practical trick, not an analysis.

To answer your question, no, although we can indicate the overall inversion with a slash bass - like C♯dim7/C or C♯dim7/E - there's not much more a chord symbol can do about voicing. You want something more specific, use notation.

OK there's always an exception! C2 implies a particular voicing which C(add9) doesn't. Purists sometimes object to C2 (but don't seem to mind C6). Go figure.

The fact that you mention a LH 'shell' suggests that you may be performing with a bass player. In which case C♯dim7/C is useful information about what's happening musically, but YOU aren't required to play the C root. Probably better if you didn't!

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Chord symbols are not intended to indicate specific voicings.1 Voicings are decided by the performer. If a chord is to be played in a specific way, it should be notated directly.

That said, in the specific case here, the voicing could be suggested by naming the chord according to the corresponding diminished chord. C#dim7/C would put Bb as the highest note; Edim7/C would have Db as the highest; Gdim7/C for E as the highest; and Bbdim7/C would place G as the topmost pitch.

However, none of those chord symbols would guarantee the performer uses the intended voicing.


1The exception is that slash chords indicate inversions insofar as they dictate the bass note.

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    I don't follow how C#dim/C would necessarily make Bb the highest note. It certainly makes C the lowest, but there's nothing saying which inversion/voicings would go above that. Only by using the 'stack of m3s' until you run out of fingers! And that's on piano. On guitar there's most likely a different scenario.
    – Tim
    Jan 27 at 9:04
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    The top note o C#o is G. It would have to be a C#o7 to have a top note of Bb, etc. specific inversions or voicings are very unlikely with chord symbols as a whole. Jan 27 at 10:00
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    @JohnBelzaguy Oops. You're right; I was thinking of seventh chords. Fixed now.
    – Aaron
    Jan 27 at 13:09
  • @Tim You're right about Bb on two counts: 1) I was thinking of C#dim7 rather than C#dim, which is now fixed; 2) I hope I made sufficiently clear that chord-symbol voicings are up to the performer.
    – Aaron
    Jan 27 at 13:10
  • @JohnBelzaguy - why would the top note of C#o have to be G. It could even be another C#!? It could be, but surely doesn't have to be.
    – Tim
    Jan 27 at 16:52

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