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Suppose a song/piece is in the key of B flat major. I have seen this chord below written as "Ebm6/Gb", or "D#m6/F#." However, clearly in the key of Bb we opt to use F# rather Gb. Similarly, we use Eb in the scale rather than D#. So what is the rule or convention for naming the chord? Could you call it Ebm6/F#? That seems strange to me. Or do we call it Ebm6/Gb, since Gb belongs in the Eb minor scale, despite writing the F# in the notation?

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    Is there a good reason to write F# in this case rather than the more natural Gb? If written as Gb I’d take this as a C semidiminished 7 with the (diminished) fifth in the bass, or as equivalent reading the 6-chord of the subdominant chord with added 6th (so Eb minor with added 6th and the 3rd in the bass.
    – Lazy
    May 30, 2023 at 21:03
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    Context needed. Even if we know the key of the composition, the interpretation of the chord may depend on the surrounding material. This also could be a typo, or inaccuracy in notation. May 30, 2023 at 21:14
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    @Lazy Also called C half-diminished, at least in the US.
    – Richard
    May 30, 2023 at 21:38
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    @Richard Here in Austria it’s the same, we say "halbvermindert".
    – Lazy
    May 30, 2023 at 22:04
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    @KevinTavangari Why would you think of F# being part of the Bb minor scale? The Bb minor scales is made up from Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb and Ab (and in the harmonic/melodic minor sense G and A).
    – Lazy
    May 30, 2023 at 23:05

5 Answers 5

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Eb is the subdominant of Bb, so definitely Ebm6 rather than D#m6.

Gb belongs not only in the Eb minor scale, but even in the Ebmi chord, so I'd write it as Gb everywhere, including the sheet.

Ebm6/Gb.

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clearly in the key of Bb we opt to use F# rather Gb.

Why? Write it as G♭ and your problem goes away.

But if for some peculiar reason you DID suppose it was appropriate to write it as D♯m6/F♯ then spell the whole chord with sharps.

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It's hard to say without context, but if this were spelled with Gb rather than F# it would make a C half-diminished chord, or a borrowed ii⍉6/5. If the following chord is a V or I6/4 you'd have textbook voice leading:

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or

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So what is the rule or convention for naming the chord?

If the music is tonal and you want chord spellings to sensibly convey harmonic function, then spell them to make diatonic identities and mode mixing clear.

  • The tonic is B♭ major.
  • If you want a subdominant chord in that key, the root of the chord will be E♭, because the subdominant is perfect fourth above the tonic.
  • If you want the minor subdominant rooted on Eb, the chord's third will be G♭, you spell it with a G not an F, because tertian chords are spelled in thirds.
  • If you write that as a jazz chord with added sixth, it's E♭m6.
  • If you want that chord in first inversion, with the third in the base, in slash notation, you write E♭m6/G♭.

The convention we are following is: chords and scales are spelled diatonically with chromatic alteration to pitches for secondary functions (harmonic function in some other key) or mode mixture.

E♭m6/G♭ essentially says: the minor subdominant in B♭ major in first inversion. This is pretty clear aurally.

D#m6/F# says... well, the key is not B♭ major... This might be clear depending on what harmony follows.

Ebm6/F# says the bass is not a chord tone, unless someone is seriously trying to say an augmented ninth is in the bass. This is not very plausible when it can be enharmonically respelled to a diatonic chord.

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Where are you seeing this chord? F# is not part of Bb major or minor. If a key is flat, it uses flats. A legitimate use of F# (in tonality) would be if you're tonicizing or modulating to a key where F# is the leading tone or at least part of the key. That chord doesn't look like it's doing that, unless it's going to turn into a D, B, or F# chord. None of which are part of Bb major or minor, so it would be a distant modulation.

Taking it at face value, I see no reason to use F# and not Gb in that chord if it's remaining in Bb.

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    "If a key is flat, it uses flats" that's perhaps too general, e.g. in the key of Gm with two flats the dominant chord still uses F# leading tone. May 31, 2023 at 15:53
  • That's why I mentioned those chords where it would make sense, but it isn't one of those chords unless half the notes are suspensions about to resolve. This guy is saying "clearly in the key of Bb we opt to use F# rather Gb" which is just backwards. Even if we're talking about a bebop major scale or something, that would have both F and F#. May 31, 2023 at 16:07
  • The sentence in itself is too much of a generalization on my part though. I would say that there are no sharps in a normal major scale which uses flats. The context, like what comes before and after this chord, would be helpful. But unless it's going to a G, E, Eb, or B chord or something, it doesn't seem to make much sense in a functional tonality sense. May 31, 2023 at 16:20

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