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An example of this sort of sound seems to happen at the very beginning of Joao Gilberto's Aguarela do Brasil. And I have been using it a lot in my guitar playing recently. But I don't know what to call this chord.

I don't have much experience actually writing down chords for other people so looking for a name for the chord that might indicate to another jazz guitarist "hey play " (meaning something like 4x345x in tab notation) if they see it in context (say as a substitution in a 2 5 1 progression).

Edit seems there is some controversy about my spelling of the chord so wanted to provide some context as to why I spelled it this way. Basically the way I discovered this voicing is as a substitution for the dominant chord leading to tonic. So with this specific voicing in this specific context, really the way I am thinking about it is as a G13 with a sharp root. An alteration of the G13 chord.

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    If you say "G#", it means that you make a claim that your G IS SHARP and therefore G cannot be natural at the same time. Are you 100 % sure your G is sharp, and cannot be natural? Are you 100 % sure that your A is not flat instead, which would leave open the question of your G's being natural or whatever? Nov 7, 2023 at 0:41
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica how OP is supposed to be sure if it's G# or Ab, if they are asking exactly about how to interpret these notes? I agree that within classical theory Ab would be more logical, and I would be very interested to read a convincing classical interpretation. By the way, I realize now that in the recording, the whole thing is shifted a whole tone up, but the notes are correct otherwise. Nov 7, 2023 at 2:08
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    Are those the notes played in ascending order?
    – Tim
    Nov 7, 2023 at 13:02
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    I know you have that logic, but note naming doesn't work that way. You can think about a note as being five semitones above G, but you don't call it G#####. Saying "G sharp" means, the note named "G" in my seven-note letter-named scale is sharp. This model works as long as you don't have more than seven different pitch classes at the same time. You also can't alter the root pitch, the root is your point of reference. It's like saying "G minor sharp three". Or C major omit 1 omit 3 omit 5 add 2 add 4 add 6. It doesn't make sense. Nov 7, 2023 at 14:19
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    G# in C major is often a telltale sign we have (perhaps temporarily) modulated to the relative A minor, in a harmonic or melodic mode. G# is the leading tone to A, and we likely have an E dominant.
    – Kaz
    Nov 8, 2023 at 4:42

3 Answers 3

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It's E7b9.

Probably the most known substitute of a dominant chord is a tritone substitution, where e.g. Db7 (Db F Ab Cb), which shares the third (Cb = B enharmonically), and the seventh (F) of the original chord G7 (G B D F).

But if you add b9 to G7, making it G7b9 (G B D F Ab), two more potential substitutes appear: E7b9 (E G#=Ab B D F) and Bb7b9 (Bb D F Ab Cb=B).

Edit: Following the discussion in the comments, as piiperi points, enharmonic substitution of Ab with G# is against the traditional harmony rules. In G chord, the note Ab is b9, and it resolves downwards, to the note G (fifth of the chord C). So one could try to call the chord "G7b9(13) no root". Now, G7b9(13) chord symbol isn't too exotic, but "no root" is. E7b9 is a way more straight forward symbol to describe these notes.

The controversy is that in E, the note G# resolves upwards, to A, not downwards. But in jazz, the classical voice leading rules are not always strictly followed... Though actually the consecutive chord is C6, thus including the note A! So maybe writing G# isn't that stupid?

Edit2: note that in the recording linked by the OP, all notes are a whole tone up w.r.t. this discussion.

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  • Actually, what I did was, I looked at the listed notes on a piano keyboard in my mind, with C as tonic. And it was clear that I could put G in the bass if I wanted to, making it a rather basic V7 - I progression, so it's best to think of G as being natural. Nov 7, 2023 at 5:46
  • The dominant of the relative minor key (E.g. E7 in C major) can substitute for the regular dominant (e.g. G7). (It works reverse too: think of all the Am tunes that go from G to Am rather than E to Am.). We can think of the C as substituing for Am. If we add an A bass to C, we get Am7, after all: A-C-E-G.
    – Kaz
    Nov 8, 2023 at 4:50
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(I chose to answer despite your already having accepted an answer because I felt I had some information to offer that is relevant to your question)

A specific chord voicing cannot always be accurately captured in a chord symbol. This is one of these instances. What you basically have here is a shell rootless G13 chord (FBE) with an Ab in the bass. You CAN call it a G13/Ab(no root) but don’t expect it will always sound the way you want if someone else reads and interprets that chord. For example, some players might choose to add a 5th or a 9th to it.

This chord has a diminished quality to it. If you replace the E with a D it is simply a G#o7: 4x343x. There are times when a diminished chord has non-diminished chord tones added to it. If you spell it from the F it is a Fo(maj7)/Ab (1st inversion). A M7 note is sometimes used as either a chord tone or a melody note in diminished chords (“Spring is Here” and “Stella By Starlight*, both in bar 1). You could also spell it from the root: G#o7(b6,no 5). Both of these are accurate but awkward chord symbols so pick your poison. Personally I prefer the G13/Ab(no root). I think this would best be understood by another jazz or Brazilian guitarist and in most instances I think the “no root” designation would be a given.

This chord does resolve to a C in a slightly unusual way because of the G# root but in making my case for the diminished quality you will see it also resolves nicely to Amaj7 or Am7. Keep in mind dominant 7th and diminished chords are closely related.

*In the case of “Stella”, the original first chord is a Idim, not the 2-5 commonly used in fake books

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  • Thanks! G13 is definitely closer to how I was thinking about the chord. So if I see a slash chord like this where the bass note is not in the chord, is it usually safe to assume that the root is meant to not be played? Nov 7, 2023 at 13:20
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    I sometimes wish it would be considered normal to have chord sheets mark some chords with footnotes prioritizing the tones in a chord, with the expectation that players examine the footnotes and decide what they'll do before starting performance. Non-rooted chords beyond the 7th, and rooted chords beyond the 9th, have multiple interpretations, but notes which make the chords sound better in some contexts will make them sound worse in others.
    – supercat
    Nov 7, 2023 at 17:38
  • @WilliamOliver Technically no, you can’t assume that. In some instances, like say Bbmaj7/C (basically C13sus4) the Bb is an important part of the chord. Better to include “no root” in your case. There can be some ambiguity about chord symbols. It is up to the logic and sensibility of the player. If you want something specific you must write out the voicing note for note. It is also somewhat based on genre. In some genres like jazz roots or bass notes of slash chords are sometimes excluded from voicings and left for the bass player but the root/bass note may still get played in a voicing. Nov 7, 2023 at 17:42
  • @supercat Agreed, provided people would take the time to look at the footnotes and they are brief and concise enough to express your intention. I admit I have certain unwritten expectations when writing chord symbols such as having a player not include the 5th in a 7b13 or a 7#11 chord, or not play the root in close proximity of a 7b9 chord. Even adding things is acceptable, like a 9 or 13 to a 7th chord in a bluesy jazz setting. Most players I work with do these things intuitively. Nov 7, 2023 at 17:55
  • @JohnBelzaguy: Perhaps a song sheet could include an open box with a footnote number, and the footnote could guide the player to insert whatever marking would best work with the instrumentation at hand. I don't know if it would be practical for a publisher could device a footnote notation, include a guide at the start, and include a notice that other publishers may reproduce the guide verabtim (including the identity of its creator). The value a publisher would receive from having other publisehrs use the same markings would be greater than could be achieved via proprietary system.
    – supercat
    Nov 7, 2023 at 18:03
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This is a common voicing in bossa nova.

You can see that in different ways depending on the context. For instance in Insensatez:

Am7     (5x555x)
E7b9/G# (4x345x)
Gm6     (3x233x)
D/F#.   (2x023x)
etc...  (How smooth!)

Picture the chord with an E instead of F: you get an E in first inversion (4x245x) to make it more evident.

You can also see it as Db7#9/Ab7 (tritone sub of G7) in a 2-5-1 in C like:

Dm9      (x5355x)
Db7#9/Ab (4x345x)
C6/9     (x3223x)

(see O Pato)

This time imagine it with Db in the bass (x4345x) instead, you'll get the Hendrix chord.

Since you bounce between the root an the 5th on the ii (D/A), the Ab gives more chromatic movement than a plain G13.

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