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I'm so confused. I have three questions.

1. Is the added tone (or note) counted from the tonic of a key or the root note of the chord?

2. Since, with the same scale degree, a note changes depending on the key, does that mean the same added-tone chord would comprise of different notes depending on the key it's played in?

For example, in the key of E major, would this following group of notes, all in the same octave—E, F#, G#, B—be considered an Eadd2 chord? I suppose it would, since here it's a chord built upon the tonic, aka., the first chord in the scale, so my first question can be considered impertinent. But what if the same group of notes is played in the key of A major? F# is now six scale degrees from the tonic, so is this chord still Eadd2 or now Eadd6? Likewise, a Cadd2 chord consists of the notes C, D, E, G in the key of C major, but in A major, is the same chord now C, Db, E, and G? Or does it not exist at all, since E is not in A major?

And, in the same vein,

3. Can suspended chords exist in a scale where the substituting note in question is not contained in the scale? Nothing prevents you from sharpening or flattening a note, but I guess since such an altered chord does not exist within that key, chord progressions would all be messed up, right?

I haven't found a concrete definition for this concept, unlike suspended chords where there are definitive intervals (major second and perfect fourth). Please refrain from too much music theory in your answers; I can barely handle all this as it is! Thank you and I deeply appreciate all the help!

3 Answers 3

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  1. Chord symbols of this sort are relative to the root of the chord. The second that you're adding to an E major chord is always F♯.

  2. No.

Likewise, a Cadd2 chord consists of the notes C, D, E, G in the key of C major, but in A major, is the same chord now C, Db, E, and G? Or does it not exist at all, since E is not in A major?

There are other systems that identify chords themselves by numbers according to the relationship between the chord's root and the tonic. A Cadd2 chord is C-D-E-G no matter where you see it. If you see it in a piece in A major, then it exists there. In classical Roman numeral analysis, that could be a ♭III9 or something like that depending on its function, whereas in a piece in G major it would be IV9.

  1. Yes. There are all sorts of excuses available for why this is "allowed" to happen, but the underlying rule is that there is no rule. Pieces are not limited to seven pitch classes. The seven-note diatonic scale is one approach to tonality that is thousands of years old, and lately (as recently as 1000 years ago) we've learned ways of stretching it or even employing entirely different approaches to tonality that don't fit neatly within the diatonic scale.
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  • Thank you for this informative answer! So, added tones don't have anything to do with keys or scale degrees but only intervals? What, then, is the quality of such interval? Or is the default always major? Since it seems an add2 chord always means adding a major second (or whole step)? Dec 7, 2023 at 16:42
  • @LauraStrondtham - of course 'add2' means add M2. That's the convention. Like C6 has M6 added (A), or C7#9 has sharp 9 added. The clue's in the naming!
    – Tim
    Dec 7, 2023 at 17:27
  • @LauraStrondtham It goes a step farther. When using letter names like this, even without added tones, a given chord is the same no matter what key you find it in. "Cm" in the key of C minor is C, Eb, G; "Cm" encountered in the key of F# major is still C, Eb, G. Now staff notation and notated key signatures are a different matter; you could put these three dots on the staff and then change the key signature and get different pitches. But letter-name chord notation is absolute. Dec 7, 2023 at 18:58
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    @LauraStrondtham 7 is minor by default (major seventh needs to be specified): C7 goes C-E-G-Bb (when you want C-E-G-B, you write Cmaj7). Other tone-adding numbers are major by default (and can be specified otherwise with # or b).
    – Divizna
    Dec 8, 2023 at 1:56
  • Tim AndyBonner and Divizna Thank you all! This cleared up my confusion! Turns out the crux of the problem is naming conventions and not staff and keys! facepalms Dec 9, 2023 at 11:07
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  1. Any added tone (note) is counted from the root of the chord involved, not the key chord or its root.

  2. There's some inaccuracy in your note naming, but - add2, for example is add 2 to the chord in question. Everything is based on that chord, so E add2 will contain the same notes (E, F♯, G♯, B) in whatever key it's found in.

  3. Sus chords are basically ^3 replaced by ^4. You may also be thinking replaced by ^2 - strictly speaking a ret rather than a sus, but, hey. That sus is again related to the chord in question - whether the sus note (or any note in that chord) is diatonic is immaterial. It all relates to the chord in question. Qed!

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  • Thank you, but may I ask is there a concrete definition of this concept? The internet says to add a second or a fourth, basically intervals, but if so how can I find out its quality? A tritone has six semitones but can be considered both a fourth and a fifth, is it not? Thanks again. Dec 7, 2023 at 17:16
  • Its intervals are directly related to the chord itself, nothing to do with any key it may be found in. Tritones are either written as dim 5ths or aug4ths, but every interval can be written in at least two different ways, and shown as such on a stave. But that's not the point.
    – Tim
    Dec 7, 2023 at 17:23
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E(add2) is E, F♯, G♯, B.

That's it, period.

You're probably more likely to find it in a piece in E major than one in (say) F major. It's diatonic in E major, pretty 'outside' in F major. But E(add2) has the same notes, in any context.

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