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I was reading on modal progression, and I encountered above example. In a bar with C7 symbol, I understand that the first voicing with C in the bass is C7, but the second voicing with D in bass is also considered C7.

If I was to meet this in a real music piece without chord symbols I would have simply guessed inversed E something chord(making the harmonic rhythm 1/2 bar)

How do you find correct chord symbols that the writer intended? From this example, if there were not chord symbols written, what would have prevented you from writing another chord on the second voicing?

Is there an exercise book for identifying chords?

  • I found this short video which explains 5 very different deployments of Mixolydian mode chord progression (in 5 musical styles) along with their notations in the 2nd (2:48), 3rd (4:14), 4th (5:24) and 5th (6:20) segments. If I have time, I'll write an answer based on that video. Basically, you'll have to notice the mode from the overall effect of all the notes in the phrase rather than relying on the chord symbol, which is merely a convention. IOW, you're going on the wrong direction. The author intends the progression THEN write the symbols. Commented May 10 at 20:45

5 Answers 5


It would be good to keep the concepts of modality and chord identification separate. First, Tim's answer above explains that it is common to add other notes to chords for color, and thus the chord is indeed C9 the whole time. See his answer for more explanation.

As for the idea of this being a modal progression, that's sort of another thing altogether. You would need to see more of the melody, especially the cadence, to determine whether or not it is in fact modal. If that Bb is persistent through the entire passage, and if C is indeed the home tone, then this is also a modal composition. If The Bb is not constant, or if C is not where the melody comes to rest at the end, it is probably not a modal composition.

But I would keep the two worlds separate: (1) What is the chord? This is good to know if you are analyzing how the chords work together. (2) What mode is it in?. The requires analyzing the melody and determining what it's tonic note is, and then considering the other notes around it and whether the resulting mode is major, minor, Dorian, etc.

To take it a step further, there are specific things you need to do to write modal music. Mostly you are attempting to keep your composition from straying back into major/minor territory. But that is a separate topic.


In this situation the two important things to recognize are:

This is fairly static harmony in the treble clef for both bars with some voice movement on beat 1 of bar 2. The chord is a C9 because of the D. In jazz and pop it is common to add natural tensions such as 9 and 13 to a 7th chord. The downbeat of bar 2 is a C13sus4 used as a passing chord. It just creates a little harmonic motion, E-F-E and G-A-G.

The bass line is exactly that, a line. More specifically a walking bass line, which is steady quarter notes that use chord tones and passing tones to outline the harmony in a somewhat melodic way. Your main landmarks are the downbeats, both of which are the roots of the chord. There is no need to think of the bass notes in this style as all being separate chords. The D and the two A’s are simply non chord tone passing notes.

As for your final question, book recommendations are not done here. There may be one but I’m not aware of one specifically. A good tip is to write down the notes to a chord you want to identify in letter order. If the root is obvious start with that instead. Look for stacked thirds to find the root and a possible triad. A 4th interval will sometimes be a clue to an inversion and a major or minor 2nd will sometimes be the 7th below the root.


The main chord is actually C9. The bass line outlines this chord. We COULD analyze each beat (or each half-bar) as a separate inversion, but it would be unnecessarily fussy to do so.


The clue is in 'tensions'. The 1st chord is simply C7, with the addition of a D note - part of the mode of F Mixolydian. Making it C9, although in jazz terms a player may well stick that extra note in anyway.

Then the second bar chord adds some 'tensions' to that chord, in the form of an extra A, still a note from B♭ Mixolydian, actually making C13/D, in the 4th inversion. So, another chord - basically C7, but with more notes making more tension, before returning to C9.

In jazz, it's a common occurrence, where a somewhat basic chord ( this one's in an non-emphasised part of bar here), there's probably no need to name it . Rather like adding a simple 6th note to a major chord, for some extra colour and interest, it would probably still be labelled as 'C major'.

  • er... both RH chords are C9.
    – Laurence
    Commented May 10 at 12:46
  • @Laurence - that much I know! The morphing is bar 1 to bar 2 - a different chord, more than C9. Edited accordingly, please proof-read for me!
    – Tim
    Commented May 10 at 13:35
  • @Tim most certainly not F Mixolydian - that would require an Eb. If it is modal at all (we don't have enough context here to know), it could be C Mixolydian, but it could also be simply poorly-conceived F major!
    – nuggethead
    Commented May 10 at 15:56
  • @nuggethead - thanks - I miscalculated. Bb seems a better bet, I hope.
    – Tim
    Commented May 10 at 19:29
  • Second bar starts with Gm9/C, then back to C9. We seem to be over-complicating this by insisting on a modal interpretation.
    – Laurence
    Commented May 11 at 13:05

It's a bit unclear whether you should consider the chord to be what's given in the symbol C7 or what is in the right hand C9.

Either way, I think the important points to understand are: in the bass D and the two As are not chord tones but embellishing tones, and in the right hand the F and A can also be regarded as embellishments, auxiliary tones, of the lower E and G. The fact that those auxiliaries return to the lower tones makes clear the auxiliary function.

Where you have ? marked, I think your question is whether to regard D as a root, and therefore whether another chord symbol should be filled in. The way the example is given, the answer is "no", and the reasoning behind that is embellishing motions do not change fundamental harmonies.

Is there an exercise book for identifying chords?

I think the issue for you is not identifying chords per se, but identifying non-chord tone embellishments. Any good, college-level harmony textbook will have a section about non-chord tones, all their names and how they are identified.

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