I only know how to play 2 different types of chords which is a Triad (3 notes) and a 7th (4 notes). But, I often see chords with 5 or 6 notes being used. What are these types of chords called?

An example is in the images on this page (towards the bottom) http://www.attackmagazine.com/technique/passing-notes/passing-notes-deep-house-chords/

  • Can you post the chords you're referring to? The ones at the bottom I see are major 7th chords Dec 10 '13 at 12:17
  • @Shevliaskovic these ones ... attackmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/… Dec 10 '13 at 12:19
  • Dunno - but I know 12-key chords are called "armbars" :-) Dec 10 '13 at 12:38
  • it does not matter, it's still a chord. You need at least a triad to make a chord, any additional notes stacked up doesn't change how they are called. You have different names not for how many more notes a triad can have, but for the TYPE of chord, e.g. a seventh chord, a dominant chord, a diminished seventh chord, etc
    – user8740
    Dec 11 '13 at 13:12
  • On a guitar, they are called barré chords.
    – user1044
    Jul 29 '14 at 5:06

They are called "5 note chords" and "6 note chords" because they are not so fundamental a component of music that they need a shorter name.

A "triad" applies to many different three-note chords - always based around the root, a third, and a fifth -- but the third may be major (4 semitones from the root) or minor (3 semitones from the root), and the fifth may be perfect (7 semitones from the root) augmented (8) diminished (6).

You've encountered a four-note dominant 7th chord, which is a major or minor triad plus a flattened 7th. But there are lots more 4-note chords - any combination of four notes, some more pleasant sounding than others.

The article you've linked has helpfully colour-coded the notes in the chords. Let's look at one of the chords - the second chord in this piano roll:

Piano roll

The author has already told you the colour coding: root (purple), 3rd (blue), 5th (yellow) and 7th (green).

This 6 note chord contains:

  • Ab (root)
  • C (3rd)
  • Eb (5th)
  • G (major 7th)
  • C (3rd)
  • Eb (5th)

Note that there are two 3rds and two 5ths. This is a 4-note chord, an Ab major 7th, with two of the notes doubled up by playing their octaves.

The author also tells you:

Notes highlighted in red aren’t in the basic chords, but are added on top to form a simple melody

The following "8 note" chord is really a four-note chord -- C minor 7th -- with two notes doubled up, to make it 6 notes, and two melody notes, which are not part of the chord as such.

  • what an excellent response. Many thanks for taking the time to explain that, I understand it much better now. Dec 10 '13 at 13:37
  • @slim - this is NOT a criticism of your superb answer, but the chord is Ab maj7, with the maj.7 note being G. These sort of voicings are commonplace for guitarists. And don't forget 'sus' triads !
    – Tim
    Dec 10 '13 at 14:19
  • @Tim Well caught. Of course it is.
    – slim
    Dec 10 '13 at 14:22
  • @Tim ... but I'm going to gloss over sus chords for now. I think we've blown James' mind enough already.
    – slim
    Dec 10 '13 at 14:31
  • 2
    Perhaps a mention of extended chords would help here? Jul 29 '14 at 2:27

Regarding 5 and 6 note chords, as well as chords beyond the "triad/seventh chord" nomenclature: Chords with 5, 6 or 7 notes, if arranged in 3rds, are chord "extensions" Root - 3rd - 5th - 7th - 9th - 11th - 13th. You could call a chord with 5 notes a "quintal chord" and a 6-note chord a "sextal" chord. But let us examine chord structures in order to distinguish between chord types:

  1. One needs to gather the vertically presented pitches (the different notes played together as a chord). We must only consider distinctly different pitches and eliminate any duplicated notes (octaves higher or lower) and enharmonic notes (pitches with the same sound but with different letter-names (such as E# and F) Once the chord is reduced to its essential pitches, proceed.
  2. Look for patterns amongst the pitches: do they fit into a tertian (thirds) pattern? (i.e. the "order of 3rds" contains all tertian chords - from 3-note triads to 7-note 13th chords: ...A C E G B D F|A C E G B D F... This may require 'respelling' enharmonic notes disguising a 3rd pattern. If not, proceed.
  3. If most of the notes in your chord fit into a tertian pattern, see whether the "wrong" note(s) result from a "false" bass or an appoggiatura chord. The false bass could be part of a "pedal point" or just a note used to "colour" the harmony. The appoggiatura chord will "resolve" into a conventional harmony on the next (or nearby) beat. If not, proceed.
  4. Study the intervals between the chord tones, they will likely fit into one of the following categories: Secondal: harmonies arising from notes a 2nd apart. Often called "clusters"; Tertiary (already discussed 3rd chords) Quartal: harmonies arising from notes a 4th or 5th apart 6th intervals: invert and reduce to 3rds; 7th intervals: invert and reduce to 2nds
    If none of these chord types applies, then proceed.
  5. If your chord is not tertial, secondal or quartal, then it is likely the result of a chromatic serial compositional process. The system developed to analyze these vertical sonorities is known as the "pitch class" system. In this system, each note of the chromatic scale is numbered 1-12 (often starting on C). The distinct notes are then collected, placed in the order of the chromatic scale (within the same octave) and identified by their resultant number. For example: consider the chord: C, Db, E, F, Ab, this is a 5-note (or 'quintal') chord of pitch class 12569. Use this method if all other "tonal" analytical interpretations produce unsatisfactory results (or if you know that a serial compositional process was used.)
  • quartal & quintal already have established meanings in terms of chordal structures other than tertian as you mention in your answer. I’m not sure repurposing them to number of notes in the chord add much clarity. Feb 10 '18 at 22:31

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