Over my career as a musician, I have seen many different kinds of notation for a minor chord for example each of the chord symbols below represents an A minor chord:


Is there a reason why there are so many ways to notate a minor chord and is one notation more "correct" in terms of notation than others?

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    FYI, the 'a' generally isn't "incorrect" (depending on context, of course), but I'd recommend against it since it's the hardest of the four to read quickly. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 0:21
  • I would avoid Amin, since it's language dependent (and I've never seen A-). Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 8:33
  • 1
    @Roman It's common in jazz lead sheets (as is Amin). Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


Different notations have traditions of being used in different contexts. All of those are correct. I suspect the reason for such variety comes from use by non-academically trained musicians. Without formal, standardized training, musicians tend to come up with a shorthand that expresses what they want while being generally agreeable.

Correlations may be drawn between nomenclature and spoken regional linguistic dialects.

As a corollary, the Inuit have more than fifty words for "snow". It is also reasonable to think that musicians would have several different ways of articulating the same concept.

As for correctness, I would say it depends on context. Certain music publishers would have preferred ways of spelling chords (for lead-sheets and whatnot) and so you'd have to defer to the publisher for style guidelines. Apart from that, none of them would be appropriate for macroanalysis save for perhaps the third one listed as a key designation only.

If you're not doing macroanalysis or submitting anything to a publisher, I think you'd be just fine with any of them - as long as you're consistent and clear with your notation.

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    The claim about 50+ Eskimo words for snow is dubious. Not counting trivial variants derived with their agglutinative morphology, there are only a handful of Eskimo words for snow, which is not much more impressive than the variety of snow words in English (snow, sleet, slush, blizzard, etc.) Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:29
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    @PeterOlson - dubious and a hoax perhaps; I thought it more appropriate (and family friendly) an analogy than perhaps American slang for women. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:37

None is more correct; but there are tactical reasons that certain types of players prefer certain formats.

For example, jazz guys tend to like the following for major, minor, dominant seventh, and half-diminished qualities:

A∆, A-, A7, Aø

The reason is, aside from its popularity among the musicians they play with, that the shapes are easily distinguishable at a glance. If you're playing some fast-moving bebop changes and are reading from a hand-written lead sheet, this format has a clear advantage over "M" vs. "m" or "ma" vs. "mi". Hope this helps.

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    I agree with Duncan that clarity is the foremost criterium, but I would say that Am is a better choice than A- due to the fact that handwritten music is always a bit dodgy, and there are so many -'s used for other meanings - articulation being the most obvious. I do use ∆ for major seven chords myself, but I warn my students to be careful that the triangle doesn't end up looking like a 6 or a o due to sloppy handwriting. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 3:25
  • Agree with stu that - can get lost too easily. The object of the exercise is to make pieces playable, so if there's any ambiguity, especially with hand-written stuff,the objective is surely lost.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 16:06

Using uppercase for the note names of all chords will yield a consistent appearance, which can be very important if a page has a lot of other text on it. The amount of visual processing can be minimized if major chords just use the latter, minor chords just use an "m", and major-minor seventh chords [sometimes called "dominant sevenths"] just use a "7". Note that the user of lowercase for the "m" helps create a consistent visual "shape" for minor chords, while the having the note name uppercase creates a visual commonality with other chords.

Use of "min" rather than "m" may be helpful if a reader might either misread a lowercase "m" as uppercase, or believe that the lowercase "m" might perhaps be a mis-transcribed uppercase one. Use of "min" makes the intention clear.

Using just a lowercase latter, or following the chord name with a dash, might be faster-to-write shorthand than the other alternatives, but I would tend to regard such usage as informal.

Incidentally, a related issue that comes up on occasion is the use of enharmonic chord names. In the song "Amazed", for example, the chord progression includes chords which a musical theorist would label as Cb and Fb (the song is in Ab major) rather than as the harmonically-distant B and E, but someone transcribing the chords for purposes of performance would likely use the latter forms. Arguably, Cb and Fb are more "correct", but if the purpose of notation is to help a musician play the right notes, the fact that B and E will likely do that better than would Cb and Fb is a pretty strong argument in favor of the latter's "correctness".

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    at a gig some years ago, I couldn't find a chord I was trying to read in a song. It was in E, and the chord was Abm. Right or wrong, I'm programmed to think that in E there may be a G#m chord come along, but never (till then !) Abm.Threw me totally. My fault ? Not sure.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 6:49
  • @Tim: Neither Abm nor G#m is a very common chord on guitar, but the "black key" notes can go either way. I think Cb and Fb, however, are pretty obscure--especially since the latter wouldn't even be a normal key signature.
    – supercat
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 12:25
  • The chord was probably spelled like that because of how it was spelled in horns if they had lines there, especially if it seems out of the normal harmonics of the chord structure. So the composer may very well have intended that the chord you play be a G#- chord. As a composer/arranger myself, I struggle with this problem of leaving my analyzed chords in rhythm section parts instead of very clear, enharmonically accurate structures for easy reading. Because that's really what chord notation is all about.
    – Gizmo
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:49
  • @Gizmo: If you could do so without overly cluttering the page, perhaps having a big bold enharmonic chord and then a small-print notation or footnote reference with the "technically correct" chord might be helpful, especially if music would sometimes be performed in a sight-reading or near-sight-reading situations, and might sometimes be performed by a group that wanted to analyze the music and fill out chords in more calculated fashion.
    – supercat
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 15:16
  • Depending on the complexity of an arrangement, voices within a band might be playing specific alterations or extensions. When this is the case, relaying those alterations and extensions to the rhythm section in essential. Let's say, for example, I'm voicing an F7 chord out in a big band. I feel like adding the colorful altered extensions of #9,#11 and b13. If I leave the F7 in the rhythm section parts, it is entirely likely that any of them will land on a note that I've intended to be altered. There is now an introduction of disharmony that I hadn't intended be part of the arrangement.
    – Gizmo
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 15:22

Also seen Ami in print.As jj says, certain printers prefer certain ways. A is obviously MAJOR, which sort of puts a as minor. Putting 'm' is an obvious one, and leaves the main letter capitalised, thus easier to read. I think the A- comes from the Nashville Number System (worth checking out ), but as soon as it's written in handwriting rather than printed, can be easily confused with a badly written 7 to state one.Don't see the point in using 'min', as 'm' suffices.I suppose we just get used to idiosyncracies that certain writers have.A corollary to this question could be -why does 'o' mean 'diminished ? Actually, logic-wise, '-' would be a better sign, especially as '+' means the opposite, augmented.

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    If someone doensn't know that A is a major and Am is a minor, they don't have any way of figuring that out from the notation. On the other hand, Amaj and Amin draw an obvious distinction.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:13
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    Statistically, there must be more major chords than minors, if they were counted in all songs (I hope!), so default as the commonest is written as the most basic, as 'A'. If a chord is not major, then it needs to be labelled as different, as in A7, Asus2, Am.Don't often see A written Amaj. As Amaj7, but that's different, and where did the triangle come from ?
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:40
  • I also think that best practice should be decided by clarity, not on making it easy for beginners to guess. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 3:27
  • What was so contentious in this answer that someone marked it down. If they had an axe to grind, they'd be better to comment. Isn't anonymity great.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 16:02
  • @BobRodes: there's definitely a lot of musical reasons to consider major the default chord gender, and minor the exception. Aside from that, not in all languages the word for "major" starts with an m (germanic and slavic languages use varieties of "dur"), but the word for minor usually does ("moll"). And finally, even if you don't know whether the m stands for minor or major, it's easy enough to find out, if just from nearby chords. A-major | C-minor | G-minor | A-major? Unlikely (though of course possible). — I really don't like the writing maj vs min, at all, IMO it's very inefficient. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 1:54

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