I am reconsidering the chord progression of a song I wrote. The problem is that the chord progression both begins and ends on a C chord; the first bar and the last two bars (out of sixteen bars) are C chords. As you can tell, the key is also C. This causes the transition between the ending of one iteration and the beginning of the next iteration, to sound fairly dull.

For the record, the last four bars of the chord progression are Am | G | C | C.

While experimenting with those last two bars a bit, I came up with the Cmaj7(#5) chord, which in my opinion sounds quite good. The G# can resolve to the C chord's G, and the B can resolve to the C chord's C.

However, I read everywhere that this chord normally resolves to an F chord. Does this mean that it cannot resolve to a C, and that it would be a far fetched option in my particular situation? Or are my own findings with this chord correct after all?

4 Answers 4


Cmaj7#5 to C doesn't sound far fetched at all. In the end, if something sounds good - use it! But, if something sounds good, there will usually be an explanation for why it works...

In this case, Cmaj7#5 is a chord containing chromatic tension, that "wants" to resolve to something simpler. In particular, the two chromatic alterations to the chord (B, the maj7 and G#, the #5) can resolve by half-step to pitches within your home key, C Major:

enter image description here

  • with Cmaj7#5 to C: the G# resolves downwards to G, the 5th of the C chord; the B resolves upwards to C, the root of the C chord.
  • with Cmaj7#5 to F: the B resolves upwards again to C, the 5th of the F chord; the G# resolves upwards to A, the 3rd of the F chord; the E, which is the 3rd of the Cmaj7#5 chord, also resolves upwards, to F the root of the F chord.

From this, it is easy to see why a resolution to F may seem stronger: Cmaj7#5 to F is essentially all the pitches of an E chord moving up by half-step to an F chord, over a C bass (which may or may not move to the root of the F chord). But, of course, this leaves you on chord IV, if you are in C Major; although the chromatic chord may have been resolved, this won't feel like a resolution to your whole song or chord sequence. For this to happen, you need to resolve to a C chord, as you suggest. However, if this chord sequence occurs within the song (if it is repeated, for instance), you may want to resolve to a chord other than C; this will propel the music forward, as the music won't feel as though it has come to rest.

If you were going to use this chord (Cmaj7#5) at a point other than your song's ending, it could resolve by half-step to other chords in the key of C Major, for instance:

enter image description here

In fact, the first of these (Cmaj7#5 - Am) could essentially use the E chord "within" the first chord, to create a V - I cadence into the relative minor, A Minor. Whether this feels like an actual modulation would depend upon whether you stay long in A Minor...

(It is worth pointing out, that this kind of voice-leading works well in popular music, but would break rules in more strict forms of harmony/counterpoint - before somebody jumps on my parallel fifths!)

Finally, if you were using a dominant 7th chord, rather than a major 7th chord, this certainly would want to resolve to a chord with it's root a fourth higher. For instance C7#5 would certainly want to move to an F chord. There are two related reasons for this: the Bb in the C7#5 chord wants to resolve downwards to the A in the F chord; this is essentially a dominant chord, wanting to resolve using a perfect cadence.

  • No problem! Would be good to see the rest of the chord sequence; I've been trying to guess what they might be, to see how your Cmaj7#5 might fit…! In the end, I reckon the Cmaj7#5 almost sounds like a chromatic "decoration" of the C chord, as it is between two other C chords... Jul 20, 2014 at 10:55
  • Nice answer! This is essentially what I was trying to say too, but you put a bit more depth into it. Jul 20, 2014 at 21:35

It's certainly possible for these notes to resolve to the I. Only, I'd argue what you have there is not so much Imaj7(♯5) as Imaj7(♭6)... and immediately it makes sense. For that chord is basically just V♭9 plus a I pedal bass note. If you ignore the pedal and add an F, since you omit the G note it's simply the standard diminished seventh dominant chord.

  • I have some trouble following your line of thought and I would be grateful if you could elaborate. The OP's chord is c-e-g#-b, you argue it should be c-e-a flat-b. I understand and agree. I can see how that could be called Imaj7(b6). I do not understand how you can argue that that is about the same as "Vb9 with I pedal bass". Vb9 would be g-b-d-f-ab. With "I pedal bass" I assume you mean c, but then we would have a chord of g that does not contain a g, and has an added 4th as bass note. You then argue we should "ignore the pedal". Jul 23, 2014 at 8:05
  • I'm just saying, it seems very strange to "ignore" such an unusual (fourth) non-chord tone, especially if it is in the bass. Jul 23, 2014 at 8:11
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    @RolandBouman: you certainly can't just ignore any non-chord tone, least so if it's in the bass. But pedal points are a special case, they aren't really considered part of the harmony at all but rather "reminder of what tonic we eventually want to end up in". Then, there's not actually an f in G♭9, but if set so clearly as a dominant the seventh would be somewhat implied. As for the G itself, that's not in fact present in the diminished-seventh chord – since the bass has a pedal point the fifth-movement is out as a resolving effect anyway, so it's mainly the third b that resolves to the tonic. Jul 23, 2014 at 9:37
  • Thanks for the explanation. I guess we need to see the actual voice leading to know more. Jul 23, 2014 at 21:30
  • Or rather a V13b9 (emphasizing the 6). Very common in jazz standards.
    – Steve Clay
    Nov 17, 2014 at 4:42

When in doubt, refer to the first rule of composition: If it sounds cool, it’s right.

However, there’s also a sound theoretical basis for what you’re doing here. The common V–IV–I–I blues turnaround has the same problem as your song when leading back into another I chord, and the solution is similar. In blues, you usually substitute in a V chord at the end of a verse, creating an imperfect cadence that resolves to the I at the start of the next phrase. But it’s perfectly reasonable to use a lesser tension and release here, because you’re really just trying to liven up a dull spot in the harmony. Your vi–V–I–I+7 cadence accomplishes that well.

  • -that I-V is an imperfect cadence. The perfect (V-I) would come at the very end of the piece.
    – Tim
    Jul 20, 2014 at 14:28
  • Thanks for the feedback! Now that I am fully awake I checked my facts and you are right. Fixed the post. Jul 20, 2014 at 21:33
  • IIUC the OP has vi-V-I+7#5-I, not vi–V–I–I+7? You argue that "there’s a sound theoretical basis for what you’re doing here" - can you point me to some sources where this is described? Jul 23, 2014 at 8:14
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    Hm, I got a different impression, that he was substituting a tension for the final chord the way you do in a blues turnaround (which is the theoretical analogue I'm referring to). Jul 23, 2014 at 8:18

While experimenting with those last two bars a bit, I came up with the Cmaj7(#5) chord, which in my opinion sounds quite good. The G# can resolve to the C chord's G, and the B can resolve to the C chord's C.

An alternative interpetation is that your chord is actually a (enharmonically equivalent) Ab9(#5) chord (omitted 7th).

There is a "rule" that says that alterations resolve in the direction of the alteration. So if it would be raised g, then the tendency would be to keep rising and resolve to a; this is certainly possible as demonstrated by Bob Broadley.

Since in your case the altered note resolves to g, it makes more sense to see it as a lowered a, which can then keep falling down to g.

  • Good point RB; I decided not to "worry" about the enharmonic spelling of G#-G, but you're absolutely right... Jul 21, 2014 at 22:22
  • Bob, thanks. In retrospect, the interpretation as a chord of Ab has a problem as well. IIUC the preceding chord is G, which does not contain an a. So where is the ab coming from? If it is approached from g then g# would make more sense, except that it resolves again to g. I tried it out for a bit myself on guitar, and personally I have some issues to make the altered chord go to C in a convincing way. In the context of the preceding Am and G, I keep hearing the "Cmaj7(#5) as a dominant of Am (E major with added c) with a tendency to resolve to Am. Jul 22, 2014 at 11:19
  • Yes, I hear it most strongly as, basically an E chord, wanting to go to A minor, too. But, I guess, sometimes those quirky, unexpected uses of harmony are what make a pop song (or a piece of "classical" music, too!) I hope Lee posts the whole chord sequence, as I'm intrigued to see how it works. I reckon at present, the Cmaj7#5 functions as a decoration of the preceding and following C chords (using both upper and lower auxiliary notes?) Jul 22, 2014 at 11:27
  • Bob, agreed :) Curious too about the entire chord scheme. Als curious about the voicing. @Lee White can you share? Jul 22, 2014 at 16:23

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