A nice little progression on acoustic guitar is to play a regular C chord (omit/mute the bottom E string), then slide your 3rd finger (A string) from the 3rd fret (C) to the 2nd (B), then play Am7 (just pull off the 3rd finger altogether).

I'd normally call that C - C/B - Am7.

But in this context you're basically playing Am7 with a descending bassline (/C, /B, /A). Furthermore, and the specific question I am asking here, this C/B chord looks exactly like a regular Em chord, except with an added C. I think you'd call that Em6?

So is it equally valid to call it C/B as well as Em6? If the intention is a sliding bassline then - to aid the band - is it actually better to write the chord sequence as Am7/C, Am7/B, Am7?

Does it matter?

  • A chord that's used all the time to change from C to Am or the other way around is G/B (i.e., a G major chord with the note B in the bass), where you wouldn't have a C on top but the open B string. That's a very common (and easier to interpret) alternative to C/B.
    – Matt L.
    Feb 9 '16 at 19:25
  • Em6 would have a C#, not a C natural.
    – user207421
    Feb 11 '16 at 21:03

C/B could be called an Eminor chord with a minor 6th in second inversion; it's the same thing. It really depends on where you want to go with harmony. Both are valid and both are commonly used, so I cannot decide for sure which one to choose.

Both C - C/B - Am7 and Am7/C, Am7/B, Am7 seem correct in a chord progression. I would suggest to look at the melody to decide which one you'd choose. In the first progression (C, C/B), you wouldn't (necessarily) see an A in the melody, but in the second progression (Am/C, Am/B) you could.

Basically, the only difference between these two progressions is that in the C - C/B - Am7 you don't have an A in the harmony, whereas in Am7/C, Am7/B, Am7 you constantly do.

  • I am writing/thinking in acoustic guitar terms where many chords are a bit of a compromise... my thinking in this question is that a pianist or bassist might view what do do at the lower end depending how I write the chord?
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 9 '16 at 19:59
  • I both cases, the bass is going to be C-B-A, so you should try to see if you want the A in your harmony or not. In some songs it will fit in others not. Feb 9 '16 at 20:28
  • What I mean is that the low end isn't gonna change. It's the harmony as a total that will sound slightly different Feb 9 '16 at 20:36

Em6 is actually confusing, as it's an Em chord, but the 6th bit is a major 6th - C#. So it can't be that anyway. Best call the sequence C, Am7/B, Am7. That way, musos would see the transition between C and Am7 with an altered Am7 chord sandwiched between.

Trying to name a chord from its 'root' note is not going to help. Yes, it could be a B something, but that puts it out of context, and probably gives it an unwieldy name - not recommended.

Sometimes chords will have several names - C6 and Am7 are a.k.a.s, and sometimes it matters, others, not. Making the name appropriately easy to read is the most important aspect.

  • ah, X6 is shorthand for XMaj6? Is there such a thing as a minor6th chord? Wikipedia suggests it's a case where the same name means different things depending on context.
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 9 '16 at 17:45
  • @Mr.Boy - C6 = CEGA. Cm6 = CEbGA. As in: maj 6th is 1,maj3,p5,maj6, whereas min6th is 1,min3,p5, maj6.
    – Tim
    Feb 9 '16 at 17:49
  • I see (I think). So when I write Em6 this is shortcode for EmMaj6, and the correct chord for what I want would be EmMin6? Or is it not writable as an Em chord at all?
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 9 '16 at 17:52
  • Sort of. But there isn't EmMaj6. It doesn't exist. It's not like EmMaj7, which does exist. So, Em6 is spelled EGBC#. That's it.
    – Tim
    Feb 9 '16 at 18:02
  • @Mr. Boy, yes, it is writable as an Em chord, but use the flat symbol "b" instead "Min" before the 6. So that would be Emb6 and this has the notes EGBC.
    – Tekkerue
    Feb 9 '16 at 18:55

Many (perhaps even most) chords played on guitar could be correctly identified (by itself) as more than one chord! The most appropriate name to use in a given context depends on - the context.

Chords in a song don't appear by themselves. They appear as part of the entire song. Things to consider when choosing which of several possible names to call a chord in a particular song - would be the key of the song, the underlying melody, and which direction you are moving with that melody. If you are in the key of C - then the C chord will represent "home" and the melody will venture out away from and eventually return home. If the song is in the key of C, the chord names should be those you would typically expect to find in the key of C.

It's the same chord regardless of what you call it. But if the underlying melody is moving back towards the home key, the harmony (chord progression) should reflect a similar movement.

Other factors might also include, what is more recognizable by the musicians. If you tell me to play a C chord, I know exactly what to play. Same with a slash chord such as Am7/B. But if you throw an Em6 at me I might have to ask questions.

So really the answer to your question is - while a chord may have more than one "valid" name, the answer to "what should I call it" - is "it depends".


There are several correct answers, but the best is clearly C C/B Amin7. Points other answer missed:

  1. Second inversion chords are fairly unusual, and mostly used in cadences. They are particularly "weak", and there's no functional reason to call your second chord an Emin7/B. What is the chord doing? That's the entire question here and why we have the topic of "functional harmony".

  2. "Em6 is actually confusing, as it's an Em chord, but the 6th bit is a major 6th - C#." No

  3. "Both C - C/B - Am7 and Am7/C, Am7/B, Am7 seem correct in a chord progression." the key point is here progression... the first is a pretty normal progression, the second is not.

here's how you answer the question. Play the first chord. Do you hear that as solid and stable (root position major) or minor and unstable (first inversion)? Clearly, it's major root position. Then you have a dissonant bass note /B... simply a passing note and nothing happens harmonically until you settle on the logical Amin root position. All other things being equal, that's probably your best answer.

It is possible that rhythm and melodic emphasis could change this a bit. If the C/B were emphasized in some way then it might be heard as a Emin6, but I think that is pretty unlikely.

Think about what your chords are doing... where are they going... where are they leading? Realize that root movements of 4th and 5ths are the norm and are strong changes (2 of the 3 notes in the triad change)... movements of a 3rd or a 6th (notice these root movements are simply inversions) are less strong because the new triads have 2 notes in common... we dont hear as much of a change.... and root movement by step (or 7th but wtf?) are not usually perceived as progressions but more as tonal "shifts".

Hard to explain without sound, but I think your answer is there. C/B => Amin is a lovely dissonance and I think that's what you have here.

Spend time listening to chords and singing both the bass note and roots (and note they are not the same in inversions) until you start to get more of an intuition and feel for this. It takes time, but there's a whole landscape of sound out there most people miss.

  • How do you spell Em6 ? It certainly hasn't got a C in it. Second inversion chords are stronger than 1st inversion. They are used often in my experience.
    – Tim
    Feb 10 '16 at 8:34
  • Well he's in the key of C... so hopefully if you're playing a chord on iii you aren't dropping a C# in there. it's not a question of chord spelling, it's a question of key (and simple diatonic harmony). "stronger/weaker" probably need to be explained in more detail, but there's no way 2nd inversion used more often. Feb 10 '16 at 16:09
  • I'd say the order of usage for inversions is root, second, first then fourth if there is one. I find it's quite common on guitar to play an 'A' shape barre chord, and strum all 6 strings. Far more than playing with a 3 at the bottom of a chord. Em6 does have a C#, that's why it won't be the chord played there. As far as I know, Em with a min6 note (C) is pretty rarely played, and it's not called Em6 then anyway.
    – Tim
    Feb 10 '16 at 17:11
  • yes but the idea of inversion is not limited to what you play on the guitar.... it's the overall m6ound heard by the listener. if you play first inversion but a bass player (for instance) plays the root under it, that's a root position chord, regardless of what chord you happen to be playing. It's about the overall sound. (and you're right on the mm6 chord, but it's a diatonic iii chord.) could argue it's a 2nd inversion M7 built on the root :) Feb 12 '16 at 5:16

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