11

When I try to construct 11th chords, they always sound horrible and muddy. I also rarely come across them in chord charts unless it's a #11. The only extensions that sound good are 9ths and 13ths. Is there any use for 11th chords? Does anyone use them, or know of any examples of their usage?

  • 1
    Midnight at the Oasis has an intro with 5 of them. But they're played as F# bass with en Emaj triad for F#11. – Tim Aug 10 '16 at 16:40
  • @Tim F# bass with an emaj triad has no third in it. So its really a suspended chord and not an 11th. That would be f#9sus4 – William Aug 10 '16 at 22:21
  • Yes, I'm aware of that. It's just that David Nitchern, the composer of that well-known song, called it so. See Richard's answer. – Tim Aug 11 '16 at 6:15
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    All day every day, they sound awesome. It depends on voicing (choice of inversion and stacking of notes) and possibly on the instrument. On guitar in standard tuning the open strings are an E-11 chord (1, b3, 5, b7, 11) = (E, G, B, D, A) in the voicing (1, 11 (4), b7, b3, 5, 1). Baring up at the 12th fret sound cool, 12th fret to 10th fret is the riff for So What by Miles Davis. – ggcg Jun 1 '18 at 17:01
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    I think you actually mean major 11 and true in this case 11 is a bit jarring as it clashes with major third (that's why it sounds better augmented). Minor 11 is a whole different story. Almost a signature sound for a modal jazz and jazz fusion era – Jarek.D Feb 15 at 14:58
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Oftentimes 11th chords are voiced without the chordal third. This is because the chordal third can often conflict with the 11th to create an unwanted dissonance.

Imagine, for instance, we want a C11 chord. Technically speaking, this chord would consist of C E G Bf D F. However, the minor 9th between E and F can create a dissonance more harsh than is intended. As such, composers will often just omit the chordal third.

This is actually why you've found so many more #11 chords: because here the chord will be C E G Bf D F#, and the dissonance from E to F# is now a major ninth, which is much more palatable.

Interestingly, now you have a major seventh between the G and the F# in the #11 chord. For some reason, this dissonance of a major seventh (a half-step adjusted by an octave) is okay. Meanwhile, the minor ninth from the original E to F (also a half-step adjusted by an octave!) is less desirable...funny how that works.

But typically these extended chords just function as dominants. You can throw them in wherever you see a dominant and see how you like it; just make sure the melody isn't hanging out on the chordal third that you're omitting!

Of course, they don't have to be dominants; that was just an easy example to get you experimenting. There's something called a "rock dominant" that is just a IV chord played above the fifth scale degree. In C major, this would be F A C occurring over G, which creates a V11 chord.

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    I suppose, leaving out the 3, could it be called C9sus4, but I've never seen it written thus. I often play it with b7 and 4 (leaving out the 9). After all, 7+4=11. – Tim Aug 10 '16 at 6:05
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    @Tim: yeah, chords definitely add up arithmetically like that... – leftaroundabout Aug 10 '16 at 10:39
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    @yo' - just proving you're human?! You delete yours, and I'll delete mine. No-one will ever know! – Tim Mar 13 at 15:37
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Believers in the "pile of thirds" get uncomfortable when you mention the 11th :-) Yes, the #11 is far more common. It doesn't fit into functional harmony nearly as well as the 9th or 13th, it's normally more of a colourful decoration (like an added 6th or 2nd).

A sus4 chord (whether or not it resolves) or a F/G is sometimes incorrectly labelled as an 11th. The incorrectness wouldn't matter so much if it wasn't for the confusion whether "G11" is intended to mean G7sus4 or F/G. In the sort of harmonic shorthand that uses chord symbols I think we could be confident it WOULDN'T mean G, B, D, F, A, C.

Here's something that could be a full 11th chord though, bar 3 of 'Hey Jude'. I don't think there's more than one chord in that bar. I'm not going to notate it as G11 though, or someone will play a G7sus4 or a F/G. Better to leave it as G7 with both C and B in the melody.

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  • If you voice an 11th chord without the 3rd or 9th then it does indeed contain the same notes as a 7sus4 chord. I think it is splitting hairs to say that would be incorrect. (Though it relies on the performer to resolve the ambiguity.) – Ian Goldby Dec 10 '18 at 13:12
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    I completely agree though that in your example you definitely dont want to alter the chord based on what otherwise foreign notes are in the melody. There are times when the harmony and melody don't have to be congruent. – Ian Goldby Dec 10 '18 at 13:12
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"Muddy" isn't the same as "dissonant". The simplest way to avoid mud in any chord voicing is to avoid intervals of a third at the low end of the chord.

The underlying reason for that voicing strategy is because equal-temperament thirds are horribly out of tune compared with "pure" just intonation intervals, though having listened to them from birth many people tend not to notice how out of tune they are. An equal-tempered major third is almost 1/6 of a semitone wider than a pure third. Below middle C, that creates out-of-tune beats that are almost slow enough to count, if you listen carefully.

A C11 chord can be built mostly from a stack of fourths: C F Bb E G, F Bb E G C, or G C F Bb E. That will sound much less "muddy" than a stack of thirds, which may be the "obvious" way for a relative beginner to think about the chord.

With those voicings, a C minor 11 chord (with Eb) has every interval a perfect fourth, except for the third Eb to G.

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    C F Bb E G and F Bb E G C aren't quite stacks of 4ths. G C F Bb E works. Or is that why you said 'mostly'? – Tim Aug 10 '16 at 6:12
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Yes, but not many of them. See my response to https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/45965/what-is-the-mood-of-the-eleventh-chord/45967#45967. In truth, the min11 begins my favorite tritone substitution. And those eleventh chords that are not dissonant have an uncommon feel about them. (For further information, check out "avoid notes" and map out the elevenths that have them and those that do not.)

For the record, that tritone sub is iimin11 - bIIdom7#11 - Imaj7 (in A), all pedaling the high E voice (in the fifth position) with both the open string and the fretted note.

I think that a better question may be "Does anyone play 11th chords with a major third?".

3

The dominant 11th and minor 11th chords are used a lot in soul music. If you want a super popular example, listen to Justin Timberlake's Can't Stop the Feeling. they are found in almost every song by Jamiroquai or Stevie Wonder, lots in Micheal Jackson, stuff like that. The lack of usage reflects mostly the way that music theory is taught - JUST STACK THIRDS, THAT SOUNDS GOOD. Stacking fourths gives a more open, ambiguous sound. You can play any bass note under them.

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    I can't speak for some of the artists, but i know that in a lot of Michael Jackson's works, the dominant 11th chords you speak of generally shouldn't be analysed as 11th chords per se, but more often as 9sus4 or 13sus4, or even A♭/B♭. For example, I've seen "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" called B11 to B, which doesn't seem right to me. – user45266 Dec 10 '18 at 16:16
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Yes, a lot of people do!

„So what chords“ are 11th chords:

http://www.thejazzpianosite.com/jazz-piano-lessons/jazz-chord-voicings/so-what-chord/

11th and sus4: is this the same chord? No:

11th contains the third: in major this will sound quite dissonant!

https://www.reddit.com/r/musictheory/comments/221bid/whats_the_difference_between_sus4_and_11th_chords/

-4

Yes. Everyone can play 11th chords any time. This is because we have a set of diatonic 11th chords:

In C major:

  1. Cmaj11 (C - E - G - B - D - F)
  2. Dm11 (D - F - A - C - E - G)
  3. Em11(♭9) (E - G - B - D - F - A)
  4. Fmaj9(♯11) (F - A - C - E - G - B)
  5. G11 (G - B - D - F - A - C)
  6. Am11 (A - C - E - G - B - D)
  7. Bm11(♭5 ♭9) (B - D - F - A - C - E)

In A minor:

  1. Am(maj11) (A - C - E - G♯ - B - D)
  2. Bm11(♭5 ♭9) (B - D - F - A - C - E)
  3. Cmaj11(♯5) (C - E - G♯ - B - D - F)
  4. Dm9(♯11) (D - F - A - C - E - G♯)
  5. E11(♭9) (E - G♯ - B - D - F - A)
  6. Fmaj7(♯9 ♯11) (F - A - C - E - G♯ - B)
  7. G♯dim7(♭9 ♭11) (G♯ - B - D - F - A - C)

Since we have this set, it is 100% possible to play 11th chords any time. Therefore, some people would choose to use it, while others choose not to sometimes.

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