Let's say I'm in C major. I have a dominant altered chord built on G. This very popular voicing has the following tones (I'm including both enharmonic spellings for the accidentals):

G B (D# or Eb) F (A# or Bb)

I'd call it a G7#5#9. A saxophonist I know called it G7#9b13.

So I'm curious about two things:

  1. Who's "right" and why?
  2. Do the two spellings imply different scales? Which ones?

Thanks for any help.

  • I listened to it in isolation an It does not sound dominant to me at all. Can you show the surrounding chords? Something might be a part of a walking bass line that I cannot see. – xerotolerant Jan 11 '17 at 21:23
  • @xerotolerant This might be true if we wanted something like G7#5/A#, then afterwards G7#5/A. But that is a secondary concern. Whether or not to indicate the motion of the base is not a factor in choosing the correct representation of the lead sheet symbol itself. And FYI, this is actually a very common chord alteration. You might want to educate yourself more on jazz chord theory. – TinkerTenorSoftwareGuy Jan 11 '17 at 21:35
  • @AdamEdison-MusicEducator I didn't offer an answer because I don't know. I asked a question because I was trying to be helpful. I was imagining that he had it in standard notation and was asking what the chord symbol was because it was not written on the page. I inferred that if it were written there and ubiquitous then there wouldn't need to be a question about it. – xerotolerant Jan 11 '17 at 21:40
  • Almost a duplicate of a question I made. There's some useful information there : music.stackexchange.com/questions/50985/… – Allan Felipe Jan 13 '17 at 3:04


I'm going to approach this in a bit more of a practical or "pragmatic way". What do the two spellings signify to a player?

A practical consideration from the POV of the voicing:

  • The voicing you specified doesn't include both a D♮ and an E♭: in this case I'd argue that isn't just any voicing choice but actually makes a pretty significant difference.
  • The B♭/A♯ comes on top of the sharp 5 not under it in your voicing. I think this makes a difference here too, and so it's worth preserving that in the notation.

Another semi-practical way to look at it, that doesn't spell out the theory exactly, but indicates that there is something more fundamental going on than just voicing choices.

  • A musician seeing a G7♯9♭13 chord, thinks of that as the notes G B D F A♯ (C) E♭, and then chooses which notes from that to use in a real voicing. That is to say, more literally, this notation evokes exactly what it says: a 13th chord with the 9 sharpened and the 13th flattened.

  • A G7♯5♯9, to me (and I think to most musicians) it implies a sharp 9 chord with an augmented 5th. So G B D♯ F A♯/B♭ Which sonically is a different beast entirely to a 13 chord.

While this again may seem like just preferring G7(♯5♯9) just because of the voicings it implies, the fact that voicing it as a "literal" G7♯9♭13 ends up sounding significantly different (functionally) than the notes you gave, and indicates that it's not really a respelling of the same chord but a different chord altogether (in the same way a Gsus4 and a G11 are different chords).

To prove a point, take a look at this little progression which I think shows the utility of seeing it as an augmented 7th chord with a flat 9 on top.

|Fm6 | G7♯5♯9 G7♯5♭9 | Cm6 |


As opposed to shortchord.org/QaxRx which contains 4 perfectly valid voicings of G♯9♭13, none of which really capture the "point" of the chord you described in the question, imho.

In summary I think:

1) Practically, G7♯5♯9 better implies the set of notes that you want.

2) In this answer I've hopefully demonstrated that a theoretical distinction between the two chords exists (rather than just being respellings of each other), even if I haven't nailed down exactly what that distinction is. I think there's a couple of valid ways to look at the answer to that question, but hopefully this answer gives enough information to choose the right notation anyhow.

As Duncan pointed out, in the question you said for example in C major. So here is a progression in C major. Notice again how the chord very much functions as an augmented chord with upper extensions, NOT as a G ♭13

| C6add9 | F13 | C6/9 | F13 |
| C6add9 | F13 | Em9 | A+9 |
| D9 | G♯5♯9 | C6/9


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  • @DuncanMalashock The flat 9 is if anything just a melodic passing note between the two chords in the example I gave. You're right though, I really like the sound of the resolving to the fifth of Cm going through the minor 6th. If I used this in a real context I'd probably have the Ab just anticipating the Cm to bridge the gap vocaroo.com/i/s1nE5FHkwLJD – Some_Guy Jan 14 '17 at 22:12
  • @DuncanMalashock I didn't realise you were OP, I thought this thread had been abandoned! Thanks for the accept! – Some_Guy Jan 15 '17 at 20:07
  • @DuncanMalashock I'm curious as to what context you've seen this chord voicing, I've never run into it – Some_Guy Jan 15 '17 at 20:09
  • You're welcome; thanks for your answer. My understanding is that this is a fairly common voicing that jazz folks will reach for when a lead sheet calls for an "alt" chord. What recording to hear it on specifically? I'm not sure exactly where, but I think probably Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner are likely places to look. – Duncan Malashock Jan 16 '17 at 0:38
  • @Some_Guy, are you suggesting that a G7(♯9♭13) should be voiced with both the ♮5 and the ♭13? I don't think that's very common in practice. These two notations have different implications. A G7(♯9♭13) chord would usually imply a D♮, whereas a G7(♯5 ♯9) chord would usually imply a C♯. – jdjazz Dec 20 '17 at 22:43

The flat 10 doesn't work well,as the chord has already been established as a major (with B). making the 10 flat would be mixing in a minor (Bb) third. Technically confusing. Yes, I know the sound is similar - even identical! - to that, but since were in tertiary territory, 10 shouldn't even feature.

So, G (root), B (maj3) catered for. As a dominant chord, the F speaks for itself. Made even more pushy by the 5 being augmented, so D#, not Eb, since there was never an E to change anyway. Leaving the name G7+#9, G7#5#9, G7aug#9 as options. Since there's a 9 in there, that may even presume the 7th will be there too.

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  • I understand the idea that we should prefer specifying the #9 over the b10, simpler in terms of tertian harmony and not confusing it with the major 3rd. But what's more slippery to me is the question of why we should prefer the #5 to the b13. I get that it's not a 13 chord, but it seems like the first is saying "you can play a natural 13 against this chord" and the second is saying "you can play a natural 5 against this chord". Is that accurate? Which would you say is more correct or more prevalent in the context of an altered dominant like this one? – Duncan Malashock Jan 12 '17 at 5:40
  • Leaving out #5 would indicate that the 5 is a P5. I know 5 is left out often, but, to me, it's an augmented chord, thus needing the #5. The altered note lives close to the root and 3, not an octave higher. Whether that's technically correct is another matter. – Tim Jan 12 '17 at 9:52
  • I've always found #9 to be a bit of a weird convention- take the Hendrix chord, E7#9. The point of that chord to me is that is has 2 thirds, conceptually it is a flat 10. But the #9 fits better with the way jazz chords are conventionally spelled, so I guess I can see why it's written that way, it looks less "weird" on the page than having a flat 3rd atop a major third. I can't think of any other chord where the same interval is present twice, with a semitone clash. but in this case I think it's hard to argue the note on the top isn't a minor 3rd. Anyway, I'm rambling, sorry – Some_Guy Jan 13 '17 at 9:26
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    @Tim perhaps I wasn't clear, I mean that I can't think of a chord with a semitone clash where the notes arguably are a different iteration of the same interval. You couldn't argue that a major 7th is a flat tonic, or that a 13th chord has a 6 and an aug6 or something, but for a Hendrix chord I think it is fair to say it has 2 different 3rds in it, rather than a 3rd and a #2nd – Some_Guy Jan 13 '17 at 9:36
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    @Some_Guy - you're not the first to say this. What's difficult then, is to categorise it as major OR minor. Virtually every chord (bar those with 'no 3') will be either major OR minor. Convention, probably. But calling the m3 a #9 obviates that. Could it alternatively be a minor chord with a dim4? Only joking... – Tim Jan 13 '17 at 9:49
  1. Both answers are acceptable, but G7#5#9 is easier (and more correct) in this case, because the G Major scale, upon which the G Mixolydian scale is based, contains sharps. But it's truly an arbitrary decision in practice.

  2. There is no one scale in which #9b13 could be implied, in general. Most jazz musicians don't tend to think about these things when writing lead sheet symbols.

Whenever you have multiple possible representations for a chord symbol, the best answer is the easiest answer to understand.

ASIDE: I know jazz musicians that go against the grain and would gladly use b10b13, even though that's not convention. In general lead sheet symbols prefer odd numbers. Again, this convention is arbitrary, based upon our convention of 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th chords.

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    G Mixolydian is based on C major. Isn't it? And if so, no # or b. – Tim Jan 11 '17 at 23:49
  • That depends on the context of the entire piece. We'd have to look at the section in which this chord symbol is placed to make that assumption. Jazz lead sheets can change keys every few bars. In other words, we could use a G Mixolydian scale in the context of a G Major key. – TinkerTenorSoftwareGuy Jan 12 '17 at 0:33
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    Can't see how G Mixolydian is based on G major though. (your 1st para.) Whatever key anything is in. – Tim Jan 12 '17 at 0:35
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    Your point 2. Agreed. They don't think when writing lead sheet symbols. Which makes life awkward for those of us who think logically and musically (yes, sometimes the two do align!). Consequently, I find sometimes reading lead sheets tedious, having to 'fill in the gaps' that shouldn't have been left in the first place. Reading well written lead sheets is a joy, you'll probably agree. – Tim Jan 12 '17 at 1:16

Your chord is a little ambiguous. Had the chord contained a ♮5, we would definitively say it's G7(♯9♭13), because the ♭13 typically implies a ♮5. Had the chord contained a ♯4, we could definitively say it's G7(♯5♯9), because a ♯5 typically implies a ♯4. But neither of these notes (the ♮5 nor the ♯4) is present, which leads to the ambiguity. The choice you make for this chord depends partly on which scale you'd like to imply. If you want to imply an altered scale (which contains the ♯4), you'd probably write the chord with ♯5. If you want to imply a scale like phrygian dominant (which contains the ♮5), write the chord with a ♭13.

That said, I would very slightly favor G7(♯9♭13) over G7(♯5♯9). The only reason is: when the ♯4 is desired, it is frequently part of the chord voicing. By contrast, G7(♯9♭13) chords are rarely voiced with the ♮5.

Regarding the ♭10, a ♭10 is the same as a ♭3, and it would be incorrect to call this a G7(♭3) chord because the dominant seventh already implies the opposite: a natural third. So we have to use ♯9 over ♭3 in this case.

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G B (D# or Eb) F (A# or Bb)

I'd call it a G7#5#9. A saxophonist I know called it G7#9b13.

I think the issue is whether the two enharmonic spellings should be treated two options of the same class.

Let's replace the lettered tones with chord tone numbers...

G B (#5 or b13) F (#9 or b3)

...do we really intend to say chord tones 5th & 13th or 9th & 3rd are pairs of options?

I think the Bb/b3 reveals the problem treating these as optional pairs.

Notice that neither G7#5#9 nor G7#9b13 takes advantage of the supposed option of using the spelling Bb instead of A#. Why? Because it would contradict the main chord. It's a G chord not a Gm chord. If Bb is really an enharmonic option, then Gb3 should be an acceptable symbol. That would be a chord of G Bb D and of course the Gm symbol is used for that. I don't think anyone would use Gb3 as a chord symbols. (Yes, the flat third is melodically appropriate for the blues scale, but we are talking about chord symbols now.)

A somewhat similar problem with clearly indicating chord tones arises with #5/b13. Let's put the 13th where it belongs at the 'top' of the chord...

G B (?5) F #9 b13

...using the spelling Eb and making it a 13th leaves the 5th sort of unclear. Is it flat, natural, or sharp? If the 5th isn't indicated in the symbol it's understood to be a perfect fifth.

If your intention is to add a b13, and you don't specially indicate an alteration to the 5th, then the presence of the D the 5th should be acceptable.

If, on the other hand, the intention is to have a dominant with an altered 5th, then b13 isn't really an equivalent option, because it provides no indication for the 5th. If you are altering the 5th you must indicate that. #5 mean the 5th must be altered.

So, if the saxophonist doesn't care whether a D♮ is played with the b13 then G7#9b13 would seem to be the appropriate symbol.

If the alteration of the 5th is important, then the symbol should use an altered 5th. The symbol G7#5#9 makes that clear.

So, it isn't really an either/or matter. Use the symbol for the intended chord.

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On a dominant chord, #9 automatically implies a b9, typically, especially in combination with a b13 (which in combination implies a #11, as well). The scale that this voicing is derived from would be the 7th mode of the Ab melodic minor scale (aka the "diminished whole-tone scale). Polychordally, the voicing could be thought of as Eb/G7 (ignoring the implied b9 and #11). It's hard to read G7b9#9#11b13, so it's best to leave the remaining extension alterations implicit, and allow the performers to choose either the bare voicing, added color, or even cycle through dominant extension alterations (called 'planing').

But there really is one scale being primarily implied by that chord - the modes of the melodic minor scale or one of the 3 diminished scales usually serve the purpose of whatever altered color extensions are present.

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