11

I'm writing a song with some pretty funky chords. I am unsure what to call one of them.

The notes are D Eb and A. D is the root of the chord. It is like a Dsus2, except the 2 is flat. Would that be a Dsusb2? For context, this section of the song is in C minor, and the harmony is alternating between Cm and this chord.

EDIT: After taking a closer look at the piece, I think saying it is in C minor is not specific enough, as it is following the Bb major scale, but the root is C, so I believe that would make it C Dorian. So the chord I am trying to analyze is just the ii chord in the Dorian mode, but with a minor second instead of a minor third.

  • Just to confirm, is the A flat or natural? – Michael Curtis Jun 7 '17 at 4:13
  • How are you actually voicing this, on what instrument? – Tim Jun 7 '17 at 8:38
  • @MichaelCurtis it is an A natural. – Jack Dinkel Jun 7 '17 at 17:40
  • @Tim it is a solo piano piece – Jack Dinkel Jun 7 '17 at 17:41
17

If it's alternating between Cm and this harmony, I'd say this is an instance where naming the chord is less important than acknowledging the voice leading:

E♭–––––
G––A––G
C––D––C

Note that the E♭ stays constant while the perfect fifth C–G moves up to D–A and back; I think this, rather than labeling that middle chord, is a better way of conceptualizing this harmony.


Edit: But if you really want to name the chord, I think Dsus♭2 will get the point across well. sus♭2 replaces the chordal third with E♭, while the D tells us to include the D–A perfect fifth.

At least one website uses this nomenclature; here they show you an E♭sus♭2 chord, which is your exact harmony, just transposed up a minor second.

  • 1
    This is so much more straight forward than a strange, rootless inversion like F7/D. It's just an embellished c minor chord. – Michael Curtis Jun 7 '17 at 4:19
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    I didn't downvote, because I agree this is a useful explanation, perhaps more so than F7/D (though it's hard to say without more context), but it is somewhat of a non-answer. "What is the name of this chord?" - "Not important." – Marcks Thomas Jun 7 '17 at 9:47
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    @MarcksThomas: The answer here is that the question was an XY problem. The question written was “What is the name of this chord?”, but the real question the OP probably needed answered was “How should I notate/describe/analyse this chord?”, and this answer answers that real question. – PLL Jun 7 '17 at 15:43
  • Thanks for pointing out the shifting fifths, that is a useful way for me to think about this. But thinking of it as some sort of embellished C minor still feels unsatisfactory because you can definitely feel the shift from C minor to the D "minor." It functions as a D minor chord, but it has a minor second instead of a minor third. – Jack Dinkel Jun 7 '17 at 17:47
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    See edit; Dsus♭2 might be the most succinct way of labeling this chord. – Richard Jun 7 '17 at 17:50
6

There are a few ways you could think of this, depending how the chord functions in your song.

It could be an Eb dim maj7, which is one of my favorite chords... not very justifiable unless you are working that Eb in the bass. It is very striking when played that way.

You could call it an 0,1,6, a favorite trichord of Anton Webern, one of the big names in serial music. That's sort of a stretch though.

It could be a Viennese trichord which has dominant function. Does your band wear powdered wigs?

Most likely is that is is operating as a Cm69 chord, which is pretty common, but in your case without the C note. This interpretation would be more justifiable if your song has a strong sense of C pedal point. The A and the D operate as neighbor notes in a common tone chord. This creates a sort of continuous, monolithic sort of progression that feels like a wall of sound shifting restlessly between consonance and dissonance.

4

My inclination would be to think of this as a rootless F7/D. Since it has the third and seventh of the F7 it should be functionally equivalent, and alternating with the cmin would give you a funky dorian vamp. This really doesn't fit into traditional harmony so there could multiple interpretations, but the tritone suggests a dominant. Dsusb9 is also a possibility, which some in the jazz community use to imply various phrygian mode derived chord voicing and can subdtitute for a minor ii-V, but I think the argument for the F7/D is stronger.

2

Based on your description, this chord almost definitely should be labeled Cmin6 or Cmin6/9 if you want to provide more specificity.

You can probably find this exact chord voicing in either The Jazz Piano Book or The Jazz Theory Book, both by Mark Levin. In solo piano, it's expected that some/most chord voicings will omit the root, particularly in a section of a piece where the chords are not changing quickly or are not changing at all. Playing the root on every note would sound odd and would not allow room for playing the chords with more complex rhythms. In a band setting, it's very intuitive that we shouldn't stipulate the constraint that the harmony must always be played in rhythm with the bass. For example, in a jazz quartet with piano, bass, drums, and saxophone, we wouldn't expect the bassist to play the root note every single time the pianist plays a rootless chord when comping. (If you were to pick up any jazz album put out in 1990 or later that features a piano-bass-drums rhythm section and transcribe the pianist's chords when he/she is comping, I bet at least 50% of those chords are rootless.) In solo piano, both of these functions--bass and harmony--are performed on one instrument instead of being split across two instruments. And just like the band setting, we likewise wouldn't want to constrain the solo pianist by requiring that every chord he/she plays be accompanied by a bass note. So when you look at the D Eb A voicing, what was the most recent bass note played in the bass register? C. That's still the bass note for this D Eb A chord. What you have here is an extremely common progression (Cmin - Cmin6 - Cmin - Cmin6) which switches between the fifth and the natural sixth. It's a really nice sound.

I highly doubt the chord is D sus ♭2. If a sus ♭2 chord exists at all, then it's extremely rare, and I wouldn't expect a song to use such an uncommon/nonexistent chord without also establishing a D in the bass register. (It sounds like the piece does not play a D in the bass register.)

If you don't want to label the chord, you could instead show the voice leading alternates between G and A, as another answer states. But if you're looking for a name with which to label this chord, I would use either Cmin6 or Cmin6/9. It's not going to be the exact 1-3-5-6-9 chord you see on Wikipedia, but it is still a common way to voice Cmin6/9 (i.e., without the 5th or the root).

  • The song is for solo piano, and the bass does also alternate between the C and the D. So when the "D chord" is played, there is no C being voiced anywhere. Later on in the song, this bizarre "D chord" we are discussing actually becomes clarified to a D major chord (still with the flat 2 in it however), so I really want to call it some sort of D chord. – Jack Dinkel Jun 8 '17 at 18:15
  • Can you share a recording or a title of the song? – jdjazz Jun 8 '17 at 22:12
1

In context, we might be able to analyse the tensions and resolutions created by those notes. But there's probably no point in calling it anything, use notation. There's no virtue in abusing the system of chord symbols to accommodate it. A chord symbol should be an EASIER way of describing a chord!

1

Consider the main key is Cminor. This means that your scale is C D Eb F G Ab Bb. Placing the chord D Eb A on this means: D is the unchanged root, the Eb is the diatonic second and the A is the usual (although non-diatonic) fifth. Putting this in notation, it is a Dsusb2. When reading it back it means: take D as root plus the usual pure fifth and add a suspended minor second instead of the thirdto it.

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    Although the A is just a perfect fifth above D, not an augmented fifth, no? – Richard Jun 7 '17 at 17:51
  • Yes, of course you're right. I should think first and then type. I confused the A being non-diatonic with being a perfect fifth. My bad. – cherub Jun 8 '17 at 9:34
  • These things happen, no worries :-) Welcome to Music.SE! – Richard Jun 8 '17 at 9:36

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