I'm a folkie guitar player, I have only a very basic knowledge of music theory.

As I understand it a Dm scale would contain

D E F G A Bb C

And indeed I play songs us Dm, F, Bb and C chords and all sounds good.

I'm trying to learn a song that is documented as using a Dm6 chord and also a Dm#6 chord. Now when I look up Dm6 on various websites I see chord shapes using these notes:


Whereas I was expecting to see the 6th note as Bb, that's the 6th note of the scale. I'm pretty sure that the song I'm trying to learn intends me to use the chords

Dm6 => D A Bb F


Dm#6 => D A B F

Which fits my understanding of what Dm6 should be, with Bb being sharpened to B for the Dm#6.

So the question is what are the correct names for those two chords? Can it be that every guitar site I find is misnaming the Dm6 chord?

  • Keep in mind that a 6th up is a minor third down, in the same way that a 4th up is a 5th down. – IHeartPoodles Aug 26 '17 at 21:18
  • @IHeartPoodles - that info. is irrelevant to the question, and inaccurate too. – Tim Aug 27 '17 at 17:30

A Dm6 chord is D-F-A-B. If you want to use a scale to name a chord based on note names, I would suggest using the major scale (more on this choice later). In this case, the D major scale is:

D E F♯ G A B C♯

The F in the chord is a lowered 3rd from the D major scale, and the A is a perfect 5th, so this is a Dm. The B is the 6th from the D major scale, so this is a Dm6 chord.

The other chord, D-F-A-B♭, I would call a Dm add ♭13, if I were thinking of this as a D chord. Here the B♭ is a lowered 6th from the D major scale. But, the voicing you suggested, D-A-B♭-F, I would be more inclined to use as a B♭ Maj 7 chord in first inversion.

And, speaking of inversions, the first chord (D-F-A-B) could also be viewed as a Bm7♭5 (also known as B∅, or B half-diminished) in first inversion. I find myself playing this chord, voiced as D-A-B-F in what is called a "drop 2 voicing", quite often.

On the choice of the major scale

From the comments, it seems that some disagree with my choice of the major scale for naming chords. Others would prefer to name chords by referring to the Mixolydian scale. In practice, I don't think about scales very much when I want to name a chord; instead I think of intervals. A DM7 (D-F♯-A-C♯) contains intervals of a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a major 7th with respect to the root note. These intervals are independent of any scale; they are simply pitch relationships. A D7 (D-F♯-A-C) contains intervals of a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th with respect to the root.

From the viewpoint of the major scale, DM7 contains the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degrees, while D7 contains the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and lowered 7th scale degrees. From the viewpoint of the Mixolydian scale DM7 contains the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and raised 7th scale degrees, while D7 contains the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degrees.

On the surface, it may make some sense to suggest that the 7 in D7 should indicate that the 7th scale degree is used in the chord, and that the M7 in DM7 indicates that the 7th scale degree should be raised. But I don't agree with this view. It makes more sense to me to think of a minor 7th as a lowered pitch than to think of a major 7th as a raised pitch; after all, I never think of a major 3rd as a raised pitch, though I may think of a minor 3rd as a lowered pitch.

Or consider these two chords:

D9 -- D-F♯-A-C-E
DM9 -- D-F♯-A-C♯-E

The D9 contains a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, a minor 7th, and a major 9th. From the major scale viewpoint these notes are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, lowered 7th, and 9th scale degrees. From the Mixolydian scale viewpoint these notes are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th scale degrees. So here, a minor 7th corresponds to an unaltered scale degree, while a major 9th also corresponds to an unaltered scale degree. Put another way, a major 7th corresponds to a raised scale degree, while a major 9th does not.

The DM9 contains a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, a major 7th, and a major 9th. With respect to the major scale these notes are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th scale degrees. With respect to the Mixolydian scale these notes are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, raised 7th, and 9th scale degrees. Here again a major 7th corresponds to a raised scale degree, while a major 9th does not.

The argument centers on the use of 7 in the nomenclature. If you want to refer chord names to the major scale, you need to remember that 7 means a lowered 7th scale degree, while M7 simply means the 7th scale degree. But, all major intervals, including major 7ths, are unaltered scale degrees with respect to the root note. Similarly, all minor intervals, including minor 7ths, are lowered scale degrees with respect to the root.

If you want to refer chord names to the Mixolydian scale, 7 simply means the 7th scale degree, and M7 means a raised 7th scale degree. But major 7ths are raised scale degrees, while other major intervals are unaltered scale degrees, and minor 7ths are unaltered scale degrees, while other minor intervals correspond to lowered scale degrees.

If I have to choose between the major scale and the Mixolydian scale for this, I choose the major scale. But, as I said, I don't really use scales to name chords anyway since it is the intervallic relationships that are important. At the end of the day, this doesn't seem like a particularly important argument. Choose whatever works best for you today, and know that this may change in the future. Now, to paraphrase Charlie Parker, I'm going to forget all this !@*## and play!

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    If you used the major scale to name the chord tones, a D7 chord should have a major seventh, but is has a minor seventh. So it's actually mixolydian that you need to use instead of major, as correctly pointed out in this answer. – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 10:13
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    I wasn't referring to the OP, but just to your comment that you need to use the major scale to name chord tones. This works for the sixth but not for the seventh. If you use the mixolydian scale it works for all extra notes, also for the seventh (because '7' denotes a minor seventh). – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 10:28
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    I know that, but that's not the point. A dominant seventh chord is called '7' and not 'b7', that's why this naming convention is not based on the major scale, because if it were then '7' should refer to the major seventh, which it doesn't. – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 10:33
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    Yes, it's not raised but natural. And it's called 'major 7' to make that clear, because - by convention - '7' refers to a flat 7th. So, again, the chord tone numbers 6,7,9,11,13 refer to their locations in the mixolydian scale. And this only makes a difference compared to the major scale when we talk about the 7th. – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 10:49
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    @DavidBowling, I think you've walked back your original statement: "If you want to use a scale to name a chord based on note names, you need to use the major scale." This statement implies that D7 includes a C# not a C, because the 7 must refer to the 7th of the maj scale. If your position is "use the major scale, but the 7th is an exception because it is always lowered unless otherwise indicated," then I recommend editing your answer to state this. If this is your position, then the distinction between (a) using Mixolydian and (b) using major with a flat seventh is purely semantic, I think. – jdjazz Aug 26 '17 at 15:35

It is somewhat of a misnomer. Dm triad is D F A, but playing a m6 note on top (Bb), actually gives us an inversion of Bbmaj7, and not a particularly good one, either.

Using the major 6th note (B) makes it sound better, and more firmly based on Dm. Maybe it should have been called Dm, maj6, but there's no real necessity for that, as we mostly understand what it means - rather like D7 doesn't literally describe what constitutes the chord, but we know anyway.

And, anyway, the B note is part of D minor. It's the 6th note of the melodic minor scale, so technically it can claim to be 'from the minor', albeit not the m6 that we may construe from the name.

'Dm#6' is not a usual name for a chord. but reading between the lines, it could well come out as Dm7 - the '#6' part becoming a C note (sort of 'B#'), making D F A C - Dm7. Reasoning that #6 = b7 as an interval, pitch-wise, in 12et.

  • Using the major 6th note (B) makes it sound better, and more firmly based on Dm - +1 - one of the wonders of harmony - Bb is lifeless there, raising to B makes a huge difference. – Stinkfoot Aug 27 '17 at 2:09
  • While in isolation the Dm+Bb is a bit dull, in the song the sequence is Dm, Dm+Bb, Dm+B, Dm + Bb played in a fast swing rhythm and actually works quite nicely. – djna Aug 27 '17 at 9:42
  • Sounds like a minor version of the intro to 'Brazil'. – Tim Aug 27 '17 at 11:03
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    @djna - certainly. In that case you are creating movement and tension by alternating and thereby accenting that difference between the sound of B and Bb in those chords (I love that sort of stuff - using minor 2nds that way to create subtle but surprisingly effective shifts) but we're talking about in the context of a single chord or arpeggio - a little different. – Stinkfoot Aug 27 '17 at 22:24

Chords are a science different from scales since they tend to be built around the overtone series rather than a particular scale.

For that and other reasons, the principal "major" and "minor" designations for a chord only concern the third (and a major third, being the default, is not usually indicated specially). A seventh is a minor seventh by default, a sixth is a major sixth by default, regardless of whether the chord as such is marked as major or minor.

If you read an explicit three-letter "maj" in a chord designation, it's usually about the seventh, like in Cmaj7, rather than the third.

So just don't think about scales: chords are, so to say, always specified in reference to the mixolydian scale (major except for a minor seventh) starting at the chord root.

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    I disagree that "chords are, so to say, always specified in reference to the mixolydian scale". Then D-F-A-C♯ would contain a raised 7th wrt D mixolydian, but D Maj 7 contains a natural 7th. – David Bowling Aug 26 '17 at 10:20
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    'A seventh is a minor seventh by default'? Maybe it's just how that part has been phrased, not sure. I've never thought about using Mixolydian as the datum point. Interesting. – Tim Aug 26 '17 at 10:23
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    @DavidBowling, DMaj7 contains a C#. By contrast, D7 contains a C♮. If you specify a 7 with no additional text, this implies a minor 7th interval, found in the mixolydian scale. In order to indicate a major 7th interval, additional text is required ("Maj7"). Which one is the default? If a composer writes D7 and fails to qualify the 7th as a min7 interval or a Maj7 interval, then the default is to read it as a min7 interval. What scale are we using for this default interpretation? The mixolydian scale. – jdjazz Aug 26 '17 at 15:52
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    always specified in reference to the mixolydian scale - can you source that? Why would that be so? My understanding is that "default" 7th is b7 because Dominant tonality has traditionally been the focal point of harmony, while Maj 7th chords were infrequently used relatively speaking, so default 7th means the dominant in common parlance. Granted, Mixolydian and dominants generally go hand in hand, but when discussing the name of chords, we're not usually thinking about the mode, AFAIK. – Stinkfoot Aug 27 '17 at 0:52
  • @user43625 it does not matter whather major or mixolydian is the reference scale, since we always distinguish chords with a 7 from those without one. There would never be an implied 7th if it's omitted. This being said, I also favor the mixolydian scale as reference scale, because I feel this scale is most in common with all the available qualities. Each quality would only alter notes from the mixolydian scale with 1 accidental distance. – dfhwze May 12 at 16:51


I'm not sure the other answers have actually addressed the true question. Other answers have nicely explained various ways to interpret an unqualified interval. For example, "numbers refer to the tones of a mixolydian scale" or "numbers refer to the tones of a major scale" are rules for determining whether an unqualified '6' refers to a major 6th interval or a minor 6th interval. But these discussions don't address your question about why that convention exists.

Here's my attempt to explain the actual motivation behind the rules/conventions. It comes down to consistency.

The Alternative Rule Fails

First, let's consider the alternative rule, that the number always refers to the particular interval which is native to the underlying scale. There's a big problem with this approach. For example, consider the Dmin6 chord. There are different types of minor scales. Some have a natural 6th (like melodic minor) and some have a flatted 6th (like harmonic minor and natural minor). Would the chord symbol distinguish one from the other? To find out, let's write the chord symbol for each minor chord. In the case of natural minor, we would simply write Dmin6. The 6 would refer to a B♭ because that's the interval native to natural minor--there isn't a need to write ♭6. Moving on to melodic minor, we would write Dmin6. The 6 would refer to a B♮, and we don't need to specify that it's a ♮6 because the ♮6 is native to melodic minor. So we now have the same chord symbol for two different chords. Maybe we could distinguish the two by writing Dmin6 (natural) and Dmin6 (harmonic), but this seems unwieldy.

So here's the problem with this alternative rule: we need to be told the underlying scale before we would be able to interpret the chord symbol and know what the numbers refer to. That's a big burden to overcome.

Consistent Meaning is Necessary

Consider these three chords: Dmaj9, Dmin9, D9. In all three cases, the 9 means the same thing: a major 9th interval above the root. By contrast, if we want to convey that the 9th should be a minor 9th interval (i.e., a flatted 9th), we would write: D7(♭9), Dmin♭9, etc. The number always refers to the exact same interval:

  • in Dmin11, Dmaj11 and D11, the 11 always refers to a G
  • in Dmin9, Dmaj9 and D9, the 9 always refers to an E
  • in Dmin6, Dmaj6 and D6, the 6 always refers to a B
  • in Dmin5, Dmaj5 and D5, the 5 always refers to an A1

It's very important to establish consistency, such that a '9' always means the same thing regardless of which chord symbol it appears in. This way, we avoid the 'multiple interpretations' problem that plagues the alternative rule. Indeed, when a 9 always means the same thing regardless of the chord symbol, there's only one correct interpretation. This is true for every number and symbol. If we want to communicate deviations from the norm, we use the ♭ and ♯ symbols.

Specifically Looking at the 6th

So if a 6 has to mean the same thing in every chord where it appears, should we choose a flatted 6th or a natural 6th? The answer is a natural sixth. That way, we can write Dmaj6 and Dmin6, and in both cases the 6 means B♮. By contrast, if we chose for the 6 to mean a ♭6 interval, then here's how we would have to write our chords: Dmaj♯6 (for a major chord), Dmin♯6 (for a melodic minor chord), and Dmin6 (for a natural minor chord). Having to write Dmaj♯6 is particularly awkward, so we avoid this convention.

1: These chord symbols may not be used much/at all, but if you were to write them, everyone would know what the 5 means.

  • By the alternative rule, "that the number always refers to the particular interval which is native to the underlying scale," are you referring to OP's attempt to name the chord based on a minor scale? Note that I don't claim even that the number always refers to a scale degree in the major scale; instead I prefaced my answer with: "If you want to use a scale to name a chord." I think that the answer is that such chord notation is not tied to scales, but to intervals. So 6 means a 6th. If 6 meant a lowered 6th, then we would need a ♯♯6 for a raised 6th. – David Bowling Aug 27 '17 at 18:28
  • The remaining question is, why does a 7 correspond to a lowered 7th, then? I think the answer to this is that chords containing a major 7th are relatively rare compared with chords containing a minor 7th, so for convenience, economy of notation, this usage of 7 has been established by convention. – David Bowling Aug 27 '17 at 18:30
  • @DavidBowling, I'm not referring to your post. I'm simply referring to the only other convention is available. I really only see two possibilities: either (1) reference the native interval or (2) always reference the same interval. Saying "a 6 means a 6th" isn't clear because there are multiple types of 6ths (major, minor, diminished). – jdjazz Aug 27 '17 at 18:50
  • @DavidBowling, the remaining question you articulate about the 7th isn't one that the OP has asked. The claim that dominant 7th chords are more frequent than major 7th chords probably depends on genre. I think it's a notational necessity: the only way to distinguish maj7, dom7, and min7 chords are by making an unqualified 7 equal to a minor 7th interval by default. This enables Dmaj7, D7, and Dmin7 to be three distinct chords. – jdjazz Aug 27 '17 at 18:52
  • Well, yes, that was unclear: I meant a major 6th. Since minor 6ths and augmented 6ths show up in chords often enough, allowing 6 to mean a minor 6th would mean that ♯♯6 is needed for an augmented 6th. My point about the frequency of chords containing a major 7th is partly tied to genre, as you say. But I think (without having done an exhaustive study) that there are just more chords containing minor 7ths in common use. There are a lot of min7 and dom7 chord varieties to deal with, and it seems relatively fewer maj7 varieties. Keep in mind, this point is about convention established by usage – David Bowling Aug 27 '17 at 18:58

Because 'Dm6' means a Dm triad plus an added 6th, not a D chord with an added minor 6th. Because that's the system we use for chord naming. I could invent a reason, but I could invent an opposite one too! Just accept that 'that's how we do it'.

  • Agreed that Dm6 means D minor chord + 6th, the first question is what does 6th mean, is it B or Bb? Other answers explain why it's B. The other question is what is the correct name for the chord that uses the Bb? So far Dm13 seems to be the best suggestion. – djna Aug 27 '17 at 9:38
  • Dm13 is an extended Dm7 and will therefore include C. Quite a different chord. And it will still be a B natural. Dm(add13) is the same as Dm6. Of you really want the 5th AND a b6, there's Dm(add b6) or Dm(add b13). You don't see these very often! Sometimes we try to make a chord symbol imply a scale. This can be useful, but don't push the system too hard! It isn't what chord symbols were intended for. – Laurence Payne Aug 27 '17 at 15:17

A minor sixth chord (m6) has a major sixth, not a minor sixth. This might sound weird, but the reason is that there is not only one minor scale, but there are three minor scales (and some people say that there are even four because they include dorian). The m6 chord comes from the melodic minor scale which contains a major sixth, unlike the natural and harmonic minor scales.

Note that a minor triad with a minor sixth (e.g., D F A Bb) is just an inversion of a major seventh chord (Bb maj7: Bb-D-F-A).

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    Why stop at 4? I rate harmonic, natural, classical melodic, jazz melodic, Dorian and Phrygian. – Tim Aug 26 '17 at 10:02
  • @Tim: Be my guest :) – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 10:11
  • Wonder if dims could be included too! Both whole/half and half/whole contain minor thirds... – Tim Aug 26 '17 at 10:18
  • @Tim - Certainly Locrian (my favorite mode) is minor: b3 , b6 , b7 . – Stinkfoot Aug 27 '17 at 2:06

Each chord contains a root tone and possible octaves thereof, which have no concept of major and minor. Most chords contain a fifth which is usually perfect but might be augmented or diminished. All the other intervals, measured from the root, will generally be individually either major or minor (in a "full diminished seventh" chord, both the fifth and seventh are diminished, and in a suspended chord may be described as having either a perfect fourth or an augmented third).

Certain combinations of major and minor intervals are so much more common than others that instead of describing every interval as major and minor, certain combinations are given short-hand names. Chord symbols with named root pitches (like Dm7) as opposed to scale-relative chord symbols (like ii7) are often used more by performers than by theoreticians, and as such need to be readable quickly. Individually marking every interval of a chord as major or minor would make it much harder to read quickly. Instead, the more common combinations are given short-hand names. Consider, for example, the following 7th chords:

 D F# A C  - D7                - Extremely common
 D F A C   - Dm7 or D-7        - Common
 D F# A C# - DM7 or Dmaj7      - Common
 D F A C#  - DmM7 or Dm add C# - Uncommon

With regard to 6th chords, the most common forms (with D as root) would be:

D F# A B - D6 D F A B - Dm6 or D-6

The former chord could be viewed as a first-inversion B minor chord, and the second as a first-inversion B half-diminished 7th chord [minor third, diminished fifth, and minor seventh]. While it would be possible to stack a minor sixth on top of a D minor chord, most ways of voicing such a chord wouldn't sound good; if such a thing were required, it would more likely be accompanied by a more explicit indication of how it should be voiced.

  • Never heard of a sus (4) being an aug.3. If it was, it wouldn't be called sus 4. Also, don't forget sus can also be sus 2. The second box doesn't seem to have worked, with other chords creeping in that are nothing to do with the answer. And, Dm triad with m6 = Bb maj7 notes. – Tim Aug 27 '17 at 5:50
  • @Tim: The node that plays the role of the third in the chord is 5 half-steps away from the root; that interval is far more commonly known and written using pitches that are a fourth apart than a third apart, but either would be possible. Functionally, the note behaves more like a raised major third than a fourth, except that if it was written as the former, the natural resolution would require having a voice perform two consecutive nodes that differ only in alteration (e.g. sing a sharp and then a natural version of the same pitch). – supercat Aug 27 '17 at 17:17
  • Haven't a clue about nodes, except in vibrating strings. But the major third of a chord is four semitones away from the root, while the P4 is five away. I'd expect to see a sus 4 written C F G, not C E# G. I'm sure it's called that for any reason rather than it's easier to write. And, if I'm wrong, why is it called a 'sus4' and not a 'sus aug3' (sus+3)? – Tim Aug 27 '17 at 17:27
  • @Tim, I've fixed the incorrect tab rendering. – jdjazz Aug 27 '17 at 17:30
  • @Tim: If someone's part goes from the node above A-natural to an A-natural, it will be easier to read if it is written as Bb to A, than if it's written from A# to A. Functionally, a suspended chord is a major chord whose third is raised another half-step; the fact that suspended chords will usually resolve down makes it more practical to represent that node as a fourth rather than a raised major third, but either form could work functionally. – supercat Aug 27 '17 at 23:55

Simple way:

Per definition, in chord symbols, the 2,6,9,13 refer to major intervals. 7 refers to a minor 7, as an exception.

This turned out to be practical for the musicians that used it, and it is the most widely used CONVENTION on how to write chord symbols. There are theoretical reasons why this makes sense, but you don't have to bother if you're only interested in knowing ways to play chords without all the "theory stuff".

Just memorize which intervals are per default major an which are minor (the 7th) and you're good.

So if in a D chord, a 6 appears, it per definition means that the note which is an interval of a MAJOR 6 apart from D is used - which is the note B. No matter if it is a Dm6 or D6 or whatever chord, the 6 alwas is per default a major 6 interval. (if you would wanted to add the note Bb to a Dm chord, you would have to denote this as a Dm b6 chord).

  • Don't forget that 4, 5 and 11 refer to perfect intervals in chord symbols. – David Bowling Feb 2 at 15:48

With Dm6 you intend the minor triad with the major sixt in relation to the tonic of the chord. Indeed, with Dm6 you are actually implying the D minor harmonic or melodic scale (because they both contain the natural sixt, in this case B natural).

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    Harmonic minor does not include a major sixth, only melodic minor does. – Matt L. Aug 26 '17 at 9:59
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    This answer is inaccurate. – Tim Aug 26 '17 at 10:03

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