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In jazz, certain chords can be written in many formats. Like for minor 7ths you can do:

  • Cm7
  • Cmi7
  • Cmin7
  • C-7

And for major 7ths:

  • CM7
  • Cma7
  • Cmaj7
  • CΔ7

Have publishers of big band music settled on a standard practice?

-- EDIT --

OK, it seems the answer to that question is no, there is not consensus. So how about if we consider just one of the major publishers? Do they have an internal standard?

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  • Somewhere in their discussion of chord symbols, every source I have ever seen (and there have quite a few), puts in a disclaimer that there is no clearly agreed upon convention for chord symbols. That applies even to simple ones such as you posted - all the more so in more complex and extended chords.
    – Vector
    Nov 22, 2017 at 7:16

3 Answers 3

4

No. Simple answer. Mostly I come across Cm7 or C-7 and Cmaj7, CM7 and C(triangle)7, but each seems to have his own. You get used to it, and just get on with it ! The annoying one is hand-written stuff, where the minus sign is often illegible.

Other more complex chords suffer the same fate, with + or aug, o or dim, et al.

Drum music is also, to an extent, 'unregulated', where the dots go isn't exactly standard, and varies from writer to writer. A pain, as one has to be intuitive to a degree.

1
  • 1
    Most things in music are unregulated. Nothing really stops any composer or publisher from introducing any sort of idiosyncracies into a score. Jazz is a rather new style of music makes it so that not many prolonged efforts have been made into standardisation.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 5, 2022 at 11:47
4
+25

Although the symbols themselves vary quite a bit, and there is no accepted standard1, there is an overall structure to chord symbols that is consistent across publishers.

1. Root | 2. triad type | 3. seventh type | 4. alterations/extensions
  1. The chord root is straightforward: A, Gb, C#, etc.
  2. The triad types come in a variety of forms, but they are always the next part of the chord symbol.
    Major: no symbol
    Minor: m, mi, min, -
    Diminished: o, ø2, dim
    Augmented: aug, +
  3. The type of seventh comes in two basic forms:
    Major seventh: M7, Maj7, Δ7
    Minor sevenths: 7
    • The basic 7 is also used for diminished sevenths, but this is clear from context when needed.
    • In cases where "natural" extensions are added to a seventh chord, the "7" is omitted and instead, the topmost extension is given: C9, G11.
  4. Alterations/Extensions are fairly standard, using # and b when needed. Sometimes + and - are used instead. Multiple alterations/extensions are sometimes run together and sometimes separated by / or ,.

Examples

Some publishers will superscript the seventh and extensions/additions. The triad type is sometimes also given in superscript.

Chord symbol root triad seventh extensions
C C = major none none
C#m C# - = minor none none
D7 D = major 7 = minor none
Eb-7 Eb - = minor 7 = minor none
EMaj7 E = major Maj7 = major none
FminΔ7 F min = minor Δ7 = major none
F#+7 F# + = aug 7 = minor none
GM7#11 G = major M7 = major #11 (extension)
G#-7b5 G# - = minor 7 = minor b5 (alteration)
Aø7 A ø = dim 7 = minor none
Bb6/9 Bb = major = none added 6 and 9
Bsus4 B = major = none alter the ^3 with ^4
C9 C = major 9 = minor include 9
CMaj9 C = major Maj9 = major include 9
C-9b13 C - = minor 9 = minor include 9 and b13
C11 C = major 11 = min7 include 9 and 11
Cadd9 C = major = none include 9
Ebbo Ebb (D) o = dim = none none
Fxo7 Fx (G) o = dim 7 = dim none

1 It's worth mentioning that Elaine Gould does not address chord symbols in her "definitive" guide to engraving, Behind Bars, frequently cited as an authority for questions on this site.

2 The half-diminished symbol is a bit of an exception. It does indicate a diminished triad, but it also implies a minor seventh. The seventh is always explicitly specified, nevertheless.

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  • Are there any common variations internationally? I have one piece from a German publisher with j7 for a major 7th. Not sure if that's used elsewhere.
    – Theodore
    Oct 4, 2022 at 21:50
  • @Theodore Now that you mention it, I've seen that from a German publisher as well. No idea if it's standard, though, even within Germany.
    – Aaron
    Oct 4, 2022 at 21:52
  • What does "j" mean in a chord symbol?. (@Theodore Tagging you since your comment sparked the post.)
    – Aaron
    Apr 9 at 23:23
4

When I placed a bounty on this question, I was hoping to get an answer specifically to O.P. Sam Kauffman's edit... "how about if we consider just one of the major publishers? Do they have an internal standard?".

I'd like to see how the symbols are used together in practice, rather than just randomly picking from all the possible representations for each type of chord. I can't find any real examples of such standards, so I did a little survey of the books on my shelf (most of which are NOT jazz), and added a column for MuseScore, which is the only notation editing program I could find that claims to have any kind of 'standard' symbols for jazz.

I included the chords that seem to have the most variation in representation. I ignored extensions, which generally follow the same format as the 7 (though often in parentheses).

From this mini-survey, and a few quick Google searches, it seems that Jazz scores tend more toward using the symbols (-, △, ø, and ⚬), while other styles tend toward the more textual (m, maj7, m7♭5, and dim).

While I found varying styles from the same publisher (even sometimes within the same book), I did see some consistency in the Hal Leonard books, where at least the symbols for the most common chords seemed to adhere to an internal standard.

informal chord symbol survey

3
  • Never mind an internal standard, it would be even better to have an international standard.
    – Tim
    Oct 5, 2022 at 14:40
  • 1
    Thanks, @Biscuit_Taylor. This is useful. However, only 2 of these 5 are jazz-based. I'd like to see something similar using various jazz publishers...of course, that's assuming each publisher even has an internal standard...which I doubt... Oct 5, 2022 at 16:31
  • @ Sam Kauffman - yes I'd like to see that, too. Oct 5, 2022 at 16:47

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