Maybe someone knows about what means the “seconds” in a chord. I ask because I hear tha a person suggest to avoid “seconds” when you write music sheets for a guitar, because they are complex for a guitar player. What means “seconds”, anyone has an example?

Thank you


It sounds like they mean the interval of a second.

For example, if you have a E major chord, an 'F#' note is a second (major second) above the E.


If that 'F#' is part of a dominant chord we would call the 'F#' a ninth.


These two labels may seems inconsistent, but think of it like this:

  • when adding a second to a simple triad we just take one step up from the root, R,3rd,5th,R,2nd
  • when adding to a dominant seventh chord we step up from the root in thirds and place a 9th above a 7th, R,3rd,5th,7th,9th

In both cases we have a chord root of E and an added F# but we count up from the root differently to get either the added 2nd or 9th.

There are some other subtleties worth noting about these chords.

The adding a second and omitting the third can be labeled sus2 where the second is "suspended" and traditionally would be resolved by moving up to the third. In a very traditional approach this chord could be a tonic, an example in D major would be A Dsus2 D the high E over the D chord resolves up to F#, fingering x02220 xx0230 xx0232.

If we merely add the second and also leave the third in the chord it gets labeled add2.

The 9 chord is a type of dominant chord. In order to make that dominant function clear - and to distinguish the ninth from an added or suspended second - we need to have the seventh also present in the chord. For E9 we need D natural along with the F#.

...avoid “seconds” when you write music sheets for a guitar...

Personally, I have never seen this advice, but certainly one should try to avoid writing unplayable music.

I tried to provide some specific guitar fingerings to show these various chord types can be played. But, I had to choose specific octaves and positions to get easy to play examples. It could be difficult to play some chords with added seconds/ninths depending on the specifics. For example, adding a second one step above the low root of a barre chord would practically unplayable.

Take care for the playability of the chords you choose. A chord dictionary may be a helpful aid in this regard.

  • 1
    One more point about seconds and why they have said to avoid them is that 2nds tend to sound dissonant. That doesn't mean you can't use them but they have to be used correctly and in the correct situation. – b3ko Nov 21 '18 at 20:34

A pair of notes one whole-step apart span an intervallic distance of a major second. The notes C and D form an interval of a major second, when the D is above the C and in the same octave as the C. Similarly, a pair of notes one half-step apart form and interval of a minor second. C and Db form a minor second when the Db is above the C and in the same octave. In order for an interval to be a second, the two note names must be exactly one letter apart: C to D and C to Db are seconds, but C to C# is not a second, even though this interval is enharmonically equivalent to a minor second (C to Db).

It is difficult to play seconds on guitar in general because of the way the fingerboard is laid out, but seconds involving open strings are easy. Here is a major second comprised of a D and E:


And here is a minor second comprised of a D# and E:


Seconds, especially minor seconds, don't show up too frequently in chords (they tend to sound a little "jangly": the notes are so close together that the beat frequency becomes apparent), but some players and composers do like to use them. Thelonious Monk notably made extensive use of minor seconds in his composing and playing.

Here is an example of a chord containing a minor second that I find myself grabbing a lot; it is a little tricky to finger at first, and illustrates why chords containing seconds can be a bit difficult to play. This is a voicing of a CMaj7 in first inversion:


The two middle notes, B and C, form the minor second. Note that B and C are one half-step apart. You could play the same voicing of a C7 by moving the B down one fret to Bb:


In both chords you can hear the tension between the two inner notes; these are the sounds of seconds. When you need this kind of tension, you can use a second, but for general purpose use they often seem a bit harsh.

  • Good point about minor seconds. I imagine in most cases a chord with a minor second in it somewhere would end up really being a Δ7 or ♭9 chord. I don't think I have ever seen a ♭2 symbol. – Michael Curtis Nov 21 '18 at 21:01
  • @MichaelCurtis -- when I have seen advice to "avoid seconds," it has usually been a suggestion to avoid intervals of a major or minor second because they can be difficult to handle. In addition to this, the guitar makes physically playing seconds more challenging than playing them, say on piano. This is the spirit in which I interpreted OP's question, at least ;) I have added a couple examples of actual chord voicings and fingerings for guitar to help underline the points. – ex nihilo Nov 21 '18 at 21:10
  • 2
    "It is difficult to play seconds on guitar in general because of the way the fingerboard is laid out" This sentence is what the other answers missed. +1 – user45266 Nov 25 '18 at 22:15

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