Is there any combination of up to six notes in the chromatic scale that could not be classified and named as a chord? Can anyone give me an example and explanation if so?

  • 1
    A chord is simply several notes played simultaneously. The combination of said notes doesn't have to sound good, but obviously is better when it does! Just about any combination will be a chord that can be named, but there comes a point where the name is so unwieldy that it gets ridiculous, and ceases to be anything sensible. Imagine C, C#, D, D#, E and F being played together, each a semitone apart. Even split by an octave or so wouldn't help much. A chord, yes, but a good sound? And, what name should it have? Or, are you looking for the lost chord..?
    – Tim
    Jun 21, 2019 at 14:26
  • I'm no chord naming aficionado but I might call that your classic Cmajno5add4addb3add2addb2 chord. But as for the reason for my inquiry, I was calculating the total possible chord combinations on a 22 fret 6 string guitar just for fun and had been working under the assumption that any combination of between 2 and 6 notes could be classified as a chord. ( It came out to be over 6 trillion and for many of them you might have to get your toes involved ) Jun 21, 2019 at 14:46
  • Why 6 chromatic notes? What does this have to do with making a chord? The 13th chord has 7 diatonic notes (and each diatonic is on the chromatic scale). So this is a confusing question as worded.
    – user50691
    Jun 21, 2019 at 17:48
  • @Todd Wilcox - somebody edited my original title, that's not how I had phrased it. the original question was is there any combination of between 2 and 6 notes on the chromatic scale that can't be classified and named as a chord. Jun 21, 2019 at 20:25
  • @ggcg - because it's a question about guitar. guitars have 6 strings and therefor have a maximum of 6 notes that can be played at once Jun 21, 2019 at 20:28

5 Answers 5


No, and for at least three reasons:

  1. Assuming "chord" to be a tonal entity, we can explain anything as having alterations, omissions, and extensions. With add11, ♭13, no5, etc., we can make sense of any combination of tones.

  2. We can understand harmonies as combinations of chords; such polychords allow any and all possibilities.

  3. We have systems of understanding "chord" that do not assume tonality. Pitch-class set analysis—a system in which we assign integers to members of a harmony—is perhaps the most common. No matter how wild of a chord you come up with, there is a pitch-class set label for it.


Depends on your definitions. There are certainly pitch sets that would be difficult (and pointless) to label in the 'C, Gm7, F#m7(b5)(b9)' naming system, or that defy functional analysis in the 'bii7 of iii' way. But some will say that ANY pitch set is, by definition, a chord. And, as @Richard says, any pitch-class set can be labelled.


Is there any combination of up to six chromatic notes that could not be classified and named as a chord?

From the point of view of naming and classification, some would consider that groups/sets of 2 notes aren't named 'chords' as such: A chord is three notes? What do you call just two notes?.

  • 1
    'Groups of 1 or 2 notes'? A group of one? Interesting concept...
    – Tim
    Jun 21, 2019 at 15:09
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    I were only jesting! However, I really like chords with a group of zero notes when playing with specific guitarists.
    – Tim
    Jun 21, 2019 at 15:29
  • 1
    @Tim John Cage used some zero note chords in 4'33".
    – badjohn
    Jun 22, 2019 at 6:54
  • 2
    @badjohn - I've heard about that Cage piece, but never had the pleasure of actually hearing it...
    – Tim
    Jun 22, 2019 at 7:53
  • 1
    @Tim I have seen it but not heard it. It is hard to analyze the harmonies because of division by zero errors with the frequencies.
    – badjohn
    Jun 22, 2019 at 8:03

Interesting question. I would submit that if we take chord theory and apply it to pitches either above or below the ranges of human hearing that the resultant Chords would no longer exist simply because we can't hear them and therefore they would never be played. My thinking is that music isn't really music until it's being played, but that's just my own thoughts on the matter.

  • youtu.be/JTEFKFiXSx4
    – b3ko
    Jun 21, 2019 at 16:38
  • @b3ko- Some folks can call that music if they like, I'm inclined to call it a misnomer, kind of like saying you"re going somewhere if you just sit in your car, but thanks for pointing that out, I'd forgotten about Cage a long time ago. Jun 22, 2019 at 15:00
  • I’d say it’s closer to “art” than music. But [shrug].
    – b3ko
    Jun 22, 2019 at 17:08
  • @b3ko- I look for art and music to move me in some way, and Cage failed miserably to do that. I found the price of the ticket to be a waste of my money. But, as you say, [shrug]. Jun 23, 2019 at 14:08

A chord can be defined as several notes sounding simoultaneously. No matter what notes you use. Some refer to clusters though, if you arrange the notes in close position, neighboring each other within the same octave.

For example a Cmaj7 chord uses a half step from 7th to root. You can raise the 7th an octave up and the chord loses its "cluster" character.

You could change octaves of your 6 note chromatic row, too and see what results you get.

A good orientation is the Schoenberg, Berg, Webern connection called "Zweite Wiener Schule" around the beginning of the 20th century. They do a lot with more or less mathematical constructions over tone rows. Even Bernstein´s West Side Story uses tone rows. It is impressing what he gets out of symmetric scales in terms of arranging, themes and chords...

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