I've been improvising over Hoagy Carmichael's Heart and Soul and I came across a chord voicing that seemed a little strange to me. As shown below, the C13 is voiced F-Bb-D-A, using the 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th, but omitting the root, 3rd and 5th entirely.

How is this a C chord when no part of the C major triad is found within it? Why isn't it a BbM7?

The only way I can justify it is that the piano is meant to comp a band that plays the rest of the chord and this got carried over into the piano transcription.

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  • LIke you I think it should be a BbM7/C, or even a F11/C . I have added my differing opinion in an answer below. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:39

3 Answers 3


You're still holding the C root at the bottom, so calling it a C chord of some sort is justified. You eventually also hold E (not F), B flat, D, and A at the fermata signs, so calling it a C13 chord (which should contain C, E, B flat, and A at the very least) is also justified.

The C13 chord symbol looks fine.

  • 2
    Dude, you're amazing! Can't believe I missed that, but that is spot on! Thank you!!!
    – WillRoss1
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 18:23
  • 8
    @WillRoss1 The F resolves to E, so you can regard it as a suspended 4th rather than the 11th.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:07
  • 1
    I disagree, and added an answer. Would be glad if you comment on it. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:24
  • As @PiedPiper comments, it might also make sense as a suspended 4th in a C13 (without root and fifth). Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:31
  • jeez 10+ question and 12+ answer votes all for a whole note! Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 21:17

I disagree with Dekkadeci answer's. Instead: BbM7/C would be a proper and more understable name. Or maybe F11/C, which will gracefully accept the following note E.

Look at the two other chords they are: Bb/C and Gm7/C.

That C13 candidate does not contain a single note from the C Major triad indeed: no C, no E no G in the chord. Only a lasting bass, that lasts during all the harmonic evolutions. Before and after.

However it easily could have. On the keyboard there's plenty room to play a E with middle finger, or G besides the A.

When that E is played just after the so-called C13, it doesn't sound like a stabilization to my hear. I insist:

One argument in the other answer is the presence of the E at the late end just before the start of a new phrase: When I play the extract, that E is nowhere near a stabilisation of any sort to a C chord, whehter it be C, C7, C9, C11, or C13. It rather introduces interrogation, lack of equilibrium and asks for the new phrase that starts just after.

There's no reason to name it a C chord, except for the droning C during all of the excerpt, whatever the other chords are playing too.

That long echoing C bass, is also translated in the BbM7/C or F11/C chord. But although it lasts the whole excerpt, I do not feel that C at all like the tonality. Not at all.

And it's because of that "Not At All" that I write this answer. And I strongly suggests the reader to play these notes on a keyboard to understand that it is not a stabilization on any form of altered C major chord.

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    The chord stabilizes into a chord with an E--i.e. if you want to use the BbM7/C label, you'd better switch it to Bb11/C at the last fermatas. (That second chord symbol of mine may be slightly wrong.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:24
  • @Dekkadeci I think a quarter note E (even with a fermata) is a bit short for being the stabilisation of a chord... I still don't agree :-) Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:29
  • @Dekkadeci the E with the fermata looks more like the restart of a phrase for me. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:30
  • There's a clear start of a new phrase at the mp at the end of the bar, complete with new word. The last fermatas are at the end of the old phrase.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:34
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    @Tim Facts have nothing to do with it. This is theoretical analysis. There are many answers that are all valid. You probably wouldn't call a CM7 chord Em/C, but it is perfectly valid to do so. The chord in question absolutely can be considered BbM7/C, and this is strongly supported by C being a pedal tone. The only reason this is not the accepted answer is because I was looking for some insight into why the transcriber thought C13 was justified and the accepted answer addresses this. That said, StephaneRolland's analysis is perfectly valid.
    – WillRoss1
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:46

An interviewer asked Domenic Miller if we should use barre (bar) chords. His answer helped to shape my thinking; play chords the easiest way.

I apply the same principle to chord notation: whatever makes it easier to understand. The C13 is exactly what is played in the guitar chord box. I suspect that's why it's notated that way; to make it obvious to a guitarist what to play. From a theory standpoint, BbM7/C makes more sense, since it logically fits with the other two chords.

My 2c.

  • Interestingly, the notes in the chord displayed in the box are, from 6th to first string, C-E-Bb-D-A; they're not the same as on the staff; F-Bb-D-A with a C bass. So in the guitar chord, we have the first, third, major seventh, ninth, and sixth (thirteenth). Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:42
  • I suspect that the box was added mechanically after the C13 symbol was chosen and is therefore rather a consequence of that choice than evidence supporting the correctness of the choice. In fact, the presence of notes that are missing from the piano part seems more like evidence of the incorrectness of the choice.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 17:44

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