Say I'm in a key with a Dm chord, and I play a chord with the notes D E A C

Should I call this Dm7sus2 or D7sus2?

After some brief googling my impression is that most people don't use the name Dm7sus2. They would call this chord D7sus2 whether the underlying key contained a D or Dm chord. I haven't seen a formal explanation though, and I would have thought that Dm7sus2 would be preferable. It accurately implies the underlying key while still specifying not to play the 3rd in the chord.

  • How about D9 (no 3)? – Tim Apr 10 at 6:13
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    The chord symbol is not just there to tell the piano or guitar player what chord to play. Especially in jazz, it's also there to define the scales that other musicians may all be using to improvise. They need to know whether they're playing a scale with an F in it, or an F#, or there will be train wrecks. – Ben Crowell Apr 10 at 14:19

I would say that a chord is assumed to be major unless you "say something about" the third. Things you can add to the chord name that say something about the third include:

m - there is a third, and it's minor, not major
5 or (no 3) - there's no third
sus 2 - there's no third, but there is a second
sus 4 - there's no third, but there is a fourth

By this logic, I don't think the name 'Dm7sus2' makes sense, because it's stating both that there is, and that there isn't, a minor third. D7sus2 is right - it says that it's a triad rooted on D, with no third, but with a second, and with the addition of the seventh.

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  • Typo? "with a minor second"?? You mean "with a second", I think. – Old Brixtonian Apr 9 at 20:13
  • @OldBrixtonian thanks :) – topo Reinstate Monica Apr 9 at 20:14
  • That makes sense. My thinking was that '7' implies a dominant 7th chord and a major third. 'Sus' then specifies that there is no 3rd. That's why I didn't like the D7sus2 when the third that would be there if it wasn't a sus chord is minor. But I think I'm just coming at it the wrong way. In this context the '7' or 'm7' implies the type of seventh only. Since there's a 'sus' no information is given about the 3rd. – NomNomNomenclature Apr 9 at 22:42

I would call that chord, quite simply, Am/D or perhaps Am11, depending on context.

A C E is an A minor chord, and D is the 4th degree, i.e. 11th when it comes to chords.

So, if it's important to have that D as the low note, I'd call it Am/D

And if it's not important that the D is at the bottom, but it's there for color, I'd call it Am11

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    By calling it an 11, it assumes there's at least a 7 in there too. There is no G, so this can't be accurate. – Tim Apr 10 at 6:09
  • @Tim, yes, theoretically at least, calling it 11th should include both 7 and 9, but often in practice, especially in some genres like jazz, only the main color notes in a chord are used. For example in a minor 9th chord, the m7 note is often omitted. That's what I meant when I wrote in the first line: "depending on context". – MMazzon Apr 10 at 14:41

If D E A C are the the only notes in this chord then D7sus2 is the way to go even if the key contains a Dm as a diatonic chord. I really don’t come across minor sus2 or minor sus4 chords, I can’t remember offhand ever seeing one over the last several years. Since there is no 3rd why label it as minor? It can be confusing or misleading and I bet a number of players would put an F in a chord written as Dm7sus2.

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This is just my own opinion, but I think it would be a bit silly to have two different sus chords depending on what there is not in the chord. Like if you do a Dm - Dsus4 - D7 - Gm, which is entirely plausible and maybe even common in the key of Dm, then you would say "Dmsus4" i.e. "minor without the thing that makes it a minor", and then ... surprise D7! Maybe there should be a "Dmsus3" to tell the reader to pay special attention to the fact that, surprisingly, there is no minor third, but there is a major third?

In general, chords are not "in a key" to begin with. Em has the notes E, G and B, even if the key of the song is Dm, which usually has a B flat. If you see an Em, you're like "oh, some Dorian feeling here".

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    I should clarify that I don't think you would want to universally specify notes not in the chord. Dsus4 makes no implication about what the third would be if it weren't a sus chord. But the name D7 implies there there is a major 3rd. So D7sus2, to me, implies that you're substituting E for F#. – NomNomNomenclature Apr 9 at 19:44
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    I don't feel any problem with sus2 resolving to either major or minor, or neither of them. I originally learned sus chords in a context where they always resolved to a major. And chord names are just a convention for specifying notes, not about deducing much information about key or scale. What if you have an Asus4 in the same song, do you feel that you'd have to use "Amsus4" if you specifically don't want anyone to think that a D melodic or harmonic minor scale with a C# note could be used? Chord symbols aren't "in a key" or "in a scale". You have to imagine the scale and key yourself. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 9 at 19:57

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