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While writing a modal interchange table including harmonic minor I came across a naming problem which rules I can not figure out. The chords in question are V and VII. The table's upper row shows the chords how I named them (with my presumably wrong names in red) and the row below the (presumably) correct names (gathered from multiple sources). My two questions here are:

  1. Regarding the V: Why do at least two sources on the internet have an added 9 here? Others agree with my solution but as I'm no professional, I can not be sure.
  2. Regarding the VII: This might be just an inconsistency on the part of the source I found as they use both o7 and m7(b5) across the same table. Aren't both names equal?

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I doubt that it makes a difference, but I built my schema using the C scales. So the V corresponds to G and the VII to B. (Just in case it does change anything.)

Thank you!

  • It's useful to remember that there's a b9 in the V chord. Nice chord! And it's harmonic minor, not melodic so a regular 9 would be out of the question. I disagree on having the b5 in parentheses, as if it was a small detail that doesn't really matter. The b5 is the essence of those chords, the main course! And why the parentheses in "(#5)"? Who is this table meant for and for what purpose? Communication has a target audience and an intended use. What are yours? :) +1 for a sensible question – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 12 at 10:14
  • This table is just for me. I need a quick reference for modal interchange situations. The parentheses help my untrained eyes. I have seen them occasionally and liked them, but I'm willing to accept that this is not standard. ;) Regarding the b9, would you agree, that for the purpose of a table of seventh chords, it should be V7 and not V7(b9)? – Peder May 12 at 11:41
  • The table doesn't seem to have a title or description that would say it's only talking about four-note seventh chords? Did the ones you compared it to? Usually any chart should have a caption. E.g. "Countries with more than two accordion players per square mile". – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 12 at 15:10
  • The whole table is much bigger and since I'm the only one using it, it has no caption. ;) I also tried to provide only necessary information to avoid overburdening the question. The source only dealt with four-note-chords. This specific 9th chord was the only one in this table. Maybe because harmonic minor is not one of the typical modes. – Peder May 12 at 16:30
  • vii chord in harmonic minor is fully diminished, you indicate half diminished (min7b5). – Tim Consolazio May 12 at 19:21
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Your answer for V7 is perfectly fine, the bottom row doesn’t contradict it, it just has additional information: namely, that if a 9th is added to the harmony it would be a minor ninth. (Actually, I think I probably wouldn’t call it ♭9, since that would imply an alteration of the ninth, but no one anywhere would misunderstand it, so it’s a moot point.)

However, if you’re trying to make a chart that strictly follows harmonic minor, then vii m7(♭5) is incorrect. The vii chord would actually be fully diminished: vii°7. The symbol m7(♭5) is another way of writing a half-diminished seventh chord—sometimes indicated with a diminished sign with a slash through it: viiø7. viiø7 happens diatonically in major keys or if you’re adhering strictly to melodic minor, but harmonic minor would make it fully diminished.

A couple of other adjacent points brought up by your question:

First, your intuition that it doesn’t matter which specific harmonic minor scale you’re talking about is 100% correct. The V7 is a dominant seventh chord diatonically in any harmonic minor situation, and the vii°7 is fully diminished in any harmonic minor situation.

The usefulness of thinking in terms of pure harmonic (or natural, or melodic) minor depends a great deal on the kind of music you’re talking about. If you’re trying to grasp the modal use of these scales in a rock/pop context, it’s somewhat helpful, but in most rock/pop styles the qualities of the chords don’t tend to stay exclusively diatonic, it’s only the harmonic roots that tend to reflect the mode. If you’re talking about Classical music, it’s not very helpful at all, because the the three forms of the minor scale are just an abstraction to help people understand the complexities of minor keys. A piano sonata by Mozart, for example, would never be in C harmonic minor, or C natural minor. It would just be C minor. The sixth and the seventh scale degrees would vary depending on use: the sixth scale degree will tend to be raised in ascending melodic lines (hence the name “melodic minor” for the scale that has a raised sixth going up). The harmonies will tend to have lowered sixth scale degrees but raised seventh scale degrees (hence the term “harmonic minor” for the scale with ♭6 and ♯7). However these are only tendencies, alterations abound.

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  • In fact, the use of V7 can give the guitar player a hint; hmm...there's a dominant chord as the V chord, and I know the V7 chord in the major scale is very important...does this hint at a sonic device I can use besides mixolydian? It sure does, example of one use, if you track the modes of harmonic minor over the chords, it maps to phrygian dominant, which can sound VERY cool over a dominant chord. So if you're banging away over a B7 chord, try running B phrygian dominant over it (being mindful of where you land, etc). I love the way you can get out of straight mixo with it. – Tim Consolazio May 12 at 19:27
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I think you are just missing the symbols/naming for the half diminished seventh chord:

  • half diminished seventh
  • m7b5
  • viiø7

A circle with a slash means "half diminished seventh" which really involves a definition of both the fifth (as diminished) and the seventh (as minor.)

Be mindful of the various diminish chord qualities and symbols:

  • o for simple diminished triads
  • o7 for fully diminished seventh chords
  • ø7 for half diminished seventh chords

It's probably best to list common chords by mode:

  • minor mode: viio, iio, viio7, iiø7
  • major mode: viio, viiø7

Notice that minor mode has a few more common diminished type chords. This is because the sixth and seventh scale degrees are variable in minor allowing for diminished harmonies on roots vii and ii. In major the diminished chord is just on vii.

Usually the chords are in first inversion except root position viio7 which happens a lot in minor.

Also, while vii acts as a kind of incomplete dominant chord normally moving to the tonic, ii is type of subdominant normally moving to the dominant.

Regarding the 9 added to V, one reason to add that is this: a plain V7 is used in both major and minor keys. In that sense a V7 alone is not enough to imply the key as either major or minor. But the 9 differs between major and minor keys. V7(9) - normally just V9 - means a major ninth and implied major key. V7(♭9) means a minor ninth and implies minor key.

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  • You are right. As is Pat Muchmore. My understanding of half and full-diminished seventh chords was wrong. – Peder May 12 at 16:33
  • What I don't understand is the 9th of a major key and the 9th of a minor key are both the same note - same name as a second. So why would b9 be indicative of a minor key? – Tim May 12 at 18:28
  • @Tim, in jazz iim7b5 V7b9 seems the standard for minor mode, well there is V7alt but that seems a different topic. In classical style Cm: V9 could also be G B D F Ab maybe some would put a flat on the 9 like Cm: Vb9 – Michael Curtis May 12 at 19:40
  • @Peder, I made an edit about vii and ii diminished chords and their major/minor key associations. I hope it lists the chords in a more practical grouping. – Michael Curtis May 12 at 19:58
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    @Tim, you need to distinguish the sixth degree as a proper chord tone of the dominant or just a melodic tone. As a chord tone of the dominant it would be the lowered sixth moving to fifth degree. – Michael Curtis May 12 at 20:25
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The VII chord will be spelled (in key Am) G♯, B, D and F; making it VIIdim7. G♯dim.

The V chord will be spelled (in key Am) E, G♯, B, D, making it E7. Can't see where the ♭9 comes from. That woud be an F note, not needed in a four note chord. And not in E7 anyway.

Some of these sites simply copy info. across, regardless of authenticity. I've noticed it with a lot of guitar driven sites, wrong chords, etc, just lifted, thus spreading misinformation!

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  • ♭9 would be the first thing on my mind when putting together the thoughts "V chord" and "melodic minor". :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 12 at 10:16
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - have I read it wrong? Your two comments seem to cotradict each other. – Tim May 12 at 11:07
  • I assume that VIIdim7 is the same as VIIm7b5 since the first minor third defines a minor chord and the second makes it dimished or just "b5". In short, I agree with you. Thanks for pointing out misinformation. – Peder May 12 at 11:50
  • @NeilMeyer - can you explain that with notes, say in key Am please? – Tim May 12 at 16:32
  • @NeilMeyer I can't picture any circumstance in which lowering the seventh of a leading tone chord by a semitone could turn it half diminished. The diatonic leading tone chord in a major key is naturally half-diminished, and lowering it will make it fully diminished. In a minor key, the diatonic leading tone chord (with raised 7th scale degree of course) will be fully diminished already. Further lowering the seventh would give the chord a doubly diminished seventh, more likely to sound like a wrongly spelled dominant seventh. Am I misunderstanding something? – Pat Muchmore May 12 at 20:04

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