Parenthesis in Chord Symbols

ParenthesisSome musicians tend to write all extensions after the first extension between parenthesis. Thus, they would write G7(>9) instead of G7>9, and D7(<9<5) instead of D7<9<5. This way of notating can be seen in The New Real Book. But apart from that publisher, not a lot of books use this method. Here is een example of Take the A Train:

Abbreviation for Minor

mmmmMost musicians agree on the notation of a minor chord. Just an m will do, so we will write DM and GM7. Unfortunately, some musicians use min instead. And in some books, like the New Real Book and the Latin Real Book (both published by Sher Music), mi is used.

Sharp-Nine or Flat-Ten

sharpThe chords consisting of the notes C, E, G, B-flat and E-flat (or D-sharp), how is it notated? In the States most musicians will write C7>9. In The Netherlands however, it is common to notate it as C7<10. And in the early days of jazz, the latter way of writing seems to have been more common in the States as well.

Lowercase Symbols

AaWhen I was eighteen and just started playing the piano, I talked to my somewhat eccentric uncle, who was a fanatic amateur musician. He told me I should write minor chords using lowercase letters. Being impressed by his overwhelming personality, I followed his advice. And it is not a bad idea! It matches the way major and minor keys are sometimes notated in classical music (especially in European countries). For example, a violin concerto would be in D-major or in d-minor. And using uppercase and lowercase matches the way scale degrees are commonly notated.

The Sus4

4The suspended fourth is an alteration of a chord, in which the third is moved up to the fourth note (counting from the root of the chord). For example, in Csus4 the third is moved up to the f. In the classical harmony the fourth has to be resolved to the third. In jazz and pop a lot of times this chord will be followed by a regular triad as well. (Though in some styles the sus4 sounds fine as it is.)

Real Book and New Real Book

comparisonIn my work as an arranging teacher at the conservatory, I often encounter students claiming that a specific way of notating chords is wrong. Apparently they have learned to write chords in a certain way and they think that is the only correct way. That is a shame, they should have been told that there are a lot of differences in the way people use chord symbols.

The Notation of None Chords

nineIn jazz music, a ninth implicates the seventh. Thus, in C9 for example, you should play a seventh as well as the ninth. In this way, time is saved in both writing and reading chords, because most of the time you want to play a ninth in combination with a seventh. If you ever need to notate a chord with a ninth but without a seventh, you write Cadd9. The above knowledge is taught on conservatories throughout the world, and you may find this information as well in theory books and on Wikipedia.

Notating Chord Symbols

signaalThe language of chord symbols is not fixed. The way chords are notated differs between books and between musicians. Some people notate a minor chord with M, others with MI or even with MIN. In some books a flat ninth is written as <9 and in other as -9, et cetera.

The fact that there are differences in notation doesn’t really matter. It’s a natural thing. A language is alive and is always changing. But, on the other hand, it would be a good thing to have some kind of standard. This would make it easier to learn the language of chord symbols and it would speed up chord reading.

Font for Chord Symbols

chordWriting chord symbols might be done with regular letters and signs, like the ones on your keyboard. But it won’t look very good. For a flat you will have to use a b, a triangle for a major seventh doesn’t exist and you won’t be able to write extensions in superscript. Creating beautiful chords is quite a job, both in a text editor and in a music notation program.

I’ve created a font which makes it easy to create beautiful chords. You may create the chords just by typing ergular characters that are on your keyboard, and you can put the chords above lyrics. Or you might use the font in your music notation program. Here is an example of how it will look:


newReharmonisation means changing the chords of a song, for example when you are making an arrangement. It is quite common in jazz and far less common in pop music. A lot of reharmonisation techniques will result in a jazzy sound.

In reharmonizing you have an enormous range of possibilities. If you have limited experience in this field, you might be overwhelmed by that. Therefore, I have made a list of techniques you might use to find new chords. The techniques go from rather easy to increasingly complex.

  • 1
  • 2