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Harmony - Chords and Their Symbols Pt.2

The big chords - Pt.2 in this two part series will mostly deal with the big hairy chords that always scared me as a kid. I'll also show you some practical shapes that can be used to make various chords in the last half of this lesson. If you haven't read through Pt.1 yet, you might want to before diving off into the deep end.

11th chords

11th chords: Along with the 7th, the 11th is also added to the triad. There are a few basic guidelines to remember here, as I mentioned before in Pt.1 in regards to sus4 chords, major 3rds and 4ths are not considered to get along so well.

To fix this small problem, generally (and I stress the word generally), the major 3rd either gets omitted or the 11th gets raised, a harmonic compromise in a way.

This does however create a few naming problems. By leaving the 3rd out of the voicing, we will simply be making the chord a sus4 chord. If we leave the 3rd in and raise the 11th, the chord symbol needs to be written so.

For these two reasons you don't run across major or dominant 11th chords such as C11 very often. As far as the minor version goes, the minor 3rd and natural 11th get along fine so there is no need to raise the 11th. Therefore, theoretically there are only three 11th chords and they tend to be notated this way: Cmaj7#11, C7#11 and Cmin11:

These are the common sixth string root voicings for the maj7#11, min11 and 7#11 chords:

The Lydian Chord: The maj7#11 chord is sometimes referred to as the lydian chord. It is a beautiful, modern sounding chord. Sometimes you may come across the word lydian in a chart rather than a chord symbol. The composer is just telling you to play a major family chord with a #11 somewhere in it. Try the following progression as an exercise:

Including 3rds and 4ths in the same chord: The following is an example of how you can keep your 3rds and 4ths (11ths) together in your chord. The second chord contains both a major 3rd and perfect 4th. I would tend to use my fingers to "roll" through the notes in the chords rather than bashing them with a pick:

These chords is are good examples of a very typical "guitar" chords that contains both the 3rd and 4th (11th). Alex Lifeson from the band "Rush" uses chords like the first one from time to time. The second chord often follows an open position C chord:

Points to remember about 11th chords:
For the major and dominant versions, when the 3rd is desired in the 11th chord voicing, the 11th tends to get raised.

The 9th does not need to be included in the voicing but the 7th and 3rd do. Without the 3rd present, the chord becomes a sus4 chord.

Is there a dominant 11th chord? Yes and no. Technically a 3rd and 4th don't get put in the same major or dominant chord so a dominant 11th chord doesn't generally show up in a chart. With the 3rd removed, the 11th gets considered a 4th and that would just make the chord into a sus chord. In reality, the (modern) ear accepts the 3rd and 4th in the same chord if voiced correctly so the dominant 11th chord does get played from time to time, it just gets notated as a 9sus chord and the 3rd is considered an option. You may from time to time run across an 11 chord in a chart, but the composer most likely is telling you to play a 9sus chord (1, 4, 5, b7, 9). Add 3rds at will but be careful.

What is the difference between a 7#11 and a 7(b5) chord? Hmm.. Not too much on the surface but there are a few differences that need to be discussed. One thing that needs to be considered is what liberties can be taken with the chord. Derived from the lydian dominant mode of the melodic minor scale, the 7#11 chord can contain the natural 5th. The 9th, and 13th are also in the scale so they too can be added to the chord. Since the 7(b5) chord, is most likely coming from the altered mode of the melodic minor scale, altered 9ths can probably be added without any complications. The 7#11 chord generally resolves down a half step, while the 7(b5) chord generally resolves up a 4th to the tonic chord.

Putting 9th and 11th chords into practice

Keeping things simple - Notice how I've kept things simple in the following exercise by voicing all the chords with only four notes each. Most of the chords simply include the root, 3rd, 7th and the extension designated in the chord symbol. As I stated in pt.1, 5ths don't count for much so you are free to leave them out if they are not altered.

13th chords >>