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Standard chord notation

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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby starman9 » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:21 pm

I have only dipped into bits of this thread, so forgive me if what I'm about to type is besides the point!

It is NOT at all true that mixing sharps and flats within the same chord should be avoided. The relevant rule here is that you should use the notes within the harmonic chromatic scale of the key you are in. So, for example, if the piece is in C major (or its relative minor, A minor) you would use the C harmonic chromatic scale. ie. C Db D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B.

This rule is actually extremely cool as it ensures that intervals retain the same VISUAL relationship in different keys. So a piece looks how it sounds. Simples! I should add that rules are made to be broken and there are definitely times when this one needs to be...

I can explain how to work out the harmonic chromatic scale easily for any key... but dinner's ready so will have to return later to do this!!
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby starman9 » Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:45 pm

So here's how to find the harmonic chromatic notes for any key:

We need to start with just the note letters only. Lets say we want to know the correct chromatic notes for Db major: Our tonic letter is D, we then need 2 notes of the next letter (E), 2 of the next letter (F), 2 of the next (G), then just 1 of the next note letter (A) as it is the 5th note of the major scale, then 2 of the next letter (B) and finally 2 of the the next letter (C). So putting all those together with whatever sharps or flats give us a chromatic scale we get: Db, Ebb, Eb, Fb, F, Gb, Gnat, Ab, Bbb, Bb, Cb, C.

You just need to use the tonic note letter once, the letter of the fifth of the major scale once, then all the others, twice. That's it!

One beautiful thing when in Db is that you don't use E natural, you use Fb. This means that (for example) a jump between the tonic and the minor third has the same relationship on paper as if we were in D major, which it wouldn't if we used E natural.

In some keys there are both flats and sharps used at the same time. eg. the chromatic notes for G major are: G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#.

Hope that makes clear why it can be fine to use flats and sharps together.

I can at times veer away from keeping to the harmonic chromatic note names when in the world of diminished chords or when loitering in an other key that has not been reflected in the key signature.
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby Exalted Wombat » Tue Sep 18, 2012 11:41 am

On a more pragmatic level - if you're writing something that will be heard as a major or minor triad - something you might write a chord symbol above - make it LOOK like one too! A Db chord in the treble clef will have a note in the space under the stave, then notes in the next two spaces. It will LOOK like a triad. So no question - the middle note will be some sort of F, not some sort of E. F natural for Db major, Fb for Db minor.
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby damoore » Mon Nov 05, 2012 7:45 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:On a more pragmatic level - if you're writing something that will be heard as a major or minor triad - something you might write a chord symbol above - make it LOOK like one too! A Db chord in the treble clef will have a note in the space under the stave, then notes in the next two spaces. It will LOOK like a triad. So no question - the middle note will be some sort of F, not some sort of E. F natural for Db major, Fb for Db minor.


Db minor is 8 flats. Fb is the 7th flat. So the Fb could not occur earlier than in the key of Ab minor. In Eb minor, for example, the bVII chord is Db major - with a natural F.

So I guess that chord can occur - in Ab minor - I was thinking that you would not choose to notate in Db minor, you would use C# minor instead, but notating in G# minor would be weird. In Ab minor, as Db is the iv, you can also use the (major) IV chord, so the distinction really is F versus Fb rather than F versus E natural.

As a practical matter, if your charts are copied by your average copyist (I should talk), and if the note ends up a little high, and somewhat dubious as to whether it is an E or an F, with the natural in front of it, I think most musicians would read it as an F. So you really don't want to write it as an E natural.
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby The Pablo Augustus » Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:40 pm

windbag wrote:Sure, there are rules, but as in music engraving, the 'rules' can profitably be considered 'guidelines' on occasion. The acid test is making it clear to the musician so you get the result you want. For example, in music notation, extremely chromatic passages are often better notated in sharps going up and flats going down. Nothing to do with enharmonics, simply it's quicker to read, say, G, G sharp, A rather than G, A flat, A natural. But a 'genuine' scale should be notated so that you get seven different note names, even if it means double flats or sharps. By my reckoning, G harmonic minor would be G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G. Liekwise, some chords look much clearer one way than another, which may or may not be theoretically correct. There are times when Eb and F# look right, others when Eb and Gb look better. Usually it turns out that the theory is 'better', but not invariably. Judgment is needed.


I don't think convention should be changed to help people sight read.

In fact good performers should be playing from memory anyway if you want to have
a chance at decent phrasing, especially in difficult keys.

One musician I respect the most is a young jazz cat. While his peers are off playing hip hop,
he has built a list of hundreds of standards and other tunes he can play in every key and all tempos.

Thats how jazz education used to take place....you'd get on the bandstand and they would call donna lee in a crazy key and BPM.

We've gotten so lazy these days!

I don't mean to criticize your post, it seemed the quickest to reply to on this page, I know you've all made many of the same points, just thought I'd add another musician's perspective.
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby damoore » Tue Apr 23, 2013 11:06 pm


In fact good performers should be playing from memory anyway if you want to have
a chance at decent phrasing, especially in difficult keys.

That's not at all how it often works. Playing in a pit, you get a large book and very small number of rehearsals and often short runs, so everyone is sight reading most of the time. Added to the fact that the books have all been copied by foot, and you need all the help you can get.
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby Anonymousvn » Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:12 pm

Can you share Sammy Nestico's book 'The Complete Arranger'?
I very need it, I can give you 6 month vps 512mb for your website :)
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby GuyBarry » Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:44 am

Hi - I'm just starting to write in a jazz idiom so I'm learning about sixths and ninths in addition to my existing repertoire of chords. However I'm finding the terminology a bit confusing.

With seventh chords, you get the following pattern
C seventh (C7) = C major + minor seventh
C minor seventh (Cm7) = C minor + minor seventh
C major seventh (Cmaj7) = C major + major seventh
C diminished seventh (Cdim7) = C diminished + diminished seventh.

In each case apart from the first, the type of seventh added is the same one as the name of the basic triad: minor for minor, major for major and diminished for diminished.

But with sixth and ninth chords it doesn't seem to work like that. You get
C sixth (C6) = C major + major sixth
C minor sixth (Cmin6) = C minor + major sixth
C ninth (C9) = C seventh + major ninth
C minor ninth (Cmin9) = C minor seventh + major ninth

If I want a C seventh chord with a minor ninth, then apparently it's called a "dominant minor ninth" and written C7b9 or C7-9.

This really threw me for a while since I couldn't understand why a so-called "minor sixth" or "minor ninth" chord didn't include the interval of a minor sixth or minor ninth. Why does there appear to be one system for the naming of seventh chords and another for the naming of sixth and ninth chords?
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Re: Standard chord notation

Postby wireman » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:28 pm

I know that this thread is long dead but it raised an old interest of mine.

A very long time ago as an exercise I created a website on this very topic, the goal was to learn how to create a site and play with programming, nothing more. It has been languising for years and uses Java which hardly anyone (including me) has enabled any more. I thought the applets were cool. you could enter notes on a "keyboard" and find the chord, or see chords in a guitar string/fret frame, they might not even work now.
I could create a more modern version of the site or application if it was of any interest, I assume someone has created a capable app for phones by now which would do the same thing.

ISee here

I don't know why I kept the site, can't let it go.

Note that I am not in any way an expert in music theory and have no formal training.
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