• Jazz Chord Formulas •


Every chord in the standard jazz toolbox! Interval formulas below refer to the chord root’s major scale (e.g. Cmaj7: 1357 = tones 1234567 from the Cmaj scale). Also note a few other nomenclature quirks


—Interval Formulas—

Power: 1-5 [C5]
Major: 1-3-5 [C, Cmaj]
Minor: 1-b3-5 [Cm, Cmin]
Diminished: 1-b3-b5 [Cdim, C°]
Augmented: 1-3-#5 [C+, Caug]
Sus. 2nd: 1-2-5 [Csus2]
Sus. 4th: 1-4-5 [Csus4]

Major 7th: 1-3-5-7 [Cmaj7, C7]
(Dominant) 7th: 1-3-5-b7 [C7]
Minor 7th: 1-b3-5-b7 [Cm7, C–7]
Half-Dim. 7th: 1-b3-b5-b7 [Cm7b5, Cø7]
Dim. 7th: 1-b3-b5-bb7 [Cdim7, C°7]
Aug. 7th: 1-3-#5-b7 [Caug7, C+7, C7#5]
Min-Maj. 7th: 1-b3-5-7 [Cm(maj7)]
Dim-Maj. 7th: 1-b3-b5-7 [Cdim(maj7)]
(Major) 6th: 1-3-5-6 [C6, Cmaj6]
Minor 6th: 1-b3-5-6 [Cm6, Cmin6]
Add 9th: 1-3-5-9 [Cadd9, Cadd2]
Add 11th: 1-3-5-11 [Cadd11, Cadd4]

Major 9th: 1-3-5-7-9 [Cmaj9]
(Dom.) 9th: 1-3-5-b7-9 [C9]
Minor 9th: 1-b3-5-b7-9 [Cm9]
6th/9th: 1-3-5-6-9 [C6/9, C6add9]

Major 11th: 1-3-5-7-9-11 [Cmaj11]
(Dom.) 11th: 1-3-5-b7-9-11 [C11]
Minor 11th: 1-b3-5-b7-9-11 [Cm11]

Major 13th: 1-3-5-7-9-11-13 [Cmaj13]
(Dom.) 13th: 1-3-5-b7-9-11-13 [C13]
Minor 13th: 1-b3-5-b7-9-11-13 [Cm13]


—Chordal Quirks—

Bespoke names: virtually all other chords can be deduced via the info above, e.g. ‘C7#9(no5)‘ has no 5th, ‘C6(b9)‘ just adds a b9 to a Cmaj6, etc. Rare exceptions include compound ‘polychords’, which are written as their ‘sum’ – e.g. ‘Cmaj + Emaj‘ (C-E-G-E-G#-B) is much clearer than ‘G#aug(#9)/C‘, although they both mean the same thing [also check this lookup site]

Inversions: chords where the root isn’t the lowest-pitched tone – notated like ‘D/F#‘ with the lowest tone after the slash (often, this note is ‘ignored’ in naming the rest of the chord, e.g. ‘Am/G‘: an Am triad doesn’t contain a G, but the pre-slash part isn’t renamed to reflect its presence)

Altered dominants: any dominant 7th with an ‘altered’ upper extension, i.e. 1-3-5-b7 plus a 9/11/13 which is ‘altered’ by an accidental – which in practice is limited to combinations of b9/#9/#11/b13 (e.g. C7b9, C7#9(b13)). Generally, altered dominants can be treated interchangeably, mostly due to their tritonal overlaps (i.e. try playing any in the place of any other…)

Omitting tones: often, playing all notes of a complex chord isn’t practical (e.g. a guitar’s 6 strings can’t play all 7 notes in a 13th chord) – therefore, tones tend to be omitted as per a rough hierarchy: usually the 5th is the first one to go, often followed by the root – and the most important tones to keep are the 3rd, 7th, plus any extensions which are specified in the name

Nicknames: many chords also have special names, which often refer to specific voicings rather than generic formulas – e.g. the ‘Hendrix chord‘ (1-3-b7-#9), Scriabin’s ‘Mystic chord‘ (1-3-b7-9-#11-13), Strauss’ ‘Elektra chord‘ (Emaj + C#maj), Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka chord‘ (Cmaj + F#maj), La Monte Young’s ‘Dream chord‘ (1-4-5-#11), Schoenberg’s ‘Farben chord‘ (1-3-6-7-b13) and ‘Napoleon chord‘ (1-3-6-b9-11-b13)…


A few general learning principles:

  • Listen to lots of different music: feed the brain with good sounds
  • Train the ear: this gives you the ‘toolbox’ to teach yourself any style
  • ‘Sing inside’ as you play: music is about emotions, not finger muscles
  • Experiment freely: constantly create your own patterns & variations
  • Enjoy it! Find fun in improvement…then mastery is no struggle

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!

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