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Tip: Ninth Chords

This tip is about the major 9, major add 9, and 6/9 chords. We’re going into this because it’s nice to know there’s other stuff you can do with a major chord to keep it from sounding like the same old 3-note sound.

Just what does this 9 refer to, in C major 9? First, take the plain C major chord: C, E, G. This can be built on the C major scale (among other scales). Here’s that scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and again C. Keep going now, one more note: D again, right? Let’s bring in the numbers, just assigning them to the scale:


Notice the number under the D, 9. We don’t assign 2 to the D, because we’re building this chord from lowest pitch to highest: C is in the bass, then comes E higher up, then, G, maybe B, and then D as the top note, higher than all the others. If we were to say “C major 2” instead of C major 9, we’d first get some funny looks from more experienced fellow musicians. Then, we’d see our mistake by spelling out the “C major 2:”

C in the bass, then D is the next note, just two steps higher, then E two steps higher than D, and on up. If you think this *looks* okay, think about how you’d try to play, C, D, and E on your guitar like this:


In other words, C on string 6, fret 8, D on string 5, fret 5 and E on string 4, fret 2. Besides ripping the webbing between your fingers in just attempting this, if you do manage to sound all three notes at once, you’ll hear it sounds pretty muddy.

This is getting a bit long, so let’s break this topic onto the next installment, where we’ll go into some specific shapes for playing the major 9 and related chords.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2008 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – May 1, 2006 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Ninth Chord Series