13th chords

Do you want to learn how to play the 13th chords?

Familiarising yourself with the bit of music theory behind the formation of these chords, the chord shape, and the alterations you can do will open up many options to add color to your playing and try several variations in the music.

This article will cover all three types of the basic 13th guitar chords – the major, minor, and dominant, followed by the b13 and #13 alterations on them. It will further guide you on how to play them on your guitar fretboard.

Read the complete article to know all the crucial aspects related to the 13th chords on the guitar!

What is a 13th Chord | How to build the 13th Chords?

As you may know, the 13th chord belongs to the family of extended chords built by stacking the intervals of thirds further on the basic 7th chords beyond the octave. In other words, the notes of the extended chords span more than an octave in the closed root position, and these notes which lie in the next octave are known as the extensions.

There can be a maximum of three extended notes in a chord, as the chord will have seven notes. Any further extensions in any scale will go beyond the second octave, and the notes will repeat themselves. Such a chord is known as a complete chord.

Any 13th chord has three extensions and forms a complete seven-note chord defined above.

Types, Notes & Notations of the Thirteenth Chords

The ninth chords, like the other extended chords, the 9th, and the 11th chords, have only three qualities or sonorities – Major, Minor, and Dominant. The core of all the extended chords is the notes of the corresponding 7th chords, sometimes referred to as the chord tones.

The extended chords have an interval of Major 9th, Perfect 11th, and Major 13th over the root note in forming the 9th, 11th, and 13th chords. As you can see, the intervals of the extended notes are fixed with respect to the root note.

Let us examine the basic 13th chords first with respect to their structure, notes, and notations, followed by the altered and added tone chords.

Major Thirteenth Chords

The first six notes for Major 13 chords are the same as that of the corresponding Major 11 chord with an interval of a Major 3rd stacked above those 6 notes. This equals the intervals of (m3 + m3 + M3) over the major seventh chords.

The chord formula for any Major 13 chord is [1 3 5 7 9 11 13]. In the key of the C major scale, the CMaj13 or C Major 13 chord notes are {C, E, G, B, D, F, A}.

The F Major 13 chord or FMaj13 has notes [F A C E G Bb D].

Minor Thirteenth Chords

Similarly, the minor 13 or a flat 13th chord is formed by stacking the intervals of major 3rd, minor 3rd, and a major 3rd (M3 + m3 + M3) over the minor seventh chords. This is equivalent to an interval of a major 3rd placed over the minor 11th chords.

This chord has a formula [1 b3 5 b7 9 11 13] for its notes. In C, the notes of the C minor 13 or Cm13 chord will be {C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F, A}.

Dominant Thirteenth Chords

The 13th dominant chord is formed by stacking (M3 + m3 + M3) intervals over the dominant seventh chords. This is equivalent to an M3 interval stacked over the 11th dominant chords. As you know, the dominant chords have a dominant function and are formed from the scale degree 5 note of the key as the root note.

The chord formula for the Dominant 13 or the dom13 chord is [1 3 5 b7 9 11 13]. This means the C13 or C Dominant 13 chord carries the notes {C, E, G, Bb, D, F, A}.

The underlying harmony behind the dominant 13 chords is the Mixolydian or Lydian dominant. The interval of major 7th between the 7th and the 13th note and its dissonance gives the characteristic sound of the dom13 chords.

The voice leading of the V13 chords happens by

  1. Most of the time, the 13th is in the Soprano voice as the top note and resolves down by a 3rd to I or i.
  2. Many times, the V13 is followed by I9. In that case, the 13th mat resolve to the 9th.

The table below summarizes the intervals and notes of the basic 13 chords.

Altered 13th chords

Let us briefly look at the altered chords formed by chromatically raising or lowering the 13th note of the extended chords discussed above by a half step. In music theory, a chromatic note is a note that does not belong to the corresponding scales.

The possible alterations are the introduction of the b13 and #13 notes in the three types of extended 13th chords discussed above.

Altered 13th Major Chord

By altering the Major 13 chords, you get:

  1. The b13 variation: This variation is denoted as Maj11b13. In C, the notes of CMaj11b13 shall be C, E, G, B, D, F, and Ab.
  2. The #13 variation: The alteration is denoted as Maj11(#13) chord with the notes of CMaj11(#13) being C, E, G, B, D, F, and A# in the key of C.

Altered 13th Minor Chord

By altering the Minor 13 chords, you get:

  1. The b13 variation: This chromatic change leads to an m11b13 chord. The notes of the Cm11b13 chord are C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F, and Ab.

Altered 13th Dominant Chord

By altering the Dominant 13 chords, you get:

  1. The b13 variation: This leads to a leading to a 11b13 chord. The notes of the C11b13 chord are C, E, G, Bb, D, F, and Ab.

Add 13 Chords

The added tone chords are formed by omitting the 7th notes from the seventh chords and adding the fourth note. In simple terms, they are the basic triads with a fourth note added.

The add13 chords have a major 13th added to the major triad. They are designated add13 chords with the chord formula [1, 3, 5, 13] with intervals {R, M3, P5, M13}. In C, the notes of Cadd13 are [C, E, G, A].

Note that the Cmaj6 chord has the same notes [C E G A].

Songs With 13th Chords

Some of the popular songs that feature the 13th chords in them are:

  1. “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 has the chord progression Dm9 – G13 – Cmaj9, which is the ii – V – I progression, a staple in jazz music.
  2. Honky Cat by Elton John. (D13).
  3. “You’ve got a Friend” By James Taylor. (E13).
  4. “Far From The Home, I Love” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. (G13).

Inversions of 13th chords

The 13th chords are unclear in inversions when used with other chords. Since the chord has all the notes of the scale, an inversion technically becomes the other chord in the scale by changing the bass note. Hence they are primarily used in the root positions.

For example, consider the first inversion of Cmaj13 with notes [C-E-G-B-D-F-A]. The CMaj13/E will have notes [E-G-B-D-F-A-C], which is a Em13(b9) chord. Similarly, the 2nd inversion CMaj13/G has notes, [G-B-D-F-A-C-E], which is a G13 chord.

Ommission of Notes while Playing 13th chords

The general rules (or guidelines) are:

  1. The root can be left out if the bass player in your band is playing it.
  2. As stated earlier, leaving out the 7th results in the formation of the added tone chords.
  3. 5th of the chord is usually left out.
  4. The 13th chords should have at least 1, 3, 7, and 13 in the normal voicing.

13 Chord Guitar – Chord Charts

Major Thirteenth Chord Chart

Minor Thirteenth Chord Chart

Dominant Thirteenth Chord Chart

Alternative shape

13th barre chords


We hope that the article has been helpful to you and answered all your basic questions. If you want to dig deep or have any clarification to seek, feel free to write to us in the comments section below.

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