Extended Chords

Interested in learning extended chords for your guitar playing?

Extended chords can add a lot of depth and flavor to your music. Understanding the structure of these chords and how to use them, along with some associated common chord progressions, allows you to open up new possibilities with your guitar playing.

You can immediately start using extended chords in your own music with some practice. These chords are common in all styles of music, so they’re perfect for any guitarist looking to expand their repertoire.

Read this complete article now to learn more about extended chords for guitar!

Learning Extended Chords for Guitarists

It is quite common for guitarists to limit themselves to minimal open chords and the basic barre chords, a practice that prevents them from using other types of chords, like the altered ones, to provide color to their music and develop them as a player. These chords find more prominence in jazz and experimental music. Contrary to common belief, you don’t require extensive knowledge of music theory to be comfortable with them.

What Are Extended Chords?

You have seen that any triad and a seventh chord are built by stacking the intervals of thirds over the root note. If we continue the process and stack another 3rd interval over the 7th, we reach the next octave. Such chords that have grown beyond an octave are usually termed extended chords, and the added intervals are called extensions.

Simply put, they are extensions of the triads and quadads, formed by adding 3rds. Remember that a quadad is itself an extension of a basic triad. The further basic extensions of 7th chords [1, 3, 5, 7] are,

  1. The 9th chords or 9’s (Having a stacked 3rd over 7’s) or [1, 3, 5, 7, 9] structure.
  2. The 11th chords or 11’s (With a stacked 3rd over 9’s) or [1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11] structure.
  3. The 13th chords or 13’s (With another stacked 3rd over 11’s) or [1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13] structure.

For easy working with the chord extensions, you may write the notes of the corresponding major scale for two octaves, as shown in the table below. The 8th note is the same note as the root, an octave higher. Similarly, the 9th note is the same as the 2nd, and so on.

14 notes of Major Scales

Basics of Extended Chords

You will recall that the triads and the 7th chords are the tertian chords. Also, the 7th chord does not fall into the category of extended chords as it does not stretch beyond the octave from the root. Going beyond the octave is necessary for any chord to be categorized as extended.

The 13th chord is also known as a fully extended chord because it has all seven distinct notes of a diatonic scale. Any further extension will only repeat the notes at higher octaves. For example, the 15th note is the same as the root, and so on.

As you may be thinking, playing all the notes in these chords may be physically impossible. In addition, the chord may sound crowded and unclear, with many notes clashing with each other.

Don’t worry, as it is very common to leave out a few notes to make the chord sound more pronounced, focused, and clear. You can leave out the non-essential notes and reduce the chord to a quadad or a triad that is easily playable. But there are certain rules to guide you about the notes that can be left out and those that cannot. You will learn about them in subsequent sections.

You must understand and remember that the core part of any extended chord is up to the 7th note only. Hence, the first four notes are also sometimes known as the chord tones.

You have learned about different types of 7th chords in our detailed article on the topic, along with their names, nomenclature, and structure. Extended chords have only three basic variations out of those types – Major, minor and Dominant chords, as you will see in the subsequent sections.

Structure of Extended Chords

This section will clarify these things when we deal with their chord structure. For now, just remember that each of these three chords, the 9’s, the 11’s, and the 13’s, are further subdivided into Major, minor, and Dominant.

Ninth Chord

The details of the 9th chords are as follows:

Major 9th Chords

The Major 9 chord is formed by stacking a minor 3rd interval over the major 7th chord, so the four intervals are M3 (4 ST) – m3 (7 ST) – M3 (11 ST) – m3 (14 ST).

The intervals and the notes of the Major 9 chord are given by the expression,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – M3 – N4 (M7) – m3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]), where

  • R – root note,
  • N2 – 2nd note – Major 3rd interval from the root,
  • N3 – 3rd note – Perfect 5th interval from the root,
  • N4 – 4th note – Major 7th interval from the root,
  • N5 – 5th note – Major 9th or Major 2nd (in the next octave) interval from the root,

The chord formula for the Major 9 chord is [1 3 5 7 9]. Hence for the C major scale, the notes of the CMaj9 or C Major 9 chord will be {C, E, G, B, D}.

These are very cool and dreamy-sounding chords.

Minor 9th Chords

The minor 9th chord is formed by stacking a Major 3rd interval over the 7th minor chord, so the four intervals are m3 (3 ST) – M3 (7 ST) – m3 (10 ST) – M3 (14 ST).

The intervals and the notes of the minor 9 chord are,

R – m3 – N2 (m3) – M3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]), where

  • R – root note,
  • N2 – 2nd note – minor 3rd interval from the root,
  • N3 – 3rd note – Perfect 5th interval from the root,
  • N4 – 4th note – minor 7th interval from the root,
  • N5 – 5th note – Major 9th or Major 2nd (in the next octave) interval from the root,

The chord formula for the minor 9th chord is [1 b3 5 b7 9]. Hence, the notes of the C minor 9 or Cm9 chord will be {C, Eb, G, Bb, D}.

Dominant 9th Chords

The Dominant 9th chord is sometimes referred to as the funk chord and is often used in funk and jazz music.

It is formed by stacking a Major 3rd interval over the dominant 7th chord, so the four intervals are M3 (4 ST) – m3 (7 ST) – m3 (10 ST) – M3 (14 ST).

The intervals and the notes of the Dominant 9 chord are,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]), where

  • R – root note,
  • N2 – 2nd note – Major 3rd interval from the root,
  • N3 – 3rd note – Perfect 5th interval from the root,
  • N4 – 4th note – minor 7th interval from the root,
  • N5 – 5th note – Major 9th or Major 2nd (in the next octave) interval from the root,

The chord formula for the Dominant 9th chord is [1 3 5 b7 9]. Hence, the notes of the C dominant 9 or C9 chord will be {C, E, G, Bb, D}.

9th Chords

Eleventh Chord

As you would have noticed, all the chord types of the 9th chord have the same interval for the ninth note (a Major 9th) from the root. So in the key of C, you have D as the highest note for all the three types.

This makes things a little different for the 11th and 13th chords from the ones you have dealt with so far. The same interval of minor 3rd is added to the 9th note (Major 9th) on all three types of chords resulting in the same 11th note (F in the C Major Key) and the same interval (Perfect 11th) from the root for all three 11th chords, at 17 semitones from the root.

So if you remember the notes of the 9th chords, you can just add a Perfect 11th (or a Perfect 4th in the next octave) to form your 11th chords. The details of the 11th chords are as follows:

Major 11th Chords

The intervals and the notes of the Major 11 chord are given by the expression,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – M3 – N4 (M7) – m3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]), where

  • Notes N1 to N5 are the same as the corresponding Major 9 chord, with the same intervals.
  • N6 – 6th note – Perfect 9th or Perfect 4th (in the next octave) interval from the root,

The chord formula for the Major 11 chord is [1 3 5 7 9 11]. Hence, the CMaj11 or C Major 11 chord notes will be {C, E, G, B, D, F}.

Minor 11th Chords

The intervals and the notes of the minor 11th chord are given by the expression,

R – m3 – N2 (m3) – M3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]).

The chord formula for the minor 11th chord is [1 b3 5 b7 9 11]. Hence, the notes of the C minor 11 or Cm11 chord will be {C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F}.

Dominant 11th Chords

The intervals and the notes of the Dominant 11ths chord are given by the expression,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]).

The chord formula for the Dominant 11th chord is [1 3 5 b7 9 11]. Hence, the notes of the C minor 11 or Cm11 chord will be {C, E, G, Bb, D, F}.

11th Chords

Thirteenth Chord

As explained in the introduction to the 11th chords, all the 11ths in the three types of chords are at an interval of Perfect 11th from the root and are formed by adding an interval of minor 3rd to the corresponding 9th chords. In the same way, all the 13th chords are formed by stacking a Major 3rd interval over the corresponding 11th chords.

Since the notes for extensions beyond the seven are always fixed, we simply call them the 9th, 11th, and 13th notes.

If any of these three notes note is raised or lowered by a half step for the purpose of voice leading, we get what is known as an altered chord.

Major 13th Chords

The intervals and the notes of the Major 13 chord are given by the expression,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – M3 – N4 (M7) – m3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]) – M3 – N7 (M13 or M6 [O]), where

  • Notes N1 to N6 – same as the corresponding Major 11 chord
  • N7 – 7th note – Major 13th or Major 6th (in the next octave) from the root,

The chord formula for the Major 13 chord is [1 3 5 7 9 11 13]. Hence, the CMaj13 or C Major 13 chord notes will be {C, E, G, B, D, F, A}.

Minor 13th Chords

The expression for the Minor 13th chord is,

R – m3 – N2 (m3) – M3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]) – M3 – N7 (M13 or M6 [O]).

The chord formula for the Minor 13 chord is [1 b3 5 b7 9 11 13]. Hence the notes of the C minor 13 or Cm13 chord will be {C, E, G, B, D, F, A}.

Dominant 13th Chords

The intervals and the notes of the Dominant 13 chord are given by the expression,

R – M3 – N2 (M3) – m3 – N3 (P5) – m3 – N4 (m7) – M3 – N5 (M9 or M2[O]) – m3 – N6 (P11 or P4[O]) – M3 – N7 (M13 or M6 [O]).

The chord formula for the Dominant 13 chord is [1 3 5 b7 9 11 13]. Hence, the CMaj13 or C Major 13 chord notes will be {C, E, G, Bb, D, F, A}.

13th Chords

Rules for Leaving out the Notes in the Extended Chords

As stated earlier, while playing complex chords like the extended ones, some of the notes can be left out while maintaining their distinctive qualities, known as implied harmony. The list below contains some of the guidelines that you may follow to leave out the notes.

  1. The root, 3rd, and 7th are the most important notes and are present most of the time.
  2. The third note establishes the chord quality, but it can be excluded if there is a clash observed between the notes. You get suspended types of chords by doing so.
  3. In exceptional situations, like when you are playing in a band, you can omit to play the root note, which is the lowest in pitch, if the bass player is playing the root.
  4. Leaving out the 7th note result in what is known as the added tone chord, which we will be discussing in later sections
  5. It is feasible to leave out the 5ths in most situations unless it serves any specific purpose in your performance.
  6. You can play the [1, 3, 7, 9] notes in the 9th chords leaving out the 5ths.
  7. In the 11th chord, you should at least play the [1, 3, 7, 11] notes, leaving out the 5th and the 9th.
  8. Similarly, for the 13th chord, you should play at least [1, 3, 7, 13] notes and eliminate the 5th, 9th, and 11th notes.

These are just guidelines and not rules. You are free to try out other combinations and play them if they sound good.

Some Problems with the 11th Chords.

As you have seen, all 11th chords have a Perfect 11th interval which is an octave above the Perfect 4th interval. Both Major 11 and Dominant 11 chords also have a major 3rd interval, which is only a semitone down from the Perfect 4th and may result in a clash in the two notes, resulting in an unpleasant sound.

This is usually avoided by,

  • Playing a sharp 11th note instead of the natural note, leading to an altered chord introduced earlier. These chords then become Major#11 chords: [1, 3, 7, #11] or Dominant#11 chords: [1, 3, b7, #11].
  • Remove the 3rd from your playing as indicated in the previous section. Because you still have a Perfect 11th, it becomes a suspended chord as a 3rd has been replaced with a Perfect 11th or 4th. the new chords are Major7sus11: [1, 5, 7, 11] and Dominant7sus11: [1, 5, b7, 11].

Misconceptions About Extended Chords

The common misconceptions about extended chords include:

  1. They are some jazz guitar specialties and are meant only for jazz musicians.
  2. It is very tough to finger the associated chord voicing.
  3. It is very difficult to remember them.

The real fact is that all types of extended versions have the same intervals from the root for the chord extension part resulting in the same extended notes for each of the extensions. As far as the fingerings are concerned, like barre chords, these chords can also be played over the entire fretboard by use of repeating patterns.

You can initially start with a couple of voicings of each extension and incorporate them into your playing before moving further.

Extended Chords Versus “add” Chords

In the fourth point of the section on leaving out certain notes, you were advised that it is possible to leave out the 7th from the chord. This results in another type of chord, known as the Added Tone chord, having “add” as the chord symbol. You may consider them as simple triads with more notes added to them without the 7th. Hence, they usually have four notes. The extended chords have these 7ths. Some examples of “add” chords are:

  1. Adding Major 2nd to a major triad = add2 [1, 2, 3, 5] with intervals {R, M2, M3, P5}. Cadd2: [C, D, E, G].
  2. Adding Perfect 4th = add4 [1, 3, 4, 5] with intervals {R, M3, P4, P5}. Cadd4: [C, E, F, G].
  3. Adding Major 9th = add9 [1, 3, 5, 9] with intervals {R, M3, P5, M9}. Cadd9: [C, E, G, D].
  4. Adding Perfect 11th = add11 [1, 3, 5, 11] with intervals {R, M3, P5, M11}. Cadd11: [C, E, G, F].
  5. Adding Major 13th = add13 [1, 3, 5, 13] with intervals {R, M3, P5, M13}. Cadd13: [C, E, G, A].

Observations on Add Tone Chords

some of the observations on the Add Tone chords discussed above are:

  1. Add9 chords are frequently used in rock and pop music to spice up the regular chords.
  2. Add4 chords have both M3 and P4 at a semitone apart, which theoretically must clash with each other. However, it is frequently used and sounds good, with some dissonance. It is similar to Sus4 chords with an added 3rd.
  3. Add11 is the same chord as add4, with an octave up and a different order of notes and voicing.
  4. Add9 chords are similar to Sus2 with an added 3rd and the Major 2nd being an octave up.

Conclusion

That’s all for now on extended chords. I hope you have found this information useful. In the comments section below, let me know if there are any specific chord voicings or topics you would like me to cover in future lessons. Happy practicing!

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