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  • Writer's pictureRon Dickson

Learn the function of notes within a chord part 3

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Last time we covered the box where the 3rd of the chord resided and looked at how moving the note changes the quality and sound of the chord and gives us Major, Minor, sus2 and sus4 chords.

For the time being, we will miss out on the box for the 5th of the chord and take the path with no 6th or 7th to look at the “add” chords. This is to build on previous knowledge before introducing new notes to think about within the chords.

Before going further, we need to address the numbering system and how we get 9, 11, and 13 if there are only seven notes on a scale.

Initially, we built the chord on stacked thirds. To get through all the notes and back to the beginning, we need to go through the scale twice


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


To differentiate the boxes the notes will sit in, and we keep the number sequence going up for the second octave


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 1


Although the 2 and 9, 4 and 11, 6 and 13 are the same scale degree, they have very different functions within the chord. As discussed last time, the box for the 3rd can only hold one note. If there is no 3rd, the 2nd and 4th degrees are called sus2 and sus4 and fill this box. If there is a 3rd, they cannot be in the same box and move out into 9 and 11.

The 6th degree is slightly different as it fits into the box where the 7th can also reside. If the 7th is there, the 6th becomes a 13th as it must move out. If there is no 7th, then it becomes a 6th chord.

Leaving the box for the 6th or 7th empty, we can further explore add9 and add11 chords options.

Starting with the open D chord, the chord’s notes are in red. We have two options in which to approach creating the add chords.


To apply the knowledge from the previous examples, we need to take the sus chords and add a 3rd back into the chord. Since the 1st and 6th strings on the guitar are essentially the same boxes, we can do this by adding the 3rd fret on the 6th string to the chord, and the sus chords become add9 or add11.




Or we can consider the boxes for the 9th and the 11th to be on different strings. With this alternative, the Root note in the bass position can be moved up to a ♭9, 9, or ♯9. The 5th can be moved down to become a ♯4 or 4. We can add the 5th on the open 5th string if we wish to have the 5th note in the chord when playing the 11ths.

From this, we have two different voicings for the Dadd9, Dadd♯9, and Dadd11 and introduced Dadd♭9 and Dadd♯11


Next, we will do the same for the A chord. The chord’s notes are in red. Although the potential is there to add another 3rd and is worth exploring, it is not very practical for these examples. Both Root notes can be moved up to a ♭9, 9. On the 5th string, it can move further to the ♯9.


The 5th can be moved down to become a ♯4 or 4.


We have two voicings for Aadd♭9, Aadd9, and new chords of Aadd♯9, Aadd11, and Aadd♯11.


For the E chord. Both Root notes can be moved up to a ♭9, 9. On the 1st string, it can move further to the ♯9. The 5th can be moved down to become a ♯4 or 4. We can if we choose to play the 9ths on the 6th string.



We have two voicings for Eadd♭9, Eadd9, and new chords of Eadd♯9, Eadd11, and Eadd♯11.


To apply the knowledge of the sus chords to the open G chord, we need to go to the 3-finger version of the G chord and leave the 3rd string open.




Since we have added the 3rd back into the chord, the sus chords now can become Gadd9, Gadd♯9, Gadd11, and Gadd♯11.


If we wish for a different voicing for the G chords, we can replace the root on the 3rd string with the ♭9, 9, or ♯9. Or the 3rd on the 2nd string with the 11 or ♯11.




We are giving us the addition of the Gadd♭9 chord plus different voices of the Gadd9, Gadd♯9, Gadd11, and Gadd#11.


Like the G, the Open C chord easily changes from sus to add chords by adding the 3rd. In this case, you are playing the open 1st string.




With the 1st string unmuted, we get Cadd9, Cadd♯9, Cadd11 and Cadd♯11.

Keeping the 3rd in place on the 5th string, we have alternative voices by replacing the root on the 2nd string with the ♭9, 9, or ♯9. Or the 3rd on the 1st string with the 11 or ♯11.



This gives us the addition of the Cadd♭9 chord plus different voices of the Cadd9, Cadd♯9, Cadd11, and Cadd♯11.


It is a lot to take to absorb in one go, and it can seem more daunting than when we replaced the 3rd with either the 2nd or the 4th. We need to apply this to the songs we know and the music we are learning to understand in practice and to hear what these changes make.

Where you see a sus chord, replace it with an add9 or add11 or vice versa. Try the different voices where you can. Listen to how these changes affect the context of the song. The real-life application of this is our goal, not just gaining the knowledge of the extra chords.

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