Music Professors Can’t Agree On What To Name A Chord

Posted on 20. Sep, 2013 by in Uncategorized

The stupid truth


I came across the following chord on a lead sheet. “A11no3.” My question for you is: Why isn’t this written as Allno5?


If you gathered 100 professors of music in one room and ask them all to name the following chord, C Eb G Bb, you would have a bar room argument on your hands. No one would come out on top. Most would call it a Cm7, while some would call it an Eb6 (Eb G Bb C), others may call it a G minor something (G Bb C Eb) or some idiot may call it a Bb2add4,6 (Bb C Eb G).  It can get pretty ridiculous. Let me give you another scenario. Many gospel musicians that were not formally trained will refer to the following keys as C# and F#. A classically trained musician would usually call them Db and Gb. They are both enharmonic spelling of the same note. What determines the name of the key is the amount of sharps and flats in the key signature. Theoretically, both names are correct but sheet music is easier to read in Db and Gb because they have fewer accidentals (sharps or flats).

Musicians with a limited knowledge of music theory will often give chords the wrong name. Even if musicians don’t agree on the chord name, they do agree on the chord sound. When you take away all the music theory and only rely on what you hear, ” it is what it is.”

There are some rules for naming chords as scales, which includes an understanding of music theory principles. First you need to be familiar with all the major keys and the numbers of sharps and flats in those keys. In western theory the chord name is often determined by the key of the song and how it is used.

In my Chord Names & Symbols chart I give you the symbols for many basic chords. For example, the C minor seven chord can be written as Cm7, Cmin7, and C-7. These are all abbreviations for the same chord.

The “A11no3 is a chord name for an “A” dominant eleventh chord without the 3rd. Based on the A major scale, the formula for this chord is the 1st,  3rd,  5th  b7th,  9th  and 11th (A  C#  E  G  B  D) scale tones of the A major scale. For the “no3″ portion of this chord, you must omit the 3rd. The most popular voicing of this chord used in contemporary music would be (A / D G B).”

To answer your question, it could have been written “no5” because the chord doesn’t contain a fifth, nor does it contained a third. The A11 chord is just one way of voicing this chord. When we look at the root position formula (above) you can see all the notes in this chord. In contemporary music many different chord voicings can be created from the root position formula. The third and the fifth are often omitted from many chords to create a modern sound.

Try adding the third or fifth to the A11 chord. Notice that it sounds a little muddy. What distinguishes contemporary harmony from the rest is the fresh chord voicings created by seasoned musicians.

My Contemporary Chord Finder Learning System is a great tool for learning the correct chord names and voicings used in contemporary music. In conclusion, I guess you could call this chord an Allno3, or Allno5, or Allno3no5, or my personal, favorite just plain A11. Maybe the real benefit is how much ink you’re going to save.

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