Sixth chord

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The term sixth chord refers to two different kinds of chord, the first in classical music and the second in modern popular music. [1] [2]


The original meaning of the term is a chord in first inversion , in other words with its third in the bass and its root a sixth above it. This is how the term is still used in classical music today, and in this sense it is called also a chord of the sixth. [3] A first-inversion C major chord is shown below.

Sixth chord

In modern popular music, a sixth chord is any triad with an added sixth above the root as a chord factor. [4] This was traditionally (and in classical music is still today) called an added sixth chord or triad with added sixth [5] since Jean-Philippe Rameau (sixte ajoutée) in the 18th century. It is not common to designate chord inversions in popular music, so there is no need for a term designating the first inversion of a chord, and so the term sixth chord in popular music is a short way of saying added sixth chord. When not otherwise specified, it usually means a major triad with an added major sixth interval (a major sixth chord), such as the chord below.

Sixth chord

However, a minor triad is also used, together with the same interval, resulting in a minor sixth chord (also known as minor major sixth).


In early music, what is today called a sixth chord or first inversion in classical music was considered an autonomous harmonic entity with the root named by the bass, while it was later simply considered an inversion of a chord with the bass being the third (not the root) and the root being the sixth (not the bass). In jazz, this form is referred to as a major sixth chord.

Alternatively, rather than as a six three chord, the note may be analyzed as a suspension or appoggiatura, "first resolved and later... retained as a part of the chord, no resolution taking place." [6]

Sixth chord

The dominant chord's fifth may be substituted by the chord's sixth, analyzed as its thirteenth: [7]

Sixth chord

What in popular music is called a sixth chord was traditionally called an "added sixth chord". As the name suggests, this is a triad with an added sixth interval. It is generally built on the subdominant note ( Scale deg 4.svg ), though it can be built on any note. Typically, the triad is a major triad and the additional sixth interval is major (major sixth chord). For example, a major sixth chord built on C (denoted by C6, or CM6) consists of the notes C, E, G, and the added major sixth A.

Sixth chord

These are the same notes as those of an A minor seventh chord – whether such a chord should be regarded as an added sixth chord or a seventh depends on its context and harmonic function. To explain the analyses as added sixth chords, against common practice period theory, [8] provides the example of the final tonic chord of some popular music being traditionally analyzable as a "submediant six-five chord" (added sixth chords by popular terminology), or a first inversion seventh chord (possibly the dominant of the mediant V/iii). According to the interval strengths of the added sixth chord, the root of the strongest interval of the chord in first inversion (CEGA), the perfect fifth (C–G), is the root (C).

In jazz, the minor sixth chord (sometimes: minor major sixth, or minor/major sixth) is frequently used. It is unlike the major sixth chord, which is often substituted for a major triad; the minor sixth plays a number of different harmonic roles. The chord consists of a minor triad with a tone added a major sixth above the root. Thus in C, it contains the notes C, E, G, and A.

Sixth chord

This chord might be notated Cm6, CmM6, Cmin/maj6, Cmin(maj6), etc. Note that Cm6 has the same notes as F9 with the root omitted, i.e. the notes F (omitted), A, E, C, and G.

These notes form a tetrad with several enharmonic equivalents: C–E–G–A might be written as Cm6, F9, F9 (no root), Am75, B79, or Balt. Many jazz chord charts use these chord notations indiscriminately, particularly in the choice of minor sixth versus dominant ninth chords. Thus, in some cases when a Cm6 is indicated, the F9 is in fact a better harmonic choice, i.e. closer to the composer's harmonic intent; or vice versa. Analysis of the movement of the root, in the presence of dominant-functioning harmonies, will generally indicate which enharmonic chord is the appropriate notation choice. In some cases, the harmony is ambiguous. The notes are those of the half-diminished seventh chord: for example, C–E–G–B is both the C half-diminished seventh (i.e. Cm75) and Em6.

Instances of the sixth chord crop up in popular music towards the end of the 19th century, for example in Johann Strauss II’s "The Blue Danube" waltz. [9]

Johann Strauss II, the Blue Danube Waltz
Strauss Blue Danube Strauss Blue Danube.png
Strauss Blue Danube

The sixth chord was a common feature of the harmony of jazz and popular music during the entire twentieth century. One of the attractions of the chord is its tonal ambiguity. The harmony contains within it aspects that are both major and minor. Kurt Weill’s song "Mack the Knife" from the Threepenny Opera (1928) uses the chord from the start, resulting in “a sort of bitonality: A minor in the melody, C major in the harmony.” [10]

The trombone riff that opens Glenn Miller’s "Tuxedo Junction" (1940) is a well-known example from the Swing era. [11] Later popular songs that feature sixth chords include: The Beatles' "She Loves You" (1963) [12] [13] and "The Fool on the Hill" (1967), [14] The Young Rascals' "Groovin'" (1967), Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975), [15] Steely Dan's "Bad Sneakers" (1975) and Styx's "Babe" (1979).

In classical music

An unusual use of this chord at the start of a work occurs in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E major, Op 31 No. 3 (1802):

Beethoven Sonata in E, Op 31 No 3 opening
Beethoven Sonata in E, Op 31 No 3 opening Beethoven Sonata in E flat Op 31 No 3 opening.png
Beethoven Sonata in E, Op 31 No 3 opening

According to Denis Matthews, “the most striking moment in the sonata is its opening, where an ambiguous added-sixth chord on the subdominant resolves itself through a series of halting steps, rhythmically and harmonically, towards the tonic.” [16]

Debussy frequently used the sixth chord, for example in his piano prelude General Lavine-Eccentric (1913), whose idiom alludes to the popular idioms of cakewalk and ragtime of the early 1900s. The following passage “is in F major; its seeming pentatonicism (C–D–F–G–A) is found to be the outline of the tonic added sixth chord, plus the G as passing tone…” [17]

Debussy, from 'General Lavine - eccentric'
Debussy, from 'General Lavine - eccentric' General Lavine.png
Debussy, from 'General Lavine - eccentric'

The timeless, meditative closing bars of Gustav Mahler’s song “Abschied” from Das Lied von der Erde (1909) fully exploit the expressive power and ambiguity of the sixth chord. “The final sonority, the famous added-sixth chord, is particularly ingenious... because it fuses the two principal keys of Das Lied (A minor and C major).” [18]

Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, final chord
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, final chord Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, final chord.png
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, final chord

Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935) ends with a “tonic triad of B flat, with added sixth [that] follows a harmonic progression found frequently in 1930s dance-band arrangements.” [19] However, Richard Taruskin points out that Berg's "chord thus created, B flat, D, F, G had an important poetic resonance", as it echoes the ending of Mahler's "Abschied." [20] Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (1945) “incorporates elements of American popular music, most famously the final chord, a Hollywood added-sixth chord of ever there was one.” [21] (Stravinsky himself later criticized his choice of the final D sixth chord as ‘commercial.’ [22] ) Messiaen’s “Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus”, the final movement of his Quartet for the End of Time (1941) opens with a meditative theme “played entirely over a 6-4 chord with added sixth [23]

Special kinds of sixth chords

The Neapolitan sixth is the first inversion of a major triad built on the flattened supertonic (second degree of the scale) – a Neapolitan sixth in C major, therefore, consists of the notes F, A, and D.

Sixth chord

There are a number of augmented sixth chords. Each of them has a major third and augmented sixth above the bass. When these are the only three notes present, the chord is an Italian sixth; when an augmented fourth is added above the bass, the chord is a French sixth; while adding a perfect fifth above the bass of an Italian sixth makes it a German sixth (the etymology of all these names is unclear). All usually have the Scale deg 6.svg (sixth degree of the scale, A in C major, for example) as the bass note – in this case, they tend to resolve to the dominant.

Sixth chord

Sixth factor

The sixth factor of a chord is six scale degrees above the root. Conventionally, the sixth is third in importance to the root, fifth, and third, being an added tone. It is generally not allowed as the root since that inversion resembles a seventh chord on the sixth rather than an added tone on the original note. In jazz chords and theory, the sixth is required due to it being an added tone.

The quality of the sixth may be determined by the scale or may be indicated. For example, in a major scale, a diatonic sixth added to the tonic chord will be major (C–E–G–A) while in minor it will be minor (C–E–G–A).

The sixth is octave equivalent to the thirteenth. If one could cut out the notes in between the fifth and the thirteenth and then drop the thirteenth down an octave to a sixth, one would have an added sixth chord (C–E–G–B–D′–F′–A′ minus B–D′–F′ = C–E–G–A).

See also

Related Research Articles

In music theory, the term minor scale refers to three scale patterns – the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale – rather than just one as with the major scale.

Harmony Aspect of music

In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analysed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords.

A seventh chord is a chord consisting of a triad plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord's root. When not otherwise specified, a "seventh chord" usually means a dominant seventh chord: a major triad together with a minor seventh. However, a variety of sevenths may be added to a variety of triads, resulting in many different types of seventh chords.

Chord (music) Harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.

Major chord Chord having a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth; e.g. C–E–G or F–A–C

In music theory, a major chord is a chord that has a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth. When a chord has these three particular notes, it is called a major triad. For example, the major triad built on C, called a C major triad, has pitches C–E–G:

Root (chord)

In music theory, the concept of root is the idea that a chord can be represented and named by one of its notes. It is linked to harmonic thinking—the idea that vertical aggregates of notes can form a single unit, a chord. It is in this sense that one speaks of a "C chord" or a "chord on C"—a chord built from C and of which the note C is the root. When a chord is referred to in Classical music or popular music without a reference to what type of chord it is, it is assumed a major triad, which for C contains the notes C, E and G. The root need not be the bass note, the lowest note of the chord: the concept of root is linked to that of the inversion of chords, which is derived from the notion of invertible counterpoint. In this concept, chords can be inverted while still retaining their root.

Augmented sixth chord

In music theory, an augmented sixth chord contains the interval of an augmented sixth, usually above its bass tone. This chord has its origins in the Renaissance, was further developed in the Baroque, and became a distinctive part of the musical style of the Classical and Romantic periods.

Added tone chord Chord made of a tertian triad and a miscellaneous fourth note

An added tone chord, or added note chord, is a non-tertian chord composed of a tertian triad and an extra "added" note. The added note is not a seventh, but typically a non-tertian note, which cannot be defined by a sequence of thirds from the root, such as the added sixth or fourth. This includes chords with an added thirteenth and farther "extensions", but that do not include the intervening tertian notes as in an extended chord. The concept of added tones is further convenient in that all notes may be related to familiar chords.

Thirteenth musical interval

In music or music theory, a thirteenth is the note thirteen scale degrees from the root of a chord and also the interval between the root and the thirteenth. The interval can be also described as a compound sixth, spanning an octave plus a sixth. The thirteenth is most commonly major Play  or minor Play .

Eleventh chord

In music theory, an eleventh chord is a chord that contains the tertian extension of the eleventh. Typically found in jazz, an eleventh chord also usually includes the seventh and ninth, and elements of the basic triad structure. Variants include the dominant eleventh, minor eleventh, and the major eleventh chord. Symbols include: Caug11, C9aug11, C9+11, C9alt11, Cm9(11), C−9(11). The eleventh in an eleventh chord is, "almost always sharpened, especially in jazz," at least in reference to the third, with CM11 (major eleventh): C–E–G–B–D–F, Cm11 (minor eleventh): C–E–G–B–D–F, and C11 (dominant eleventh): C–E–G–B–D–F.

In music theory, a ninth chord is a chord that encompasses the interval of a ninth when arranged in close position with the root in the bass.

The ninth chord and its inversions exist today, or at least they can exist. The pupil will easily find examples in the literature [such as Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and Strauss's opera Salome]. It is not necessary to set up special laws for its treatment. If one wants to be careful, one will be able to use the laws that pertain to the seventh chords: that is, dissonances resolve by step downward, the root leaps a fourth upward.

In music, a triad is a set of three notes that can be stacked vertically in thirds. The term "harmonic triad" was coined by Johannes Lippius in his Synopsis musicae novae (1612).

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism and modality. Chromatic elements are considered, "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members".

Not only at the beginning of a composition but also in the midst of it, each scale-step [degree] manifests an irresistible urge to attain the value of the tonic for itself as that of the strongest scale-step. If the composer yields to this urge of the scale-step within the diatonic system of which this scale-step forms part, I call this process tonicalization and the phenomenon itself chromatic.

Chromaticism is almost by definition an alteration of, an interpolation in or deviation from this basic diatonic organization.

Throughout the nineteenth century, composers felt free to alter any or all chord members of a given tertian structure [chord built from thirds] according to their compositional needs and dictates. Pronounced or continuous chordal alteration [and 'extension'] resulted in chromaticism. Chromaticism, together with frequent modulations and an abundance of non-harmonicism [non-chord tones], initially effected an expansion of the tertian system; the overuse of the procedures late in the century forewarned the decline and near collapse [atonality] of the system [tonality].

Chromaticism is the name given to the use of tones outside the major or minor scales. Chromatic tones began to appear in music long before the common-practice period, and by the beginning of that period were an important part of its melodic and harmonic resources. Chromatic tones arise in music partly from inflection [alteration] of scale degrees in the major and minor modes, partly from secondary dominant harmony, from a special vocabulary of altered chords, and from certain nonharmonic tones.... Notes outside the scale do not necessarily affect the tonality....tonality is established by the progression of roots and the tonal functions of the chords, even though the details of the music may contain all the tones of the chromatic scale.

Sometimes...a melody based on a regular diatonic scale is laced with many accidentals, and although all 12 tones of the chromatic scale may appear, the tonal characteristics of the diatonic scale are maintained. ... Chromaticism [is t]he introduction of some pitches of the chromatic scale into music that is basically diatonic in orientation, or music that is based on the chromatic scale instead of the diatonic scales.

In music theory, a dominant seventh chord, or major minor seventh chord, is a seventh chord, usually built on the fifth degree of the major scale, and composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Thus it is a major triad together with a minor seventh, denoted by the letter name of the chord root and a superscript "7". An example is the dominant seventh chord built on G, written as G7, having pitches G–B–D–F:

In music theory, a Neapolitan chord is a major chord built on the lowered (flatted) second (supertonic) scale degree. In Schenkerian analysis, it is known as a Phrygian II, since in minor scales the chord is built on the notes of the corresponding Phrygian mode.

Guitar chord

In music, a guitar chord is a set of notes played on a guitar. A chord's notes are often played simultaneously, but they can be played sequentially in an arpeggio. The implementation of guitar chords depends on the guitar tuning. Most guitars used in popular music have six strings with the "standard" tuning of the Spanish classical guitar, namely E-A-D-G-B-E' ; in standard tuning, the intervals present among adjacent strings are perfect fourths except for the major third (G,B). Standard tuning requires four chord-shapes for the major triads.

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as Cø7, has pitches C–E–G–B:

In music theory, the word inversion describes certain types of changes to intervals, chords, voices, and melodies. In each of these cases, "Inversion" has a distinct but related meaning. The concept of inversion also plays an important role in musical set theory.

In music theory, Roman numeral analysis is a type of musical analysis in which chords are represented by Roman numerals. In some cases, Roman numerals denote scale degrees themselves. More commonly, however, they represent the chord whose root note is that scale degree. For instance, III denotes either the third scale degree or, more commonly, the chord built on it. Typically, uppercase Roman numerals are used to represent major chords, while lowercase Roman numerals are used to represent minor chords. However, some music theorists use upper-case Roman numerals for all chords, regardless of chord quality.

Musicians use various kinds of chord names and symbols in different contexts to represent musical chords. In most genres of popular music, including jazz, pop, and rock, a chord name and its corresponding symbol typically indicate one or more of the following:

  1. the root note,
  2. the chord quality,
  3. whether the chord is a triad, seventh chord, or an extended chord,
  4. any altered notes,
  5. any added tones, and
  6. the bass note if it is not the root.


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