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Section 31.6 How to Analyze Jazz Chords

To analyze a jazz chord, on scratch paper write out all the major chord members up to the 13th. These include the major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th, major 9th, perfect 11th, and major 13th.

In order to analyze the following chord, determine the following:

  1. The quality of the 7th chord

  2. The upper structure (9, 11, and 13)

  3. Any alterations to any of the chord members

  4. If any of the notes are enharmonically respelled

Work through each step (see the example below). Compare this chord to the scratch paper version with all the major notes up to the 13th. We have an E♭ dominant 7th chord. The G♭ can’t be the minor third because we already have a G♮. If we consider the G♭ enharmonically as an F♯, we see we have a ♯9, which we noted earlier is often spelled as ♭10 so as to agree chromatically with the ♭7. The A is the 11th, but it is an A♮, so it is a ♯11. It is not ♭5 because we would not have both a perfect 5th and altered 5th in the same chord. There is no C in the chord, so there isn’t a 13th.

The final label is E♭7\(\left.\text{}\left(\begin{smallmatrix}\text{♯11}\\\text{♯9}\end{smallmatrix}\right)\right.\).

Let's try another chord.

Again, work through each step. First, write all the major notes up to the 13th.

Compare this scratch–paper “all major and perfect” 13th chord to the chord to be solved.

We notice we don’t have an A, and we remember that we might have a sus chord where the 4 (or sus4) substitutes for the 3rd. We see we have a B♭, which confirms this. We also do not see a C, but we remember that it is common to omit the 5th in a chord (see Incomplete Chords). Therefore we have F–B♭–E♭, making an F7sus chord. When we examine for upper structure notes (the 9, 11, and 13), we find a G♭ (the ♭9 of the chord) and a D (the 13). Remember, the B♭ is the sus (the 4th), not the 11th, because we have no 3rd (see 11 versus Sus).

The final label is F13sus(♭9).

“F13” means we have root, 3rd, 5th, ♭7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th. “Sus” is a modifier that means we have the 4th, which eliminates the 3rd as well as the 11th because “sus” and 11 refer the same note (B♭). “♭9” means the 9th is lowered chromatically.