Walter Becker's mu chord voicings

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Leonc, Jul 21, 2019.

  1. JonR

    JonR Member

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    First inversion means 3rd on the bottom. But that would mean the 9th was on top (7th above the bass note), which is not right. The significant aspect of the voicing is that the 9th goes below the 3rd (whole or half-step, depending on whether the chord is major or minor). I'm not sure if it matters where the root and 5th go, but I would think the usual place for the root is on the bottom. The 5th could go above or below the 9-3 interval.
     
  2. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Huh, someone else ripping off Donald Fagen...
    :D
     
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  3. cameron

    cameron Member

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    "Satirical"?

    Read again the original description of the mu chord: https://sdarchive.com/songbook.html (which actually is quite satirical) the main point about voicing made is that there should be a whole-step dissonance between the 9 and the 3, which implies that the 9 is lower than the 3.

    The whole point of this discussion is that such voicings are easy on keys, but tricky on guitar.
     
  4. kingsleyd

    kingsleyd Frikkin genyus Gold Supporting Member

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    Trivia regarding that particular tune: my buddy Tom (known here as "Mr Bonex" although he's rarely if ever here) introduced Pat to Sirabhorn, who subsequently became his GF.

    The aforementioned Bartok piano concerto also prompted me to tune my own 12-string to fifths on the normally-octave strings. I went with major seconds on the normally-unison strings. Here's a tune which features a 12-string in that tuning:

     
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  5. JonR

    JonR Member

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    "Satirical" o_O. You mean they intended the name satirically?
    And what about the bass? If the bass played the root (beneath the piano or guitar) then the chord is in root position.

    I mean, you may well be right about how the piano (or guitar) voiced the chord. But are there examples where the 3rd is actually in the bass? (bass guitar, or low in piano left hand?)

    EDIT: found them, thanks! (missed your earlier mention of Deacon Blues).
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  6. JonR

    JonR Member

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    You're quite right - I stand corrected - that tune features add9 chords in 1st inversion, as part of descending bass lines in the intro. (I should have known that, I have a transcription of it from way back.)
    I have them voiced 3-9-5-root, although I wouldn't swear to the upper part. (As easy to play in that voicing on guitar as well as on piano, even without the help of the bass.)

    This could be a special case, though, a result of the descending bass line. You have more examples?
    (I know of at least one example, from a quick check, of Fagen playing an add9 chord according to the other principle: root position, 9 below 3.)

    I guess the issue for definition - if we are to take the whole "mu" thing at all seriously - is not how the band voiced their add9 chords - they probably did that in various ways - but whether they regarded them all as "mu" chords, or none of them (if they didn't care), or only a specific voicing of the add9: 9 below 3, or 3 in bass?

    The 1st inversion is nice - with its quartal upper structure - but did they call that a "mu" chord?
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  7. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Nice track!
     
  8. blueworm

    blueworm Member

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    So what ? ;)
     
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  9. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Musings of McCoy?
     
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  10. tjmicsak

    tjmicsak Member

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    Wouldn't "add9" mean a simple major chord with the added 9th, no 7th?

    I always thought of the voicing and grid to be a Maj9. Or call it a Maj7 add9. Using the above first chord grid as a reference, there then is close movement of notes as they walk down in examples such as the intro to Peg.
    Gmaj9, F#+7#9, Fmaj9, E+7#9.....
    Common notes and chromatic bass walking with higher close note movement that tonally and musically tensions and resolves while retaining a very rich depth to the chords.
    It is amazing to look at how musically, it actually seems to resolve to the +7#9, which by itself is a very tense chord that would otherwise seem to be under a lot of pressure itself to resolve as a 5 to a 1.
    (Another often used move they used in that era was a II7b5 to a V+7#9 to a i such as in Jose.

    Another great example is playing the standard D chord on the high strings and playing a G bass underneath, such as later in Peg, Cmaj7, Cmaj7, D/G....
    To my ears, the maj7th note has to be there below the 9th in the voicing.
     
  11. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    The exception is 6/9 chord. There is nothing precise or scientific about chord symbol 'slang'. Like slang, it's always in flux and a bit regional.
     
  12. MikeMcK

    MikeMcK Supporting Member

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    I wish I'd seen this before I got involved in the thread about Steely Dan slash chords. I feel vindicated for defending writing them as slashes.

    IMHO, the common theme between these and the "mu chord" is voicings with major 2nd intervals (on keyboards, not guitars). The '9's in mu chords seem to be often voiced right above the root instead of an octave up, just like the C D E G JonR wrote above. And this may be over my head, but I'm not seeing how the OP's F#/B and B/E should be written as add9's. They have 7's, so I could see calling them Maj9's except that the lack of a 3rd is critical in some songs. On another thread someone mentioned that D/E is just E9sus4 and E/A is just AMaj9, but without omitting the third in both those chords, certain songs just won't be the same. And yes, E9sus4 (no 3rd) and AMaj9 (no 3rd) tell the whole story, but for some of us D/E and E/A is much more likely to get played right on a cold read (especially if there's a bass player on the roots).

    I've heard "mu chord" voicings on guitar that don't have major 2's (for good reasons... they're tough fingering and with any dirt at all would sound horrible) and don't have 7's either... trying to place the song but they're the same voicings arpeggiated in the Police's "Every Breath You take".
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  13. cameron

    cameron Member

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    So, I think we've established:
    • The guys from Steely Dan included an introductory essay in one of their songbooks in which they describe what they call a µ (mu) chord - they make it clear that this is to be pronounced MOO, rather than MYOO
    • This essay further describes this µ chord as an add9 chord, with the distinctive feature of being voiced with a whole-step dissonance between the 9 and the 3
    • They discuss the awkwardness of playing the µ chords on guitar, and provide chord diagrams with a bunch of suggested voicings, most of which aren't in fact very practical
    • In practice, the various guitarists who played on Steely Dan albums used whatever voicings of add9 chords they deemed appropriate for the songs they were playing on - they were apparently unconcerned about the strict definition of the µ chord per the terms of that tongue-in-cheek essay
    • Steely Dan songs also frequently feature maj9 chords, and these are sometimes voiced along the lines of E/A, or D/G, etc.
    Did I miss anything important?
     
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  14. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I agree - who cares? - but this is what this whole thread is about.
    (a) what is a "mu" chord exactly?
    (b) did any of Steely Dan actually use that term, and - if so - what did they mean by it?

    We don't have to care about either answer. Unless we're having a debate about it.
     
  15. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Yes.
    "Maj9" is the symbol for a maj7 chord with 9th added. I.e., a different chord from an add9.

    "9" = dom7 chord with 9th added
    "maj9" or Δ9 = maj7 chord with 9th added
    "m9" = min7 chord with 9th added
    "add9" = major triad with 9th added
    "m(add9) = minor triad with 9th added
    "m(maj9) or mΔ9 = minor major 7th chord with 9th added
     
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  16. JonR

    JonR Member

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    In which Denny Dias described the chord, with what he admits is negligible input from either Becker or Fagen. Dias says he had to work the shapes out for himself.
    Right. This is an "I say tomato, you say tomato" question. :) The Greeks themselves actually pronunce it "mi" (mee) - but, like, who cares about them?? :rolleyes:
    Yes. That's become the convention. Or a half-step for "mu minor" of course.
    Matter of opinion and skill. Some of them are a little stretchy, but most are perfectly playable. IMO.
    I know of at least one player who used such shapes before Steely Dan existed (see earlier posts), so these are not inventions, even if they were new to Dias.
    That seems entirely likely, although Dias does say: "in the studio or on the road, Donald and Walter will make me play a µ major chord that's real high or real awkward or something and I'm never sure why they want that particular one--but they have the final decision."
    So their reasons remain mysterious, but we might guess that their demands are based on an overall voicing, parts of which are played by Donald and/or Walter, and they want Dias to fill in with some additional notes (or additional octaves). Presumably it would vary from tune to tune, even if they did have voicings they liked and would use similar ones in more than one song.
    Of course. They used all kinds of chords, many of which are more easily described using slash symbols. As comealongway pointed out, not even every voicing they used for an add9 chord was the supposed "mu" voicing.
    Depends whether you regard any of my comments as "important". :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
  17. kingsleyd

    kingsleyd Frikkin genyus Gold Supporting Member

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    While it seems to be generally understood that the added 9th can be octave-displaced in any direction, it’s always seemed a bit illogical to me to describe what is essentially a close-voiced cluster (e.g., C-D-E) as an add9. Same thing applies to adding an 11 (4) in a similar clustered voicing. (By “cluster” I’m referring to the 2 or 4 being right next to the 3 in terms of pitch; other chord tones could be inverted/octave-displaced) If that kind of voicing is my intention I generally write “add 2” or “add 4” on a lead sheet.
     
  18. kingsleyd

    kingsleyd Frikkin genyus Gold Supporting Member

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    While we’re at it, one of my favorite variants of the Mu chord is the one that underlies Wayne Shorter and Steve Gadd’s solos on “Aja.” It’s a cluster of A - B - C# - D - E over a B bass note. Deluxe!

    Stupid simple on a keyboard. On guitar, not so much. I manage to get close enough by leaving out the B in the middle of the cluster:

    0
    3
    6
    7
    X
    7

    Still a challenging fingering but do-able if you have long enough (or pliable enough) fingers.

    Or grab the whole cluster but leave out the B in the bass:

    0
    0
    7
    11
    12
    X

    In a band the bass player will be standing on that low B anyway.

    I’ve often heard guitar players do the simple “A/B” voicing (it is a basic B11 chord, after all) but it never sounds properly crunchy to me without those multiple close intervals.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
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  19. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Sure. I suspect that's one reason for them giving that voicing a special name. Assuming they actually did.... ;)
    OK, but that's still not going to guarantee the voicing you want, seeing as most readers don't expect chord symbols to indicate voicing (aside from slash chords), and many might look at "add2" and think "oh he means add9, I'll just put that 2 wherever I can fit it". If you really need that kind of close voicing, and need to be sure a player produces it, you need to notate it - or (for an illiterate guitarist) give a chord diagram.
    It's especially difficult, after all, to add a 4th right next to a major 3rd, for most common shapes. Added 2nds next to 3rds are generally easier.
     
  20. kingsleyd

    kingsleyd Frikkin genyus Gold Supporting Member

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    I don’t disagree, but the last set of lead sheets I wrote, for the record I just finished mastering, were for a keyboard player who spent the better part of 20 years playing with Allan Holdsworth. The fact that I had sheets at all was a bonus! The “add2” “add4” descriptions were something he got right away. Of course he also had guitar-only demos I had done which made the voicings fairly obvious.
     

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