Why "#9" And Not "b10"?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Phletch, Feb 9, 2015.

  1. Phletch

    Phletch Member

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    I'm having this discussion with a friend, and he feels that "#9" is "incorrect" and that it should be a "b10". He feels that the "Hendrix" chord, the E7#9, is wrong because he views the #9 as the b3 an octave higher than the root. Besides the "that's the way it is" answer, all I could come up with is that the root triad is major, with a minor 7th making it dominant, and the 9 is an extension; in this case the 9 is raised a half step. So to me it's simply a reference to how the extension is modified, not the root triad. The fact that the chord can be approached improvisationally as either major or minor is irrelevant and co-incidental because, using his line of reasoning, how does one account for a b9?

    Also, it occurred to me that extensions are most always odd numbered; I've never seen any even numbered extensions. It seems to come back to what the root triad is, ie, we use "#11" when the root triad has a perfect 5th, otherwise, without the extension, the same note an octave lower would be a b5.

    So I thought I'd share this with you guys to get your insights.
     
  2. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    Your explanation in paragraph one is correct. It's not a b3 because that would make is a minor chord and it already has a major 3rd.
     
  3. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    I certainly hear it as a minor third, not as some sort of second. I think the naming convention gets it wrong on this chord.
     
  4. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    Then how do you account for the natural 3rd? BTW, I think you hear it as a minor chord because the b9 is in the voice position which draws the ear against an E in the bass. Try adding a #5 above the #9 and see if it still sounds like a minor to you. It doesn't to me.
     
  5. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    E7b10 would be fine with me.

    This is another place where I think trying to map 7 things onto 12 isn't working well.

    And to be clear, I'm not saying that I hear it as a minor chord. I hear it as both major and minor.
     
  6. stevel

    stevel Member

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    My insights?

    Jazz.

    Jazz players are conditioned to look at any simultaneous appearance of notes as a chord, and thus follow established naming systems.

    Really, it's a chord (E7 for example) with a non-chord tone above it (the b3). At least, it is if it originates as a 7th chord in which a melodic b3 blue note is played above it.

    But most people have never learned anything about non-chord tones and don't understand it, so trying to explain it is excruciatingly difficult.

    Note however that if the chord does originate as a chord structure rather than a melodic-harmonic construct, then #9 is the most logical description of the structure (assuming it's a tertian-based harmonic structure).

    I'd say in the Hendrix situation (Purple Haze) it's really more of a chord, so 7#9. It does however lend itself well to the 7th+b3 idea becuase that's also really prevalent in the music as well.

    To go back to what I said at first, in classical music, the following:

    G - A - B - C
    E - E - E - E
    C - C - C - C

    Is not analyzed as C - Am/C - CMaj7 - C

    It's analyzed as C.

    It's a C harmony with a melody above. The melody above contains non-chord tones (the A and B) that do not affect the harmonic underpinning or function of the chord and they simply supply melodic motion.

    But again, that can be hard for people who have thought "chordally" all or most of their lives to appreciate.

    So I see your friend's point and I agree - in certain contexts. But yes, in a purely harmonic context (like it appears in Purple Haze) it's 7#9 for the reasons already explained.
     
  7. magilla

    magilla Chasing those soulful sounds. Silver Supporting Member

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    All about that function!

    Functional diatonic harmony (and your ear, more importantly - theory follows practice, after all), suggests it is a #9.
     
  8. StratoCraig

    StratoCraig Member

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    Tertian harmony views chords as being built up in stacked thirds. Above the root comes the 3rd, then the 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th. Occasionally you'll see other tones as additions (e.g. the Gadd6 chord that concludes the Beatles' "She Loves You") or suspensions (sus2, sus4 chords), but where it is possible to view a chord as being arranged in thirds, we tend to do so.

    There are other kinds of harmony (e.g. quartal), but they're not applicable to the 7#9 chord.
     
  9. Strat

    Strat Member

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    well - you have to stretch your pinky UP a fret - you know, sharp it.........
     
  10. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

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    jeez Dave, why get so technical. lol
     
  11. chopsley

    chopsley Silver Supporting Member

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    That's how I think of it as well.

    I'm not sure if we call it a 7#9 because of jazz, or only because of jazz. I'd be willing to bet that plenty of early 20th century "classical" composers (e.g. Ravel) used harmonies where the #9 was explicitly a chord tone.
     
  12. huw

    huw Member

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    Another reason can be clarity on the page - if you have both major & minor thirds written on a score then they would both need a sharp/flat/natural sign to make it absolutely clear what was what. Otherwise it could be misinterpreted.

    Also - in a more melodic context - think of how a pattern alternating between #9 and 3 looks on the page, versus b3 & 3. In C, for eg, over a C chord D# > E > D# E etc requires only one accidental per bar, the first time the D# is played. But if you write that as Eb > E > Eb > E etc then every single note requires a flat or a natural sign.

    Whatever Matthieu says about harmonic function, I'd much rather have less ink on the page to read.
     
  13. kimock

    kimock Member

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    Unless it was a minor chord to begin with, E-7b11. That'd be legal by sharp nine rules, right?
    Or maybe it's just a perfectly natural stack of 4ths from somewhere other than diatonic major harmony?

    F G Ab Bb C D E F G Ab Bb C D E F G Ab Bb C D E F

    Maybe it is just exactly what it sounds like, E7b10, but #9 is the conventionally accepted misnomer.
    There is such a thing as a chord with both major and minor thirds it.

    And acoustically there's no such thing as a minor triad without at least the potential for a ringing 5th partial of the tonic, so "both thirds" is a sound we hear all the time but largely overlook.

    There is no such thing as a raised version of the second degree of the major scale that isn't a minor third.
    So, no such thing as #9 or #13 as a sound.

    As a sound, they're just lowered 3rds and 7ths.

    #9 is a misnomer, a more or less universally accepted one, but not as consistent with the rest of the naming conventions as b10.

    Sharp nine would make sense if we also used flat eleven, but we don't use b11 because there's no such thing as a lowered version of the 4th degree of the major scale that isn't a major third.
    Just like there's no such thing as a raised second degree of the major scale that isn't a minor third.
    If the thirds are important, and they might be, no reason to protect them from above while assaulting them from below.

    Right now for me, the most conciliatory understanding is the root and fifth are fixed at one version each and everything else is a chromatic pair.
    It's an admittedly modal view, but it's functional, and it it doesn't interfere with the common flat five, sharp five, naming conventions because I don't bother naming altered versions of scale steps I'm omitting when there are perfectly acceptable terms like augmented, half diminished, Lydian, blu note, etc to cover those sounds in their own terms.

    So yeah, there are some common names that we all use that are at least a little sketchy theoretically in terms of how they connect with the rest of the naming conventions, but everybody uses them so they serve to communicate by agreement.
    As long as we don't fall into the misunderstanding of treating any of the names as if they were true, it doesn't make any difference.
    If you think there's an actual interval of a #9 or b11 as distinct from a chromatic pair of thirds you're gonna struggle making some connections because those sounds don't exist, but I'm guessing most folks are a little smarter than that.

    Anyway, it's #9 by convention for absolutely no good reason, like the tremolo on the Strat and the vibrato on the Twin:messedup
    It's not what it is, it's just what we say. .
     
  14. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I have an old 60s Beatles songbook which shows a "D7(-10)" chord in Taxman. A year before anyone heard Hendrix play one, of course.
    That doesn't support any kind of argument, of course, just saying...;)

    IMO, "#9" is justified (poorly) by the tertian stacking/notation principle huw mentions. (I.e., an artificial theoretical argument, linked with one about saving ink on a page or making it easier to read.)
    Meanwhile "b10" (as kimock nicely explains) is more true to the sound and nature of the note - whether it occurs in a tonic "Hendrix" chord, or as jazz altered V chord.
     
  15. SecondFloorTones

    SecondFloorTones Member

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    Mick Goodrick referred to two chord types he called Fred and Jane in a column in GP 25 years ago. Steely Dan have the mu chord - let's just call it the Hendrix chord and be done with it, we'd be in good company.
     
  16. Tito83

    Tito83 Member

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    Well, the sound of a #9 is exactly what you get when playing a "minor third" over a major chord, it means a whole different thing played over a minor chord.
     
  17. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I.e., an octave of the minor 3rd, I'm guessing... ;) (Otherwise, "#9" on a minor chord makes no sense, right? - not in practice anyhow.)

    Question is - when occurring on a major chord - is "#9" the best label for it? Why not "b10"? (Given that, in the "Hendrix chord" at least, it's representing the lower end of the blue 3rd, with the major 3rd representing its upper end.)

    One point touched on above was what I'd call the "classical" voice-leading angle, which is that it should be labelled (and written) as "#9" if it's resolving upwards to the 10th (major 3rd) - so that they can be two different notes (letters and staff positions). Calling it "b10", in that view, suggests it ought to go down to the 9 (major 2nd).
    Of course, as a tonic "Hendrix chord", it doesn't resolve anywhere - it's just a blue note, a colour.
    But when on a jazz V7#9, it might well go down to the half step below (6th of the tonic chord), suggesting "b10" would more correct (in that event).
     
  18. Phletch

    Phletch Member

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    So, if I'm reading this right, with regard to the bolded statements, it's a naming convention based on arbitrary assignment of primacy to tertian harmony in the octave of the root triad, and throwing it out the window when it comes to extensions in the octave above the root.

    Like I told my friend, if he called out an E7b10 at a jam or something, I might look at him with a glazed eye (and some bovine perspiration on my upper lip area), but I'd still know what he meant because I like thirds and triads.
     
  19. Frank Prince

    Frank Prince Member

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    My understanding is that anything beyond a 7th chord is considered extended harmony.

    Non-extended scale degrees describe the basic harmony of a chord, so they are not subject to the same rules of alteration that extended scale degrees are.

    Root stays as root, or can be omitted in certain cases. 3rd can be major(natural), minor(1/2 step lower) or suspended to the 2nd or 4th scale degree, but can't be omitted. 5th can be natural, diminished (1/2 step lower), augmented(1/2 step higher), or omitted in non-diminished or augmented chords. 7th can be major (natural), minor(also referred to as dominant, 1/2 step lower), or lowered 1 whole step to make the 7th chord a 6th and must be present in a 7th (or 6th) chord or beyond or things get ambiguous. These scale degrees are not referred to as numbers above 7 because they control the basic tonality of the chord.

    Extended scale degrees are in addition to the basic tonality, so they are referred to as numbers higher than 8, since they are added on top. Extended scale degrees can be sharped or flatted, but their presence always implies at least a 3rd and a 7th(or 6th) in the chord. The tonality gets very ambiguous when either of those are not included.

    So the name 7#9 makes sense for "The Hendrix Chord", since it is a dominant 7th chord minus the 5th, with a sharped 9 on top. As someone else mentioned, it sounds minor because the #9 is on top in the common voicing. If you lower the 3rd on the D string and raise the #9 on the B string it is still the same chord, but it will sound major.
     
  20. dsimon665

    dsimon665 Supporting Member

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    extensions seem to always have odd numbers...
    kind of related to our dependence on tertian harmony

    but as to how it actually sounds?
    there are different aims in mind...
    so someone might highlight the voice leading aspect
    and someone else might be looking at the tonal reality of the thing
    (there really is no such thing as a #9 sorry to say)
    or if there is its more like JI 9/8, 8/7, etc.
    http://www.kylegann.com/Octave.html
    http://www.h-pi.com/XENTsoftware.html

    I think "jazz" is the best answer.
     

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