Ambiguous chords

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Chords reveal themselves in a variety of ways on a SeeChord chart. The symbols cover all the main types of chord that will appear in a piece. The chord row adds further embellishments to that chord so we have a vast array of information at our disposal. It is worth noting that often a chord will be implied by a passage of music, rather than implicitly stated with all its notes present. Take the famous opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony for example. The instantly recognisable “Da da da dum” consists of the notes, G G G Eb, followed by F F F D. It is nonsense to talk about chords during this passage, as only one note is being played at one time, however, it is possible to suggest some harmony.

G and Eb could be suggesting an Eb major chord or a C minor chord, possibly even an AbM7 chord.

F and D could be suggesting a D minor chord or a Bb major chord or a G7 chord.

After this opening, we have a definite chord of C minor.

Confused? Let’s look at the options on a SeeChord chart:

[seeChordViewer src=”/content/Application/Ambiguous chords/chords1-viewer”]

In this chart the options can all be seen simultaneously. Using a little knowledge from looking at previous charts, we can be fairly sure that the best fit for the harmony at this point would be as follows:

[seeChordViewer src=”/content/Application/Ambiguous chords/chords2-viewer”]

Now it may have been obvious to someone skilled in music that this was the best fit for the harmony. It may be that someone might disagree with this interpretation. However you look at it though, at least we have a good point of reference to work from. This kind of interpretation can be very useful for “harmonization” where a single note melody needs chords underneath it.

The point of this exercise is to see that harmony is not always set in stone and the ambiguity will often arise from how the chords that make up the music are arranged.
Sometimes a chord comes along that is not so easy to define.  Here are some common chords that can be interchanged:

Cmaj6 – Am7.

C7b5 – F#7b5


In the case of diminished chords the root note can be arbitrary or simple the lowest note that is sounding at the time.  In SeeChord, diminished chords are displayed by showing all four notes in the chord.  Interpretation of these chords is by their very nature ambiguous and therefore many different paths can be drawn with the connectors.  Sometimes a diminished chord can be interpreted as a flat9 chord which implies yet another root.  For example:

Edim contains the notes     E G Bb Db

C7b9 contains the notes C E G Bb Db.

If the C is present in the chord it is almost certainly the root.  However, even if the C is not in the chord, it can be implied by the harmonic movement surrounding it.  This is an example of how ambiguous chords are displayed on a SeeChord chart.

[seeChordViewer src=”/content/Application/Ambiguous chords/ambiguouschords1-viewer”]

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