3.18 Chord symbols


Category: Harmony | Tags: Chord symbols, Chords


In this chapter you will learn about chord symbols and what they mean. In the examples I show what notes you have to play.

Chord symbols

A chord symbol is a condensed notation, in the form of one or more letters, numbers and other signs or symbols, indicating a specific chord to be played. The use of chord symbols makes certain accompaniments easier to notate for an arranger or composer. They are placed below or above the stave in the accompaniment part. This form of notation is used in jazz, among other music genres. Song texts also often use chord symbols.

Chord symbols are often notated in a lead sheet. One or more musicians will play the melody while the rest of the group improvises an appropriate accompaniment based on the chord progression given in the chord symbols, followed by an improvised solo also based on the chord progression. Similarly, a sufficiently skilled jazz pianist should be able to accompany a singer and perform a song by her or himself using only a lead sheet.

Unfortunately, there is no universal chord symbol system; this can lead to possible misunderstandings of their interpretation. Chord symbols are primarily only used for the simplest forms of music, in order to quickly provide a sketchy notation for an accompaniment. Ab jazz music frequently uses complicated chords, the use of chord symbols has broadened – not always in a logical fashion.

The first part of a symbol for a chord defines the root of the chord. After this, various additional symbols are added to modify this chord.


Chord symbols

Symbol Meaning Example
C C major C E G
C# C# major C# E# G#
Bb Bb major Bb D F
Cm (or cm) C minor C Eb G
C#m C# minor C# E G#
Bbm Bb minor Bb Db F
Cmin C minor C Eb G
C_ C minor C Eb G
C7 C dominant seventh chord C E G Bb



note example

piano example