How to label this chord?


I have this walk down arpeggio (Key Db): Eb (in C2 range), then F, Eb, Db (in the C3 range).

So it seems I have a Db major chord without the 5th and with the 2nd in the bass. Would I label this Dbadd9 or Db/Eb or does it even matter (lol)?

I like what Mike does by adding the chord names in the marker section so I want to do the same.

Thanks for the assistance.

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Always check what “every voice” adds up to when labeling your chord progression. Because after all, all voices (instruments) together make up the final chord. :slight_smile:

Those notes on their own could be any number of chords, depending on the final use in the arrangement (when you add up all your instruments).

What will define every chord is mainly the tonal centre the listener feels (the root note of the chord) throughout your progression.

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OK. First I need a progression of chords to define what´s going on.
A single chord is ok but it helps when you look to the progression.
Secondly, the bass of the chord is Eb. Above the bass is F, Eb and Db. Question:
Is this the right order? I think it is Db, Eb and F in C3 range. If not then Eb is a flat seventh above F and
then the Db a flat seventh above Eb. Hope you see what I mean.
Thirdly, There is a big difference between Db add9 and Db/ Eb. The ninth is always above the root this is add nine chord with a third. When you play a Db chord and put a Eb in the bass under the Db. It
is a Eb chord; in this case a eleventh chord or sus9 chord or what ever you call it.

Fourthly, If you leave out the fifth of the Db chord you get Db and F. Together with Eb in the bass
it becomes a Eb 7/9 chord with no third. This is possible, but what yet I need is the whole chord progression to find out what is going on here.

Fifthly, In which key signature is the piece.

Sixthly, try to describe the voice leading between the chord progression. Sometimes
you can handle a chord like a passing tone.

I hope this will help

Klaus Ferretti

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Thanks for the feedback. I’m still very new at understanding a lot of this stuff. Here is a picture of the chord progression. Key is Db major, tempo 87. 4/4 time.


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As far I can see, and given that key is Db, your chord could be an Ebm9 (with omitted 3rd and 5th).

But as Mikael pointed out, you should consider the rest of your arrangement to be sure.
For example, you could have two other instruments playing Gb and Bb, so your Ebm9 would be complete, with no omitted notes, or maybe you could have an Ab somewhere instead, then your chord would rather be an Eb9sus4 or a Dbadd2/Eb… and so on.

Hope it helps.

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I would look to where you have a third interval relation between notes—since it’s the third that gives a chord it’s major or minor tonality, everything else is either altered or extensions. Db to F is your third relation here, so it suggests Db major (no 5) and the Eb makes it an altered bass so the technical spelling would be Db/Eb.

You know that every chord in fundamental position is a collection of stacked (minor and major) thirds, so looking to an isolated third interval is usually not enough: the third could actually be between the chord’s root and the 3rd as you say, but also between the 3rd and the 5th, the 5th and 7th and so on, up to 11th and 13th.

The main point to me is the Eb in the bass, that makes it the first candidate for the chord’s root, and since the key is Db, the simplest diatonic choice would be an Ebmin9, with some omitted notes.

But again, we should consider the whole arrangement to be more precise. Let’s say there’s a Gb playing somewhere, you would have your minor third too, and so a Ebmin9(no5), with the very common 5th omission.

I’m not saying your Db/Eb choice is completely wrong but only that - without further information - you should pick the simplest choice: Eb in the root -> Ebm with some tensions and omissions.

At least, this is my personal Harmony Occam’s Razor :smiley:

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Thank you everyone for your insights! I’m very new at understanding chord progressions and harmony so all of this insight is great in helping me to understand all this! Thank you!



I see how you’re approaching it Riccardo, but “Ebm9 with some omitted notes” is more complicated to figure than Db/Eb when you are in fact in the key of Db major. The chord’s third cannot fall between its 3rd and its 5th, or 5th and 7th; that’s a third in intervallic distance, but it’s the chord’s 3rd and 5th, or 5th and 7th, not the root and third. It’s easiest to figure out at a basic level which notes have a third interval relationship to them to get your root starting with your bass note, like you said, but then look to see if any of the other notes in the harmony exist at a third from it in the smallest interval. If not, it’s probably not the root.

So, from the notes Chris gave, my approach is, Eb in the bass. Eb to F is a major second. Eb to Db is a minor seventh. No thirds from Eb. Then F to Db is a sixth, the inversion of which is a major third. You have a Db major with an altered bass of Eb. This makes more sense because you’re in the key of Db major. Like I said, though, you need the third to give the chord its major or minor tonal function, so calling it an Ebm9 (no 3 nor 5) doesn’t work because there’s no third to indicate it’s Eb major or Eb minor. And interestingly, if you invert the Eb to the top, you still get a Db chord–Db9 (no 5 no 7).

Certainly, if you wanted to name it Ebm9, you could, but you could just as easily call it Eb9 or Dbsus2 or any other chord that contains those notes like Mike points out. It all depends on the chord around it and what you want to do with it. But, without the third relationship with Eb, you can’t tell. However, you’ve got the third with Db and F so the simpler name I think is Db/Eb.

Always interesting to see how other people process and understand music. I think that’s a big aspect on what gives a composer their own style–how they understand music and how it works and how they apply it to create the music that “sounds” good to them :smile: