I. Intro to Chords

II. Triads and Inversions

III. Sus Chords

IV. Sixth Chords

V. Seventh Chords

VI. Extensions

VII. Add chords and Alterations

VIII. Bass and Polychords

IX. Modern and Chromatic Chords



Part VIII: Add Chords and Alterations


An add chord is simply the addition of extra tones to a chord. The most common additions are 2, 4, 6, 9, and 11. Occasionally you will see add13 but very rarely.


Add chords have multiple applications. Either they can be used to describe chords with missing parts or they can be used to insert in extra tones to a chord.


For example, letís take the extreme example of a full thirteenth chord. First of all, thatís seven notes, more than you can play with one hand (on a piano). Secondly, just think about what it means to play a fully thirteenth chord: seven tones means that every note of the scale is in the chord. Just try playing it. Depending on your instrument you will probably not like the sound very much but it varies from person to person. Either way, this chord is really pushing the limit.


This is why 13th chords donít always contain all the seven notes. Some tones are left out to clear up the sound of it. The chart below summarizes which tones are most commonly left out and which tones are usually kept in. This applies to all chords beyond the triad.




1 (root)

Almost always left in the chord. Occasionally left out in larger chords


Always in the chord unless you are just using fifths.


Occasionally removed depending on circumstance.


Optional color tone


Optional color tone


Optional color tone


Optional color tone


Now letís get back to what I was describing above. Say we have a 7th chord of some sort, a minor seven chord in the key of C. If the 11th tone sounds particularly nice in the piece, we might want to add it into the chord. However, we decide that we do not want the 9 to be in the chord.


We can call this chord different names, but one could be Cm7add11. We could also call this chord Cm11(no 9) if we wanted since the 9th is missing.


The other circumstance would be to insert the tone into an already formed chord. For example, letís take the Am chord and add a 2. We get the chord Amadd2 which would be A B C E. But wait, that B is also the 9th!


Yes, you could also call it Amadd9. There is a rule as to which one you should chose but most people use them interchangeably at their convenience. Basically, itís just safer to use the ďadd9Ē form because it prevents any confusion or mix-up with the sus2 chord. This is a very good rule to follow.


This page will soon be updated to include information on altered chords.