Dominant ninth chord

Some Review

Recall from May 3rd's lesson that we've defined a chord as being 3 or more distinct notes, usually played at the same time. (C and D are considered distinct, but C# and Db are not, nor are octaves of the same note).

Recall that chords come in two basic parts, a letter name (C, C#, etc.) also known as a root note (tonic, 1), and a descriptive part that abbreviates the name of the chord (is a short-hand for all the intervals of each distinct note from the root note).

Recall that an interval is the distance between two notes, and that we are using numbers (with accidentals) to describe these intervals.(ex. 5 = perfect fifth, etc.) For more info on intervals see July19's lesson. to convert letters to numbers and numbers to letters, see the link below (bottom of page) on transposition.

Recall, we've previously defined the following chords:
major = 1,3,5
minor (m)= 1,b3,5
diminished (o)= 1,b3,b5
power chord (5) = 1,5,8(1)
dominant seventh chord as (7) = 1,3,5,b7

Now we shall define the dominant ninth chord as:
9 = 1,3,5,b7,9
Sometimes we write dominant ninth chords as dom9 or 9. (Ex. C9, Ddom9, etc.)

Here are some open 9 chords to get you started:
A9=X02423, B9=X21222, C9=X32330,
D9=XX0210, E9=020132, G9=320201.

We should note from our definition (9=1,3,5,b7,9) that a dominant ninth chord contains a dominant seventh chord (7=1,3,5,b7) within it.
We can think of a dominant ninth chord as a dominant seventh chord with an added an added major ninth.

If we don't know how to play a 9 chord, we could substitute a major chord with the same root note in its place, or a dominant seventh chord with the same root note. We will no longer have the full flavor of the 9 chord, but the substitution should work.

We also note that a chord synonym for for I9 is iii7b5b6.
In the key of F:
C9 = C,E,G,Bb,D = Em7b5/C

So you could use as a substitute for a 9 chord, a half-diminished seventh chord a major third higher than the 9 chord. (you could substitute Em7b5 for C9)

Recalling how the chromatic scale maps out on a fretboard in standard tuning ( see July19's lesson). We can map out the 9 chord on the fretboard (shown here in F) ( we note that the M2 and the M9 intervals are octaves of each other and have written in the 9, the same way any and all 8s have been written as 1s).


We can cut this up into zones of one sort or another. In previous lessons, we've been looking at shapes based on octave patterns. (A-shape, E-shape, etc.). So below are the 5 shapes along with some voicings in TAB that go along with the shape. All of these are for F9. To change to to another 9 chord, we use the same process as for other moveable chords (barre chords, etc.).

F9 "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)

  1   2   3   4


F9 "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)

  3   4   5   6 


F9 "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  5   6   7   8


F9 "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  8   9  10  11  12


F9 "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

 10  11   12  13


Ok. So we can make many different voicings out of a given chord (many more than shown here). Choosing for ourselves just what voicing we're going to use to interpret a chord is one part of developing our own style.


Probably the most common way of hearing chords with notes not all played at once would be the playing of arpeggios.

Consider simple fingerpicking patterns such as P-I-M-A. (which would be using, in order, one at a time, the thumb,first,second, and third fingers of the picking hand) We could such a pattern with notes from a chord (here D7=XX0212) like this:


That would be one example of an arpeggio. We notice from above that we see more possibilities for note choices on a single string in a given position.

Here is another example of an arpeggio based on F9 (in E-shape, 1rst position) Compare shape with notes in TAB.

  1   2   3   4


You need not play all the notes, nor play them in order or only once. Consider the following from the same chord, shape, etc.


Or how about we create a fingerpicking pattern such as:


Ok so we can play 9 chords several ways, but what do we do with them? Are there any general rules? (yes. Can we break them? you bet.)


We often see 9 chords written in songs, but there is a way to understand why they pop up where they do? Usually.

Recall, that we harmonized the major scale to get the chords (triads):
I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio (in the key of C: C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bo)
and the seventh chords:
Imaj7-ii7-iii7-IVmaj7-V7-vi7-vii7b5 (in C:

In ninth chords the major scale harmonized becomes:

We can see here that the only chord in the major scale with a dominant 9th chord is the 5. Recall that the 5th note is referred to as the dominant note in the Roman Numeral System (see july 19th's lesson). It is said that the dominant (V) chord is the most common chord (after the I). I don't know who keeps such statistics but that sounds right.

Where else does the dom 9 chord turn up?
Without getting into the modes of these scale systems as well, we find dom9 chords in the natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales (also in their modes).

In the natural minor (minor scale, or aeolian mode), the dom9 is the bVII9 (in the key of Am: bVII9= (G7= G,B,D,F,A), Am= (A,C,E)). All note movements are within a whole-step. The progression bVII-i (or V-vi) is called a "deceptive cadence."

In the harmonic minor scale, the dom9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the melodic minor scale, the dom9 chord occurs twice, as bIII9 and IV9.

So let's consider some progressions.

See dom7 lesson for notes on progressions with dom chords, substitute the dom9 for dom7.

Often in blues, you hear the I-IV-V progression completely in dom7 chords. You could sub a 9 chord for the 7 chord. although this will probably work best on the V chord, try mixing various extended chords in place of the more basic forms
I7-IV7-V7 could become I7-IV7-V9, etc.
(In C: I7-IV7-V9 = C7-F7-G9).

Try throwing that into a 12-bar blues progression:

Something heard sometimes in Blues music (especially chicago Blues) is a sliding between dominant ninth chords.

As an example try sliding between C9 and D9.



we can invert 5 note chords, just like 3 or 4 note chords. For our purposes, we wish to know when a particular bass note is or is not in our chord, and when we can substitute 9 chords for other chords without having added or subtracted any distinct notes from our previous chord (what chords can be seen as different spellings of the dom9 chord?) We will use G9 as our example to be inverted and renamed.

G9= G,B,D,F,A (root position, 1 is in the bass)

1rst inversion, 3rd is in the bass
G9/B = B,D,F,G,A, what B chord is this?
B,D,F,G,A = 1,b3,b5,b6,b7
we could call this Bm7b5b6.

2nd inversion, 5th is in the bass
G9/D= D,F,G,A,B, what D chord is this?
D,F,G,A,B = 1,b3,4,5,6
We could call this Dm6/11, or Dm6add4.

3rd inversion, 7th in the bass.
G9/F = F,G,A,B,D, which F chord is this?
F,G,A,B,D = 1,2,3#4,6
We might call it : F6/9b5

4th inversion, 9th in the bass.
G9/A = A,B,D,F,G, which A chord is this?
A,B,D,F,G, = 1,2,4,b6,b7
you have options, such as
A9b5sus4, A7/11b5sus4

So for a im7b5b6, we could substitute bVI7

for i6/11, i6add4 we could substitute IV7.

for I6/9b5 we could substitute II7.

and for I9b5sus4, I7/11b5sus4 we could substitute bVII7

Speaking of substitutions, the dominant note (5) of the major scale as a functional position probably sees more substitutions of extended and altered chords on that spot than any other note (functionally). Some extensions and alterations often found on the dom9 chord are listed below for the intermediate/advanced student to work through and explore:

9 = 1,3,5,b7,9
11 = 1,3,5,b7,9,11
13 = 1,3,5,b7,9,11,13
9sus4 = 1,4,5,b7,9
9#5 = 1,3,#5,b7,9
9b5 = 1,3,b5,b7,9
9#11= 1,3,5,b7,9,#11
9#11#5= 1,3,#5,b7,9,#11
9#11b5= 1,3,b5,b7,9,#11
11#5 = 1,3,#5,b7,9,11
11b5 = 1,3,b5,b7,9,11
13#5 = 1,3,#5,b7,9,11,13
13b5 = 1,3,b5,b7,9,11,13
13#11#5 = 1,3,#5,b7,9,#11,13
13#11b5 = 1,3,b5,b7,9,#11,13

And the list goes on...
The third could be suspended, we could omit notes, etc. we often see these things in jazz heads. If you don't know how to play one of these chords, there's a good chance you could get away with substituting a 9 or 7 for it (of course, you'll lose part of the flavor, but in a jam...). it might be helpful to learn some 9 shapes without 5's in them (so it doesn't clash when substituted for a dominant chord with an altered 5).

Here are some in F (F9(no5))
F7 = 1X12X3 (E-shape, root on 6th string)
F7 = XX3243 (D-shape, root on 4th string)
F7 = X8788X (C-shape, root on 5th string)
F7 = X8X88X (A-shape, root on 5th string)
F7 = 12 10 11 (G-shape, root omited)
F7 = 13 12 13 12 XX (G-shape, root on 6th string)

Next lesson on Harmonizing 9th, 11th, and 13th chords.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated August 8, 2002.
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