Major eleventh chord

Some Review

Recall from lesson on building a context 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
dominant ninth chord (9) = 1,3,5,b7,9
minor seventh chord (m7) = 1,b3,5,b7
minor ninth chord (m9) = 1,b3,5,b7,9
major seventh chord (maj7) = 1,3,5,7
major ninth chord (maj9) = 1,3,5,7,9

Now we shall define the major eleventh chord as:
maj11 = 1,3,5,7,9,11
Sometimes we write major eleventh chords as maj11 or (delta)11. (Ex. Cmaj11, D(delta)11, etc.)

Here are some open maj11 chords to get you started:
Amaj11=000424, Cmaj11=X32431,
Dmaj11=X00020, Emaj11=004130, Gmaj11=330202.

We should note from our definition (maj11=1,3,5,7,9,11) that a major eleventh chord contains a major ninth chord (maj9=1,3,5,7,9) within it.
We can think of a major eleventh chord as a major ninth chord with an added perfect eleventh.

If we don't know how to play a maj11 chord, we could substitute a major chord with the same root note in its place, or a major seventh chord with the same root note, or a major ninth chord with the same root. We will no longer have the full flavor of the maj11 chord, but the substitution should work.

We also note that a chord synonym for for Imaj11 is iii7b9b6.
In the key of C:
Cmaj11 = C,E,G,B,D,F = Em7b9b6/C

So you could use as a substitute for a maj11 chord, a minor seventh flat nine chord a major third higher than the maj11 chord. (you could substitute Em7b9 for Cmaj11)

Recalling how the chromatic scale maps out on a fretboard in standard tuning ( see July19's lesson). We can map out the maj11 chord on the fretboard (shown here in F) ( we note that the P4 and the P11 intervals are octaves of each other and have written in the 4, 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 Fmaj11. To change to to another maj11 chord, we use the same process as for other moveable chords (barre chords, etc.).

Fmaj11 "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)

  0   1   2   3 


Fmaj11 "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)

  3   4   5   6 


Fmaj11 "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  5   6   7   8


Fmaj11 "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  8   9  10  11  12


Fmaj11 "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

 10  11   12  13  14


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. 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 Fmaj11 (in E-shape, 1rst position) Compare shape with notes in TAB.

  0   1   2   3


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


Ok so we can play maj11 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 maj11 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:
Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7-G7-Am7-Bm7b5) and the ninth chords:
Imaj9-ii9-iii7b9-IVmaj9-V9-vi9-vii7b9b5 (in C:

In eleventh chords the major scale harmonized becomes:

We can see here that the chords in the major scale with a major 11th chord are the 1.

Where else does the maj11 chord turn up?
Without getting into the modes of these scale systems as well, we find maj11 chords in the natural minor (also in its modes).

In the natural minor (minor scale, or aeolian mode), the maj11 is the bIIImaj1 (in the key of Am: bIIImaj11= (Cmaj11= C,E,G,B,D,F), Am= (A,C,E)).

In the harmonic minor scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

In the melodic minor scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

In the gypsy minor scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

In the pentatonic minor scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

In the hungarian scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

In the enigmatic scale, the maj11 chord does not naturally occur.

So let's consider some progressions.

See maj7 lesson for notes on progressions with maj chords, substitute the maj11 for maj7.

In the lesson on the dominant ninth chord we considered a 12 bar dominant blues with the dom9 replacing some or all of the dom7 chords. Here let's try subbing the maj11 for the I, and subbing the dom9 for the V.

I7-IV7-V7 could become Imaj11-IVmaj9-V9
(In C: Imaj11-IVmaj9-V9 = Cmaj11-Fmaj9-G9).

Try throwing that into a 12-bar blues progression:


we can invert 6 note chords, just like 3 or 4 or 5 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 maj11 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 maj11 chord?) We will use Cmaj11 as our example to be inverted and renamed.

Cmaj11= C,E,G,B,D,F (root position, 1 is in the bass)

1rst inversion, 3rd is in the bass
Cmaj11/E = E,G,B,D,C,F , what E chord is this?
E,G,B,D,F,C = 1,b3,5,b6,b7,b9
we could call this Em7b9b6.

2nd inversion, 5th is in the bass
Cmaj11/G = G,B,D,F,C,E, what G chord is this?
G,B,D,F,C,E = 1,3,4,5,6,b7
We could call this G13(no9), or G6/7/11.

3rd inversion, 7th in the bass.
Cmaj9/B = B,D,F,C,E,G, which B chord is this?
B,D,F,C,E,G = 1,b2,b3,4,b5,b6
We might call it : Bsus4(#5b5#9b9)

4th inversion, 9th in the bass.
Cmaj11/D = D,F,C,E,G,B, which D chord is this?
D,F,C,E,G,B, = 1,2,b3,4,6,b7
you might say

5th inversion, 11th in the bass.
Cmaj11/F = F,C,E,G,B,D, which F chord is this?
F,C,E,G,B,D, = 1,2,#4,5,6,7
you might say

So for a im7b9b6, we could substitute bVImaj11

for I13(no9), I6/7/11 we could substitute IVmaj11.

for Isus4(#5b5#9b9) we could substitute bIImaj11.

and for I13(no5) we could substitute bVIImaj11.

and for Imaj13#11(no3) we could substitute Vmaj11.

Speaking of substitutions, Some extensions and alterations often found on the maj11 chord are listed below for the intermediate/advanced student to work through and explore:

maj11 = 1,3,5,7,9,11
maj13 = 1,3,5,7,9,11,13
maj11#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9,11
maj11b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9,11
maj13#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9,11,13
maj13b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9,11,13
maj13#11#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9,#11,13
maj13#11b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9,#11,13

And the list goes on...
The fifth 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 maj11 or maj7 for it (of course, you'll lose part of the flavor, but in a jam...). it might be helpful to learn some maj11 shapes without 5's in them (so it doesn't clash when substituted for a major chord with an altered 5).

Here are some in F (Fmaj11(no5))
Fmaj11 = 1122X3 (E-shape, root on 6th string)
Fmaj11 = XX3355 (D-shape, root on 4th string)
Fmaj11 = X88X55 (C-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj11 = X889 10 X (A-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj11 = x x x 10 11 12(G-shape, root omited)
Fmaj11 = 13 12 14 14 X X (G-shape, root on 6th string)

Larger Extended Chords and Omited Notes
As we create larger and larger chords, we note that some of the new tones create dissonances with the other tones. In the maj11 chord the 11th creates dissonances with the 3rd, and the 7th, which are the most important intervals for defining a majX chord (maj7, maj9, maj11, maj13). So, often in larger chords a tone or two will be omited. This can happen to clarify the sound although there are other reasons. the guitar typically has 6 strings. an 11th chord has 6 tones, and a 13th chord has 7 tones. Since 6 string chords can sound overly full or awkward, especially if switched between smaller chords, it can be desirable to have smaller 4-string or 5-string chords.

So which tones to omit?
The most common tone to omit 1st is the 5th. If you're playing with a group, it is common for the bassist to emphasize the root and the 5th. Next most common tone to omit is the 4th, but this should not be omited if the chord you're playing names the tone in the chord (11th chords, 7/11, add4, sus4, etc.).
Likewise in 11th or 13th chords, the 9th can be omited.

If you're playing in a group, you might try omitting the root, if another player is playing/emphasizing the root.

So, for the maj11 chord I would suggest learning voicings that contain the root,3rd,7th,11th.
1,3,7,11 = maj7/11 (no5)
and also the root,7th,9th,11th.
1,7,9,11 = Imaj11 (no3,no5) = viio/b9

Next lesson is on Dominant Eleventh 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 October 9, 2003
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