Major ninth 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

Now we shall define the major ninth chord as:
maj9 = 1,3,5,7,9
Sometimes we write major ninth chords as maj9 or (delta)9. (Ex. Cmaj9, D(delta)9, etc.)

Here are some open maj9 chords to get you started:
Amaj9=X02424,Amaj9 = X0 11 13 00, Cmaj9=X32430,
Dmaj9=XX0220, Emaj9=024130, Gmaj9=320202.

We should note from our definition (maj9=1,3,5,7,9) that a major ninth chord contains a major seventh chord (maj7=1,3,5,7) within it.
We can think of a major ninth chord as a major seventh chord with an added an added major ninth.

If we don't know how to play a maj9 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. We will no longer have the full flavor of the maj9 chord, but the substitution should work.

We also note that a chord synonym for for Imaj9 is iii7b6.
In the key of C:
Cmaj9 = C,E,G,B,D = Em7b6/C

So you could use as a substitute for a 9 chord, a minor seventh chord a major third higher than the maj9 chord. (you could substitute Em7 for Cmaj9)

Recalling how the chromatic scale maps out on a fretboard in standard tuning ( see July19's lesson). We can map out the maj9 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 Fmaj9. To change to to another maj9 chord, we use the same process as for other moveable chords (barre chords, etc.).

Fmaj9 "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)

  0   1   2   3 


Fmaj9 "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)

  3   4   5   6 


Fmaj9 "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  5   6   7   8


Fmaj9 "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  8   9  10  11  12


Fmaj9 "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

  9  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 Fmaj9 (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 maj9 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 maj9 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 chords in the major scale with a major 9th chord are the 1 and the 4.

Where else does the maj9 chord turn up?
Without getting into the modes of these scale systems as well, we find maj9 chords in the natural minor (also in its modes).

In the natural minor (minor scale, or aeolian mode), the maj9 is the bIIImaj9 (in the key of Am: bIIImaj9= (Cmaj9= C,E,G,B,D), Am= (A,C,E)), and the bVImaj9 (bVImaj9 = Fmaj9 = F,A,C,E,G).

In the harmonic minor scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the melodic minor scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the gypsy minor scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the pentatonic minor scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the hungarian scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

In the enigmatic scale, the maj9 chord does not naturally occur.

So let's consider some progressions.

See maj7 lesson for notes on progressions with maj chords, substitute the maj9 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 maj9 for the I and the IV, and subbing the dom9 for the V.

I7-IV7-V7 could become Imaj9-IVmaj9-V9
(In C: Imaj9-IVmaj9-V9 = Cmaj9-Fmaj9-G9).

Try throwing that into a 12-bar blues progression:

Something else to try is to take the major ninth chord and create a vamp of parallel chords
As an example try moving between Dmaj9 and Cmaj9.



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 maj9 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 maj9 chord?) We will use Cmaj9 as our example to be inverted and renamed.

Cmaj9= C,E,G,B,D (root position, 1 is in the bass)

1rst inversion, 3rd is in the bass
Cmaj9/E = E,G,B,D,C , what E chord is this?
E,G,B,D,C = 1,b3,5,b6,b7
we could call this Em7b6.

2nd inversion, 5th is in the bass
Cmaj9/G = G,B,D,C,E, what G chord is this?
G,B,D,C,E = 1,3,4,5,6
We could call this G6/11, or G6add4.

3rd inversion, 7th in the bass.
Cmaj9/B = B,D,C,E,G, which B chord is this?
B,D,C,E,G = 1,b2,b3,4,b6
We might call it : B+sus4(#9b9)

4th inversion, 9th in the bass.
Cmaj9/D = D,C,E,G,B, which D chord is this?
D,C,E,G,B, = 1,2,4,6,b7
you might say

So for a im7b6, we could substitute bVImaj9

for I6/11, I6add4 we could substitute IVmaj9.

for I+sus4(#9b9) we could substitute bIImaj9.

and for I13(no3,no5) we could substitute bVIImaj9.

Speaking of substitutions, Some extensions and alterations often found on the maj9 chord are listed below for the intermediate/advanced student to work through and explore:

maj9 = 1,3,5,7,9
maj11 = 1,3,5,7,9,11
maj13 = 1,3,5,7,9,11,13
maj9sus4 = 1,4,5,7,9
maj9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9
maj9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9
maj9#11= 1,3,5,7,9,#11
maj9#11#5= 1,3,#5,7,9,#11
maj9#11b5= 1,3,b5,7,9,#11
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 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 maj9 or maj7 for it (of course, you'll lose part of the flavor, but in a jam...). it might be helpful to learn some maj9 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 (Fmaj9(no5))
Fmaj9 = 1X22X3 (E-shape, root on 6th string)
Fmaj9 = XX3233 (D-shape, root on 4th string)
Fmaj9 = X8798X (C-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj9 = X8X98X (A-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj9 = 12 10 9 (G-shape, root omited)
Fmaj9 = 13 12 14 12 XX (G-shape, root on 6th string)

Next lesson is on Borrowed 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 December 5, 2002
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