Add4 or Add11? Add2 or Add9?

We’re editing our upcoming interview with the awesome Wim Den Herder, in which he plays this cool little minor pentatonic-sounding arpeggio:

Part of the tedious process of transcribing licks is coming up with sensible names for four seconds of video, so you’ll have some clue as to what the example contains when you’re scrolling through fifty of these in a list. So we’re calling this one “Minor Add4 Arpeggio”. Why not add11? To me this doesn’t sound very “eleveny”, it sounds more like a pentatonic lick with some notes omitted. But “Minor Pentatonic Arpeggio” might be confusing. Same thing with the classic Gambale-style major add2 lick:

This lick just doesn’t sound very “niney” in the sense of “chord plus high extension”, so I always call this one an “add2” and not an “add9”. But I admit I’m ignorant. What’s the rule with naming adds?

Just looked this up, here’s what I found…
A note would be described as a 4th if we were talking about interval distances, and an 11th if it was a chord tone typically preceded by the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th.
Scale degrees 2, 4, and 6 imply that they are being added to a triad, while tones 9, 11, and 13 imply that they are being added to a seventh chord (since they extend past the 7th).


I’ve always seen 2’s/9’s and 4’s/11’s used interchangeably in professional transcription. I think the real answer though has to do with where the added tone occurs. For example a chord voiced C D G E should be called a “2” but a chord voiced C E G D should be called a “9”

The only thing weird about that is it means there’s no such chord as Cadd9 (C E G D)…like we should call that Cadd2 just because it doesn’t have a 7th in it.

Interesting. I actually like that, it’s a simple test — is there a 7 or isn’t there a 7?

That’s the thing, if it’s just 1,2,3 and 5, I never call that a 9. For example, if I’m playing E, G, C, D on a keyboard, from low to high, so the D is the high note, that still sounds exactly the same as C, D, E, G from low to high. So I wouldn’t change the name just because the order of the notes.

1 Like

Add 9, 11 etc omits the 7th scale degree and is usually played on top of a basic triad. add 2 to me doesn’t quite get it for me on guitar from a chordal standpoint unlike sus 2 and sus 4 where it’s obvious that the 3rd is replaced by the suspension note. Scale wise it’s possible perhaps to call it a 2 but really the soloist is probably at least an octave above the root of the chord they are playing over so I would still call it a 9 for what it’s worth. It’s music theory not music fact I guess lol.

I still think that definition isn’t ‘correct’ as in, what’s widely accepted. Whenever ‘add’ is present in the chord name, the 7th won’t be there. Ex: Cmaj9 is C E G B D. C9 is C E G Bb D. But C E G D is Cadd9

wikipedia has an entry on it

Sure, a group of 4 notes has the same basic quality no matter what the order. Still, we standardize things in music theory so we can discuss them and it’s clear what we’re all saying. Where an added tone happens within (or beyond) the octave is typically what determines if we call it a 2 or a 9 though. If the D is within the same octave as the root, it’s a 2. If it’s beyond the octave, it’s a 9.

So the first inversion example of EGCD would still be an add2 then because it’s within an octave of the root? I can live with that. I don’t really ever play a close-voiced triad with a nine somewhere else up high so it’s kind of a moot point.

When I learned ninth chords, they were always dominant, whereas 1235 in a close voicing definitely sounds major but with added dreamy flavor, a la “Every Breath You Take”. If I’m playing any combo of traid plus the 2/9, and it sounds like “major plus dreaminess”, I’m going to want to call it an add2. Just explaining the mindset!


Like most things controversial or confusing, it might have a historic link to notation - making things easier to read - and as music has changed and grown over time, we just stick with convention (just a guess). The naming of chords comes from stacking ascending thirds from the major scale, we end up with notes that make the chord name. If we didn’t name things simply then we’d end up with many different names for the same chords (note names), especially on the piano covering 8 octaves.

I guess we have to accept common names just to make life easier. Most guitar chords would need renaming if we we look at the intervals in their literal sense. At what point do we call something a Dma7 instead of D add15.

I think ultimately it all comes from the naming by stacking in scale thirds. If something has to be played a specific way or particular inversion then it needs to be noted within the music.

Add 2 vs add 9, I personally would call it add9 simply because most people would instantly know what it means, whereas add 2 could potentially be mistaken for Sus2 if only glanced at quickly.

There’s so much confusion over chord naming, I think it’s just easier to stick with common nomenclature, at the end of the day we’re just trying to communicate. For example, some will argue that Sus2 does not exist, which is technically true because it’s just an inversion of a Sus4, a fifth up. But we all know that some things just translate easier in context, calling something a Sus2 instead of Sus 4 might just make more sense. If we get too pedantic then where does it end. Dm7 or Fmaj6? … etc.

1 Like

I tend to lean towards one name or the other depending on which octave the added tension exists in. If it exists in the second or (higher) octave it’s the 9th, #11, b13 etc….

Hi, this is such an interesting topic. 9, 11, 13 are compound intervals and serve as a continuation of the stacking of 3rds due to the fact western music is predominately based on tertian harmony. So if in effect you start with a first inversion of C, you’re starting on the 3rd which is E, so the D to me would be a 9th in the context of C major and a min 7th interval from the E note. Although I do get the dreamy vibe you’re talking about. Also if you’re adding D between the C&E the the first inversion would start with the D note ??

That’s how I do it when play add2 sequences, like threes or fours ascending or descending. It’s a four-note chord, so there are four of them. Whether it’s accepted to call these inversions, the notes are certainly being inverted in the sense that we would expect, so that’s how I think of them.

1 Like

If I follow your posts in this thread right, I think I agree with you - that there’s a theoretically “correct” answer based on chord construction and chords being basically a series of staclked triads… but thanks to it being standard practice in jazz comping to admit, idunno, “core” chord tones in favor of incorporating “flavor” ones, the rule book is pretty much out the window in practice and you can use add2 or add9 at will.

I will say, I tend to use “sus2” and “sus4,” and “add9” and “add11”, but not the alternate forms, and while I’ve never given that much thought, I suppose that’s because in a suspended chord the 2 or 4 is replacing the 3, and then by favoring add9 and add11 it makes it clearer than the chords are intended to have a major or minor orientation, but I’m also including the 2/9 or 4/11… even if in the particular fingering I’m playing the 3 isn’t present. Like, a Gbadd9 is still a Gb major chord, and a Bmadd9 is still a B minor chord, even if I happen to not actually play the 3rd and leave it implied by the harmony, whereas a Gbsus2 or Bsus2 is intentionally ambiguous.

So, maybe it’s about intent…? I’m literally just thinking out loud here. I’d say in practice none of this matters because it’s not like anyone would ever call you out on calling something a Bmadd2, but, well, this IS the internet. :rofl:


In practice the third can be present however it’s often common and somewhat objectively sounds better to separate them by at least an octave as they will just clash. In some cases particularly when adding a b9, the chord just sounds clearer with out the 3rd.

This is interesting, and from your explanation it would have to be based on intent because the tonality of a Maj/min chord is derived from its 3rd. I do understand where you’re coming from though and I have omitted the 3rd on occasion the guitar part in message in a bottle by the police springs to mind which has lots of added 9ths with a lack of 3rds.

A chord symbol can’t and should not describe the voicing, but only the notes, hence C2 (or Cadd2) and C4 (or Cadd4) should mean CDEG and CEFG, whatever the voicing. C9 should mean CEGBbD.
Cadd9 is way to describe a specific voicing that’s been in use for many years, but it contradicts the rules behind the chord symbol system.

1 Like

Well, this is how I tend to think about it, rather than this is the absolutely correct way to aproach it… but I think it’s a sensisble approach, and I DO think it’s telling that I can’t recall having ever heard someone describe a chord as a sus9.

I totally agree, I generally don’t think too much when playing. There’s a saying that thinking is the biggest obstacle a musician faces when improvising. Lol. Maybe not the only obstacle for me

Similarly to others here, I’ve been taught that in common practice, a chord is merely a stack of thirds or can be written as one, and the voicing or inversion of a chord shouldn’t change the way it’s named. After all, a C chord remains a C chord regardless of whether it’s played C E G, E G C, G C E, CGCEGC, EGEGEC, etc. or regardless of the actual intervallic space between the notes.

I’d write Add9 since the 9th is another third stacked on top of other thirds but with an omitted seven, regardless of the voicing or inversion. I do understand the other options; thinking in stacks of thirds is simply the way I was taught. Same way I tend to consider (in common practice) of a diminished chord as a dominant chord with its root omitted, and therefore would often notate it V rather than VII, because it serves the same function as a dominant chord but with a spicier, more dramatic voicing.

EDIT: It actually reminds me that one of my music teachers would comment that there are composers who don’t know how to write/notate chromatic scales… A whole other can of worms.

1 Like

This is an A minor triad with an added passing-note. It’s a melodic embellishment, not part of the chord identity. It would sound silly to include the D in a synthpad under this lick.