Constructing Chords – Altered Chords

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Last week we looked at the 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. As we saw, remembering some simple rules enables us to work out what notes we need to be able to play the chords, even if we haven’t played that chord before.

There are another set of chords, commonly referred to as Altered Chords, that look incredibly complicated, but understanding the simple rules means the chord name actually tells you what to play. The Altered Chords break away from the ‘every other note’ norm and ‘alter’ one or more of the notes. This is most usually the 5th or 9th.

For Example – C7#5b9

Looks a bit scary at first if you’ve never seen it before, but the information is all in the name. Depending on how you want to look at it (I find certain people prefer one view over the other) start with a C7 (simple enough) sharpen the 5th then add a b9, job done! Or play a C9 (the largest number in the chord) then sharpen the 5th and flatten the 9th, and again job done.


Not all of these chords may sound ‘nice’ but they are options, and have their place in certain circumstances.

Sometimes the alterations aren’t specified, and are written such as C7alt. This leaves the interpretation of what should be altered to the performer, it can be one or more.

Just remember:

With those rules in place you can then build the chords from there.

Have fun with them and try experimenting with the different variations!!

-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist

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