Which color notes belong to each chord

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These days, I go home for lunch and play through my new CD once every day. It takes about an hour. I really like doing that because it frees up my evenings so I can spend time with the family. Usually, I will play some more once the kids are in bed.

I have a three year old who is not in school and he has started a new habit during my lunch practice session. He comes and sits on my lap and puts his hands on my hands for the entire hour. It makes playing a bit like running with weights on your feet, but it is no big deal. I suppose he thinks that he will eventually be able to memorize my hand motions and play the songs by himself. Though he is a genius, I doubt that will happen any time soon.

From time to time, he adds a few “color” notes to what I am playing. His choices of color notes are interesting to say the least. As he did that today, it reminded me that I have not talked about color notes for a while. So today, I want to give you a simple way to remember which color notes belong in your chords.

First, understand that there are seven possible color notes for 7th chords: b9, 9, #9, 11, #11, b13, and 13. However, all of them do not sound good in every chord.

Here are the color notes you should try for the three most popular chords.

Major/Major 7th
9, #11, 13 (9 is the most common)

Minor 7th
9, 11, 13 (9 is the most common)

b9, 9, #9, #11, b13, 13 (All are widely used. However, you are most likely to use b9, 9, b13, and 13.)

When playing, look for ways to add these color notes to your chords. Experiment and you will come up with very nice sounds.

One last tip: Remember that the voicing is important (voicing refers to the order and location of the notes of the chord on the keyboard). Voicing is often the factor that determines whether a complex chord sounds good or not.