• Why?! Why Is Everyone Shying Away From The Major Eleventh Chord?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    Today, we’ll be looking closely at the harmony of the major eleventh chord.

    Unlike major seventh and major ninth chords, the major eleventh chord is one of the eleventh chords that is rarely played or heard and we’re dedicating this lesson to understanding why this is so.

    Let’s get started by refreshing our minds on the major eleventh chord.

    A Short Note On The Major Eleventh Chord

    The major eleventh chord is an extended chord formed by adding the eleventh (and ninth) extension to the regular major seventh chord.

    So, the C major seventh chord:

    …with the ninth extension (which is D):

    …and eleventh extension (which is F):

    …produces the C major eleventh chord:

    Stacking the tones of the C major scale:

    …in third intervals will produce the C major triad:

    …then the C major seventh chord:

    …then the C major ninth chord:

    …then the C major eleventh chord:

    “Here Are All The Major Eleventh Chords On The Piano…”

    C major eleventh chord:

    Db major eleventh chord:

    D major eleventh chord:

    Eb major eleventh chord:

    E major eleventh chord:

    F major eleventh chord:

    Gb major eleventh chord:

    G major eleventh chord:

    Ab major eleventh chord:

    A major eleventh chord:

    Bb major eleventh chord:

    B major eleventh chord:

    Let’s look at one of the strongest traits of the major eleventh chord.

    The Intolerable Dissonance Of The Major Eleventh Chord

    The major eleventh chord sounds unpleasant when played and that’s why it’s said to to be dissonant.

    The only way to know why a chord sounds the way it does is to break it down into intervals. Using the C major eleventh chord (as a reference):

    …we can derive the following intervals:

    C-E (major third):

    C-G (perfect fifth):

    C-B (major seventh):

    C-D (major ninth):

    C-F (perfect eleventh):

    E-G (minor third):

    E-B (perfect fifth):

    E-D (minor seventh):

    E-F (minor ninth):

    G-B (major third):

    G-D (perfect fifth):

    G-F (minor seventh):

    B-D (minor third):

    B-F (diminished fifth):

    D-F (minor third):

    Out of these 15 intervals the major eleventh chord can be broken down into, there are two dissonant intervals that add up to the intolerable dissonance of the major eleventh chord and they are the minor ninth interval between E and F:

    …and the diminished fifth interval between B and F:

    Let’s learn more about these dissonant intervals.

    The Minor Ninth Interval Between The Third And Eleventh

    The interval between the third and eleventh chord tone in the major eleventh chord is a minor ninth interval; an intolerably dissonant interval.

    In the case of the C major eleventh chord:

    …the interval between E (the third) and F (the eleventh):

    …is a minor ninth interval.

    “Pay Attention…”

    The quality of a chord is determined by the third chord tone (which is E in this case). Also, the avoid tone in the major key is the fourth tone (or the eleventh).

    So, the dissonance produced by the third tone and the eleventh tone directly clashes with the quality of the chord and that’s because it’s between the third tone (that determines the quality of a chord) and the eleventh tone (which is an avoid tone).

    The Diminished Fifth Interval Between The Seventh And Eleventh

    The interval between the seventh and eleventh tone of the major eleventh chord is a diminished fifth interval (which is an inverted tritone). The tritone is a highly dissonant interval in tonal music and was known as the devil in music centuries ago.

    The interval between the seventh and eleventh tone of the C major eleventh chord:

    …which are B and F respectively:

    …is a tritone (aka – “diminished fifth interval).

    Tritones usually imply dominant chord harmonies when played. For example, the tritone in the C major eleventh chord (which is B-F):

    …implies a G dominant seventh chord harmony:

    …which conflicts with the overall major quality of the chord.

    Why Musicians Shy Away From The Major Eleventh Chord

    Musicians shy away from the major eleventh chord because of its intolerable dissonance inherited from these two intervals:

    The minor ninth interval

    The diminished fifth interval

    If you go ahead to take a more critical look, you’ll see the C major seventh chord:

    …and G dominant seventh chord:

    …all in the C major eleventh chord:

    In the key of C major:

    …the G dominant seventh chord is the 5-chord, while the C major seventh chord is the 1-chord.

    The tension between the 5-chord and the 1-chord in music is what creates the 5-1 chord progression which is usually found at the end of the song.

    Having the 5-chord and the 1-chord in the same chord (the major eleventh chord) produces a chord where two powerful harmonic entities are clashing.

    Final Words

    Having broken down the major eleventh chord into its intervallic components and also exposed you to where its characteristic dissonance is inherited from, I’m sure you know exactly why everyone is shying away from the major eleventh chord.

    All the best!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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