• Who else wants to learn what 6-4 chords are?

    in Chords & Progressions

    Today, I want to talk about the “6-4” chord.

    Usually, it’s written with the 6 on top of the 4 (something like 64) but I’ll just use “6-4” to make things easier.

    Here’s the thing…

    I’m pretty sure you’ve already played this chord. In fact, it’s nothing new.

    A 6-4 chord is basically a chord in second inversion. (But don’t sleep on this one yet because there’s something special about this type of chord that differentiates it from the other inversions).

    Recall the chord inversions of a triad:

    Root position
    1+3+5

    First inversion
    3+5+1

    Second inversion
    5+1+3

    Basically, root position is when the keynote of the chord is on the bottom:

    C major
    C + E + G

    *”C” is the keynote, “E” is the third, and “G” is the fifth (thus, 1+3+5).

    First inversion is when the third of the chord is on the bottom:

    C major
    E + G + C

    *”E” is the third, “G” is the fifth, and “C” is the keynote (thus, 3+5+1).

    And lastly, second inversion is when the fifth of the chord is on the bottom:

    C major
    G + C + E

    *”G” is the fifth, “C” is the keynote, and “E” is the third (thus, 5+1+3).

    So a “6-4” chord is when you have:

    • An interval of a fourth above the bass.
    • And an interval of a sixth above the bass.

    Now, let’s create a chord based on these rules:

    Keynote/Root: C
    (this will be the lowest note of the chord)

    4th above the root: F (this is real the “root” of the chord)

    6th above the root: A


    C+F+A

    That chord should look pretty familiar but the key is how it’s used in chord progressions as we’ll soon discover…

    Historically, second inversions have been considered more dissonant and unstable than first and root inversions — especially, when you split up the chord and play C on the left hand and F+A+C on the right.

    Don’t be confused. You’re probably thinking that “F+A+C” is an F major chord in root position. But when you consider the bass (which is the 5th of the chord), then it’s really an F major chord in second inversion:

    C (bass) + F + A + C

    So basically, when you play a major chord with it’s 5th note as the bass, you’re playing a 6-4 chord.

    When are “6-4” chords used?

    Since they are unstable and need to resolve, you usually see them leading to a 5-chord.

    Like in this example:

    G + C + E on right / G on left (this is a “6-4” chord)
    G + B + D on right / G on left
    E + G+ C on right / C on left

    Or in this example:

    G + C + E on right / C on left
    G + B + D on right / D on left (this is a “6-4” chord)
    G + C + E on right / E on left

    Basically, you can think of “6-4” chords in two ways:

    1) You can focus on the bass note and play a major chord a fourth on top of it (on the right hand). An example of this would be taking a keynote like C and then figuring out what’s a fourth up from C. Once you figure out that it’s F, simply play an F major chord over C (C + F + A + C). That’s essentially a 6/4 chord. But remember, C is just the lowest note, NOT the root. F is still the root and this is no doubt an F major chord.

    2) You can focus on the chord itself and just play the fifth degree of the chord as the lowest note (bass). So in this case, the chord is F major. Just play the fifth as the bass note (“C”) and you’ve got yourself a 6/4 chord. (C + F + A + C). Again, 6-4 chords are just basic major chords with their fifth as the lowest note.

    Like the ending of “I Believe I Can Fly” where the lyrics simply repeat these words over and over, the chord pattern basically goes from a major chord with its 5th as the bass (a “6-4” chord) to a half-diminished 7 chord as the 2-chord.

    C major

    “I believe I can fly”

    C major over G bass (which is essentially C major in second inversion, or a “6-4”)
    G + C + E on right / G on left

    “I believe I can fly~~~”

    D half-diminished 7th
    Ab + C + D + F on right / D on left

    (Ending just keeps repeating those chords).

    Note: C major may not be the same key the song is played in… just an example

    Tomorrow, I’m going to cover neighboring 6-4 chords, passing 6-4 chords, pedal 6-4 chords, and more.

    Until next time —

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 9 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Eresmas

    Hey JG, I was getting confused by the part of inversions and i feel that the best way for me to understand it is just figure out the fourth in the major chord then playing the corresponding chord over the root.
    In that case, would the 6-4 of D major be D/G+B+D?
    Also is it legal to use a minor chord to make a 6-4 chord or is it just the major chords that are allowed?

    Thanks again.

    Reply

    2 Jermaine

    @ Eresmas – I added some more clarification above.

    The 6-4 chord isn’t really based on the lowest note. THe lowest note is actually just apart of the chord a fourth up.

    So if C is bass, but F+A+C is on right hand, it is clear that this is just an F major chord… It just has its 5th (C) as the lowest note.

    So think of it that way.

    But even if you’re in the key of C and you’ve started with a C major chord but then without changing the bass, you play an F major chord on your right, this too, of course, is a 6-4 chord and this is when thinking of it in terms of the bass makes more sense.

    Otherwise, usually you’d be in the key of F and playing this F major over C to get ready to end your song. That might take you to a real C dominant chord, then back home to F.

    Like at the end of the star spangled banner, after you sing “land of the free,” …. and the “home” of the brave.

    “home” is a 6/4 chord… it’s basically the major chord of the key over its 5th bass… it helps us to get ready to end this song.

    Reply

    3 Eresmas

    Thanks for the clarification JG even though i don’t know much about the star spangled banner, your national anthem, I am from Kenya in Africa he he.

    Reply

    4 Ed. Keifer

    Jermaine,

    The 6-4 chord, if I understand it correctly, is count up from the lowest note 4 scale notes, then count up 6 scale notes. For example, C6/4 chord put G as the lowest note in the bass-then put G as the lowest note in the right hand count up 4 C scale notes G,A, B, C and 6 C scale notes G, A, B, C, D, E and the 6-4 chord has G+C+E.

    If this is correct and I think it is, it seems simple enough……..

    Ed.

    Reply

    5 MS

    Jermaine, what say you to Ed at commment #4? Thanks for a response.

    Reply

    6 Olympia (malta)

    you are really great Jermaine, I never saw such explanation regarding inversions (which is a very difficult explanation for beginners), so clear and one can see it and touch it with its hands. You are a very kind man thanks alot. May God bless you.

    Reply

    7 sell my iphone

    I adored your wonderful writing. super contribution. I hope you release more. I will continue watching

    Reply

    8 frank

    Very good explanation JG.Thanks

    Reply

    9 collins

    i can play 12 keys of piano chords, the lower and upper key, am confused of combination of minor chords , cause i know all major chords,how can u help me to improve

    Reply

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