In 1976 Carl Brandt and Clinton Roemer produced a booklet called Standardized Chord Symbol Notation: A Uniform System for the Music Profession (SCSN). It doesn’t seem to be currently available for sale (not for under £200 anyway) but you might find it if you hunt online.
It has been adopted to some extent. Sher Publishing seem to use it in their real books. Based on my own experience, I agree with much of it but think some of it could be reassessed.
Is it necessary?
It could be said that a standard version is not as important as it was. SCSN quotes some quite bizarre symbols, eg. C(+7) for C7 or C7(♭3) for Cm7, which I’ve never come across. At that time there was far less printed material using these symbols. Today, with the proliferation of books about jazz, 'real books' etc there is far more. So it might just be that there are now fewer variations, even without the influence of SCSN. But I think there is still enough variation to make this exercise relevant.
SCSN does specify standard shapes, in the sense of raised or lowered symbols. When writing by hand I like to see the extensions higher and slash notes lower, eg
but when typing this is difficult to achieve. In a word processor you could use the 'superscript' function, but the slash root would be tricky. But there are special fonts which make this feasible.
Here are some of the assertions in SCSN with my own take on the matter:
Don’t add 'maj' 'M' etc for simple major triad.
Not important, doesn’t hurt to emphasise.
Only use MA or MI.
I prefer maj and m as they are less similar. But the dash eg C–7 should probably go.
Extensions should be in brackets eg C7 (♭9)
Not necessary – reserve for notes that aren’t in the chord but may be implied eg this chord which has the feel of a dominant.
Use the small circle only for dim7 chord, thus Cm(♭5) for C E♭ Gb
CO is fine, or CO7 if A is included.
The Chapman Version
Here then are my tentative suggestions for a modern, legible standard notation, alongside the SCSN version for comparison:
|Major||Cmaj (but Δ in extension)||CMA|
|Minor||Cm (not –)||CMI|
|Omit the 3rd||(no 3)||OMIT 3|
|Single note||(no chord)||not used|
Use Δ, ♯ and ♭. Example: Cm9 Δ7.
C E F♯ B♭ = C7 ♭5 but
C E B♭ F♯ = C7 ♯11 because the F♯ is above the seventh. Same with ♯5 and ♭13.
Csus = Csus 4 = C triad with third suspended up ie C F G. However, Csus 2 = C D G (as if you can suspend something downwards! - but has a similar feel to the sus 4).
2 or add 9
'2' is useful for C D E G. But if the D is above the E, I prefer the more usual 'add 9'.
I take 'altered' to mean a dominant chord which uses three or four notes which are 'altered' from the basic chord scale. This would be the mixolydian mode built on the root, which for a G7 chord would have the same notes as a C major scale . The possible alterations are: b9 (A♭), ♯9 (B♭), ♯11 or ♭5 (C♯), and ♭13 or ♯5 (E♭). If there are less than three, I think it’s more useful to actually describe them (eg G7 ♭9 ♯11).
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