It's not an augmented diminutive seventh...
May 6, 2016 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Piano noob. I enjoy putting my fingers where they're not supposed to go, getting a strangled walrus sound, moving one finger and suddenly getting something wonderful. I look up what I've played to identify the chord and look for songs that use it. But what's E B D♭ E? It sounds sad and sweet but appears to be nameless.
posted by obiwanwasabi to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd guess at an incomplete something else. Most likely candidates are Em6 (if a g sounds all right in the middle of it) or E6 (if G# sounds right). In both cases, the Db is really a C#. If the G# sounds right but it definitely has that sad minor feel it could be C#m7 (try C# in the bass to see) - same notes as E6 but rearranged...
posted by monkey closet at 2:53 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

By the same token, if you rearrange the Emin/maj6 (sorry, missed the major bit above) to sit over the C# bass you get a half-diminished seventh chord (C#ø). Less common though.
posted by monkey closet at 3:00 AM on May 6, 2016

Yep, what monkey closet said - depending on how it's being used, it's either an E6 (with no 3rd; adding a G# sounds more 'natural' than adding a G, making it Em6, which sounds more dissonant) or a C#m7 over E (with no 5th).

There's probably no 'right' answer here - there is missing information. If you were writing a jazz lead sheet, you'd use the melody line to guide which chord (and therefore which mode for a solo) you would want, for example. But as it stands, it's a cluster of four notes that could be described any of several different ways.
posted by parm at 3:14 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a little confused, the link you provide has a perfectly good name for this chord (E6sus, or E suspended sixth). This is an E major chord (E G# B) with the 3rd (G#) removed and a major 6th (C#/Db) added. If you like the sound of suspended chords, you could play around with some more commonly used variants like E2sus (E F# B) or E4sus (E A B).

The fact that you return to the root with an E an octave up is generally ignored in chord-naming (so E B C# E is considered the same chord as E B C# for naming purposes).
posted by firechicago at 3:52 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mr. Arnicae (pro musician in Hollywood) says:

"E6(no 3), or C#min7(no 5)/E"

...whatever that means.
posted by arnicae at 6:04 AM on May 6, 2016

This isn't really what you're asking, but it's worth noting that alternating between E B and E C# on a shuffle beat forms the very basis of rock and roll.
posted by rlk at 7:06 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Heck, if you play an A with your left hand, or "resolve" the chord by moving the B down to the A, then you'd have a case for calling it an inversion of an A9. (Playing inversions with the right hand while letting your left hand or other instruments carry the root and/or other notes to "complete" the chord is a very common jazz piano/guitar technique.) So as parm says, the context can make a difference.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:30 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah I would say it' s an E6, and label the D♭ as a C# instead, since C# is part of the E major scale. Try adding a G# and see if it sounds right
posted by winterportage at 7:44 AM on May 6, 2016

This is a beautiful starting chord! I'm a musical theatre composer, and use it all the time. Partly because it so nicely fits under the hand (B C# E), and because you can contextualize it differently by changing the bass.

For instance play your chord a few times over A in the bass (sounds like A major with an extra juicy 2 thrown in), then G# in the bass (E major with an extra 6), then F# in the bass (sounds like F#m7sus)...

Since there's no dissonance in the chord (it's a major second and minor third stacked) it can blend prettily with lots of things!
posted by Zephyrial at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Because there's no G or G#, it's not unambiguously an E or a C# based triad. So it's nicely ambiguous and can't be located on its own. If you use this in a passage where there's some context that suggests a key, then it will be clearer how to analyse it. If you mash it up with other unclear things, collections of notes that don't clash too badly, basically you end up sounding like Satie or Ravel.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:05 PM on May 6, 2016

Thanks all! Looks like it's just four notes that sound nice. Sliding the G# back in there and dropping the bottom E is OK, but not as nice.

This isn't really what you're asking, but it's worth noting that alternating between E B and E C# on a shuffle beat forms the very basis of rock and roll.

That's probably exactly what I'm looking for!

you can contextualize it differently by changing the bass

That's all I've been doing, and it's great fun. Do the mystery chord on right hand to the beat or every second beat, and with the left just do a single key progression (usually the Axis of Awesome 'four chords' for starters - E, B, C#, G...). This one sounds great that way, and just changing the order of the Axis tones gives very different results.

Found another one similar to this (B♭, F / G, B♭) which goes nicely on the right hand with a simple E♭, D, C on the left. Next thing you know you're belting out Fleetwood Mac's Landslide.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:00 PM on May 8, 2016

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