Chord Symbols for Triad Combinations: Follow up to Russell Ferrante Lesson

I wanted to make a follow up lesson in response to some confusion that some class members had after viewing the Russell Ferrante video on combining triads to come up with interesting sounds.

The confusion came in the form of how to notate the chord symbol for these types of voicings. There is not one definitive answer, but my opinion is that the more information you can give a player on what to play, the better.

If you have not viewed the Russell Ferrante video, click here to view. This will make much more sense after you have viewed the original video. Let me know if you have any questions.

View in full screen mode by clicking the lower right corner of the video player.

17 Replies to “Chord Symbols for Triad Combinations: Follow up to Russell Ferrante Lesson”

  1. Allen Robnett

    Thanks, Jim, I had wondered about this very thing. I conclude that both points of view are valuable. Russell’s exposition demonstrates one way that sequences of such chords may arise, and provides fodder for experimentation. Your comments make clear the relation of the results to more familiar concepts.

  2. Tom Soto

    It is easy for me to realize that adding a (C) bass to G6 makes it a cluster voicing; however, adding a second (C) above the (C) bass in a G6 cord makes it a CMaj9, no longer qualified to be called a G6/C.

    Is this the point of the discussion?


  3. Colin Campbell

    I think that writing CMaj9 is far more simpler that trying to write G/C–the base of everything is simplicity especially if you wish your keyboard player to play what you want. Playing a G/C makes the chord rather discordant when you have middle C against the Major 7th –and I wouldnt think that if you were to voice the G/C for 5 saxes you wouldnt include the middle C –it would sound too muddy. remember keep it simple and it will sound great.

  4. Jim Martin

    Tom: That’s exactly the point of the discussion. The more information you give the piano player (or any player) the better.

    The only other thing I could think of for the G6/C would be to let them know to add the 4th as well. Maybe something like: Gsus(add6)/C or G6(add C)/C.

    Most would probably agree that is overkill, although it does give the player exactly what you wanted. I think CMaj9 is the best choice for that particular voicing though, with maybe a note to voice them in “clusters”

  5. Jim Martin

    Thanks Allen! I think Russell’s strategy was coming from taking 2 very simple things and combining them to create something new. Most everyone knows how to put a triad together, but perhaps they would have never thought to combine them in that way. He really didn’t touch on chord symbols though, and that is why I thought it might be best to clear up any confusion.

  6. Joel Barbosa

    While in G6/C we could have a G Ionian chord-scale, in Cmaj9 the chord-scale could be a C Ionian. This alone could create confusion when working on a soli writing.

  7. Enrico Dell'Aquila

    what about the “polychord” notation



    using the fraction sign, instead of the slash “/” ?

  8. Shane Kershaw

    So, Jim – I would still be inclined to use the


    polychord notation because that is what Russell is meaning by saying a “G chord over a C chord” as he progressed with the presentation he relaxed his usage to G over C but the intent was always a G chord over a C chord

    I will admit though, that my initial reaction was call it Cmaj9 and be done with it, but then as I reflected on it, it is really about that polychordal/polytonal approach to writing, especially if we end up with the use of augmented chords over augmented chords, say C aug over F aug where it is difficult to come up with a higher extension chord that covers all the bases (Fmaj7#9b6/C might just cut it) but such a chord is convoluted in comparison to
    F aug
    C aug

  9. Shane Kershaw

    A quick follow up to support what I wrote above based on what Russell said in his video: these cluster can be played over any bass note, not just the bass note of the lower chord.

    So, relying on the bass of the lower chord to determine the naming of the cluster may be flawed in that Russell considered the bass to be independent of the clusters and that it should be used for additional colour

  10. Joel

    Totally agree with Enrico and Shane. I’ve always distinguished between an inversion and a polychord by using the diagonal slash for the inversion (indicating which pitch is lowest) and the horizontal divider for the polychord. In sight reading chord charts triads are simple to identify and take minimal thinking to execute as opposed to complex symbols. I don’t think this takes too much vertical space. And yes, it gets even more interesting adding an independent bass note beneath the polychord, whether it’s part of or foreign to the notes of either triad. Now there’s 3 elements; the bass is the most powerful note influencing how the chord quality is perceived.

  11. Jim Martin

    Shane and Joel, I get what you guys are saying now. Yes, I agree. If you are going to notate a polychord with a chord symbol, the best option would be the horizontal line separating them.

    Keep in mind though that some players still might think of it as the triad over the bass note, probably because so much pop music (from the 80s and 90s mainly) ingrained in lots of players to play a triad over a bass note. But I definitely agree in that context.

    By the way, try playing a Faug over a Caug chord at the piano. Sounds like two train whistles colliding before the trains collide. (not one but two minor 9ths are created in that chord)

  12. Jim Martin

    Yes, I’m not sure why this video won’t play anymore. Unfortunately, I can’t find the original video file! I’ll keep working on locating it.

  13. Hernan Biancardi

    Jim: just to let you know that I was able to see the video opening the site with Chrome (I use firefox as my default browser)
    Thank you !

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