Chord Symbols

In more modern contexts, such as in jazz and popular music, the figured bass system has largely been replaced by chord symbols or lead-sheet symbols. You can see an example of these in the excerpt from a jazz lead-sheet above. Jazz lead sheets typically contain the melody written in standard notation, and above the melody will be placed the chord symbol for the suggested harmony to be played in the accompaniment. Chord symbols tend to have a lot of variety in how they are displayed, but all will show the root of the chord, followed by a variety of symbols to show the quality of the triad, seventh chord, or other added notes (such as ninths or thirteenths).

You can see the first chord in the example above shows the root, E-flat, combined with the type of seventh chord (maj7 means a major seventh). While there are no inversions in the example above, the system for writing inversions is also very straightforward: a slash ('/') will follow the chord symbol with a second letter name to show which chord tone is the lowest sounding (the bass note). For example, if the E-flat major seventh above were in first inversion, it would be written as Ebmaj7/G. The G is the third of the E-flat major seventh, therefore that note is shown explicitly after the slash. If it were in second inversion it would be written with the fifth of the triad after the slash: Ebmaj7/Bb. The most common symbols and a few variations for each will be on the next tab, but you can always expect to find chord symbols divided into three main parts: root - quality - note in the bass. Applying this to an E-flat major seventh in first inversion we have: root (Eb) quality (maj7) note in the bass (/G) ~ Ebmaj7/G. 

The chart below shows our preferred lead sheet symbol for various chord qualities, plus some common alternates. The table includes triads: major, minor, augmented, and diminished. And the five most common seventh chords: major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh, half diminished (in jazz this is called a minor seven flat five - this makes sense since a half diminished chord is in fact a minor seventh chord with a lowered fifth), and the fully diminished seventh.

Description Preferred Symbol Alternates Examples
Triad: Major (none) M (uppercase), maj C, CM, Cmaj
Triad: Minor m (lowercase) min,- Cm, Cmin, C-
Triad: Diminished dim C, Cdim
Triad: Augmented (none) C
Major Seventh maj7 7, M7 Cmaj7, C7, CM7
Dominant Seventh 7 (none) C7
Minor Seventh m7 -7 Cm7, C-7
Minor Seven Flat Five (Half Diminished Seventh) m75 -75, 7 Cm75, C-75, C7
Diminished Seventh 7 dim7 C7, Cdim7