Exploring Add 11 Chords

Adding the natural 11 to a major triad is considered rather outré in the jazz world; usually a #11 is expected and 11 is considered an "avoid note". On the basis that one player's bum note is another's hip new sound, that makes these chords worth a look.

Playing Maj Add 11s

The major add 11 is spelled 1 3 5 11 or, equivalently, 1 3 4 5, so in C the chord has the notes C, E, G and F. As an arpeggio it's not very interesting; a 4-note subset of the major scale. You can figure that out yourself if you want to. As a chord it poses some challenges because of the semitone between the 3 and 4. Here are some easy ones for C Maj Add 11 in ascending positions; all are movable:

The general sound-world isn't dissimilar to the diatonic fourths we looked at in the previous post, and that's not really surprising; after all, G-C-F is a stack of fourths, so it's only the E that makes the difference. It certainly doesn't sound like a stack-of-thirds type of chord. Playing a bunch of these voicings in succession creates a washy, modal kind of effect before we've even done anything fancy.

Fitting the Chord into the Major Scale

Obviously, since the C major scale is C D E F G A B, the chord C E F G is diatonic to the key of C major. One natural question is whether we can find another copy of this chord in the same key, and it turns out we can. "fit" C E F G into the key of F. Explicitly, here are two octaves of the C major scale with the two Maj Add 11 chords it contains:

C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C Major Scale
C E F G C Maj Add 11
G B C D G Maj Add 11

This means we can cover off six of the seven notes of the major scale with a pair of Maj Add 11s. Immediate applications, then, are to play these two Maj Add 11s wherever you'd play a major scale, or wherever you'd play a major scale mode, or indeed as subs for any chord that implies a major scale mode. That's a lot of applications!

Here are the easy fingerings above, alternating C Maj Add 11 with G Maj Add 11; notice how every note in each chord is diatonic to C major:

In a jazz context these chords could sub for Dm7, Fmaj7#11, G9, Bm7b5; using them throughout gives a modal feel to standard changes, erasing the transitions between chords and washing out the contrasts. To me this is a slight variation on quartal harmony that provides some different sounds and voicings, and I'd use it in a similar way.

Minor Add 11s

You can flatten the third in a Maj Add 11 to get a Min Add 11: C Eb G F in the key of C. Here are the same fingerings as above, but with the E dropped to Eb:

We can do the same trick as before, superimposing another Min Add 11 to cover off six of the seven notes diatonic notes. This time, though, we'll get the Natural Minor scale instead of Major, and the other chord we want is built off the fourth instead of the fifth. So in C we choose F Min Add 11, which is F Ab C Bb. Here are the two chords played with the corresponding easy fingerings:

These offer some variations on the Maj Add 11 sounds that are still easy to apply wherever you'd use a major scale or one of its modes. If you don't like the weird stuff in the next section, skip to the end to see another application of Min Add 11s...

More Combinations

To create the effect in the previous section we took C Maj Add 11 and superimposed another Maj Add 11 a fifth above it. We'd now like to generalize this idea and see what happens if we superimpose at some interval other than a fifth.

As before I'll deploy the results using all the available modes, so at this point all I care about is which scale group I get. Here are the results -- the symmetry is completely unsurprising if you think about it, so "really" there are only six ideas here:

  • Db Maj Add 11: CEFG + DbFGbAb = C Db E F Gb G Ab = s, mT, s, s, s, s, MT = Raghupriya
  • D Maj Add 11: CEFG + DF#GA = C D E F F# G A = t, t, s, s, s, t, mT = Lipsean
  • Eb Maj Add 11: CEFG + EbGAbBb = C D# E F G Ab Bb = mT, s, s, t, s, t, t = Varunapriya
  • E Maj Add 11: CEFG + EG#AB = C E F G G# A B = MT, s, t, s, s, t, s = 6maj + b7maj
  • F Maj Add 11: CEFG + FABbC = C E F G A Bb = Diatonic subset (see above)
  • Gb Maj Add 11: CEFG + F#A#BC# = C Db E F F# G A# B = octatonic scale
  • G Maj Add 11: CEFG + GBCD = C D E F G B = Diatonic subset (see above)
  • Ab Maj Add 11: CEFG + AbCDbEb = C Dd Eb E F G Ab = s, t, s, s, t, s, MT = 6maj + b7maj
  • A Maj Add 11: CEFG + AC#DE = C C# D E F G A = s, s, t, s, t, t, mT = Varunapriya
  • Bb Maj Add 11: CEFG + BbDEbF = C D Eb E F G Bb = t, s, s, s, t, mT, t = Lipsean
  • B Maj Add 11: CEFG + BD#EF# = C D# E F F# G B = mT, s, s, s, s, MT, s = Raghupriya

Isn't that peculiar? You stack up two copies of this not-very-alarming little chord and get nothing familiar -- not even vaguely -- except at the fourth / fifth interval where they lock together to produce a very plain diatonic subset. Everything else is... well... what is it?

Let's break it down another way, looking only at the heptatonics and collecting them by scale group:

  • Raghupriya: b2 and 7
  • Lipsean: 2 and b7
  • Varunapriya: b3 and 6
  • 6maj + b7maj: 3 and b6

So, four scale groups, all very exotic, promising much to explore; I might post more on these in future if I find anything interesting in them.

Combining Min Add 11s

I haven't worked these all out at this point -- at a glance they don't look very promising -- but I wanted to draw attention to the combination of Min Add 11 at the root with another built on the #5/b6. So in C that's Ab Min Add 11, which is Ab Cb Eb Db.

Combining the two gives C Db Eb F G Ab B, which is the Dhenuka scale, spelled 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 7:

This sequence of chords sounds to me like an alternating Cm7 and G7alt, since Ab Cb Eb Db could be looked at as b9 3 #5 and b5 of a G chord, so this gives an interesting way to think about a minor V-i.