What’s the difference between 9 add9 and major and minor 9 chords

Today I’m going to answer a commonly asked question. What’s the difference between 9 add9 and major and minor 9 chords? Despite being posted on this site, this isn’t really a guitar lesson as such. This is more of a mini answer to a question I find is commonly asked. I’m in the process of writing a lesson that contains some of these chords so I thought it would be a good idea to create an answer for the inevitable 9 chord related question. This lesson will give you some nice guitar chord shapes but this is more of a music theory lesson than a practical guitar lesson.

That said, this article is probably right at home here because if we’re honest about it, guitar players in general tend to have less music theory knowledge than say a pianist for example which is why guitarists tend to ask about this subject. The answer all lies in the theory and, if you know how chords are created, the answer is a simple one.

So what exactly is the difference between a 9 chord, an add9 chord, a minor add9 chord, a major 9 chord and a minor 9 chord?

The difference between 9 add9 and major and minor 9 chords is the notes that you find within them. I know that sounds a bit simple but let’s break it down and explain. If you’re familiar with the next part, feel free to skip it.

How a chord is built

Chords are built via 1 of 2 methods. Either a chord formula based on the major scale or intervals. Here I’m going to use the first method as I find it easier to explain and I feel that people digest the information better.

Here’s an example. Let’s say we want to build a C major chord. First we write out the C major scale. The C is our root.


The formula for the C major chord is “1 3 5”. That simply means that we take the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees from the scale to get our chord. Therefore, the C major chord consists of the notes C, E and G. Play any C major chord shape on your guitar and you’ll see that all the notes are Cs, Es and Gs.

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Here’s another example. Let’s build an A minor chord. The formula for any basic minor chord is “1 b3 5”, b3 meaning the 3rd degree is flattened or lowered by 1 semitone. First we take our scale which is in this case A major (we’re building everything off of the major scale). A B C# D E F# G# A. The notes of the A minor chord are therefore A, C and E.

One more example before we move on. The dominant 7th chord. The formula for a dominant 7 is “1 3 5 b7”. The same as a major chord but with an additional flat 7th note. If we wanted to turn that C major from earlier to a dominant 7, we’d flatten the 7th degree from the C major scale which is B for a chord consisting of C, E, G Bb.

How to build 9 chords add9 chords and major or minor 9 chords

The construction of 9 chords gets slightly more complex as another note is added. I’ll show you here how to build each type of 9 chord using the same kind of formula I used in the previous examples. It’s these formulas that explain the difference between the different types of 9 chords.

Firstly let me quickly explain what the “9” is. The 9 simply means that to build our chord, we’re going to reach into the next octave of the scale. All will become clear.

Let’s first look at the major9 and minor9. It doesn’t really matter the order in which we got about this to be honest. I thought I’d start with these because the formula is the straightest forward.

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The formula for a major 9 chord is “1 3 5 7 9”. This means we take the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th degrees from the relevant major scale plus the 9th degree which is the second note in the next octave.


Our notes are therefore C, E, G, B and D.

The formula for the minor 9 chord is the same but with a flat 3 and flat 7 so “1 b3 5 b7 9”. Let’s make an A minor 9 chord.

A B C# D E F# G# A B C# D E F# G# A

The notes of the A minor 9 chord are therefore A, C, E, G and B.

All that we have left are the 9 chords and add9 chords. The construction of a 9 chord is simple. Again we have a formula that this time looks like this “1 3 5 b7 9”. Same as the major 9 chord but with a flat 7.

I think you get the idea with taking notes from scales at this point so just to give you an example, the C9 chord consists of the notes C, E, G, Bb and D. Notice how that differs to the C major 9 chord that we made earlier that consisted of C, D, G, B and D. These may all be 9 chords but they are called different things because the notes inside them are different.

Let’s take a closer look at the add9 chords then after that I’ll give you a side by side list and some chord shapes just so you have something practical to take away.

The concept of an add 9 chord is again quite simple. There’s no 7th degree used. The formula looks like this “1 3 5 9”. You could also have a minor add9 chord and flatten the 3rd degree of the scale giving you “1 3b 5 9”. Same as a minor 9 but with no 7th. It’s like you’re “adding” a 9 to a 3 note chord. In short, add9 means skip the 7th when building.

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An example would be A, C#, E and B makes an Add9 chord. A synonym of A major add9.

A, C, E and B makes an A minor add9 chord.

Chord formulas for different types of 9 chord.

9 or dominant 9 = 1 3 5 b7 9

Major 9 chord formula = 1 3 5 7 9

Minor 9 chord formula = 1 b3 5 b7 9

Add9 chord formula = 1 3 5 9

Minor add9 chord formula = 1 b3 5 9

These chord formulas should illustrate the difference between different types of 9 chord and explain how each one is unique.

Below you’ll find some chord shapes. You may know some of them, you may know all of them. If there’s any you don’t know, learn them. All the chord shapes are movable, simply find a root note and re position the shape as required. There’re obviously more shapes for each of these chord types I’m just giving you one of each as an example.

Example of a dominant 9 chord, a major 9 chord, a minor 9 chord, an add9 chord and a minor add9 chord.

e dominant 9 chord 1
e major9 chord 1
e minor9 chord 1
e add9 chord 2
e minor add9 chord 2

What next?

Now that you’ve learned all about the types of 9 chords why not use it in a more practical way. Why not learn a great guitar song that uses a cool 9 chord? 

Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze TAB

Purple Haze uses the 7#9 chord which is also known as the Hendrix chord. 

Or, you could continue your 9 chord knowledge development by learning different 9 chord shapes? Here’s a lesson on major 9 chord shapes, minor 9 chord shapes and dominant chord shapes. 

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