Ever had your amp cranked up too loud and the German guy next door starts shouting Nein! Nein!? In reality they’re actually shouting in English Nine! Nine! because they want you to play some 9th chords on your guitar.
Why? Because they sound so goddam sweet and everyone loves them to bits, particularly the Germans…
You learn to play these bad boys and your song writing and chord progression skills will reach a whole new level.
That’s why today I’ll go over how to play the Major, Minor and Dominant 9th chords and how you can use them to write chord progressions.
What are 9th chords?
9th chords are basically 7th chords, with the 2nd note of the scale added to the chord too. (7 + 2 = 9 *mind blown*)
So let’s try and build a C Major 9th chord together…
We start with the base C major chord, consisting of the notes C, E and G.
We then add the major 7th note (B) to make it a C major 7 chord.
And then we add the 2nd (D) note (aka the 9th) to the chord to get a 5 note chord consisting of C, E, G, B and D.
And BAM! You’ve got your Cmaj9 chord.
To make a Dominant 9th or Minor 9th, we do the same thing.
Turn the chord into a dominant/minor 7th chord, add the 9th and voila!
By the way, the reason the 2nd and the 9th are the same thing is because there are 7 notes in the C major scale.
We just sort of count a second octave to the scale from the 8th (root) note again when we are dealing with chord extensions like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. (C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C)
You’ll notice the second (D) note is the same as the 9th note.
*And also major/dominant/minor 9th chords are not to be confused with add 9 chords.
In major/minor/dominant 9th chords you add the 7th and the 9th, in add 9 chords you only add the 9th – no 7th involved.
Anyway, enough jibber jabber, let’s get into how to play these things…
How to Play a Major 9th Chord
Although learning to play 9th chords on guitar sounds great and they’re super useful, be warned – they can be an absolute pain to play.
Particularly some shapes will make you say No thank you!
But I’ve tried to find the most playable ones for y’all so they don’t take too long to learn.
Here’s the first way to play a Major 9th Chord with an A string root/in the A shape:
But Sam, isn’t that supposed to be a 5 note chord? You only have 4…
With chord extensions like 9ths and stuff, we actually often leave the 5th out.
We have all the 4 notes that we need to make it sound like a major 9th (Root, major 3rd, major 7th and the 9th) and adding the 5th would make the chord a pain to play for little gain.
It’s just a bonus note that we can add if it’s easy to and once we have everything else we need.
That being said, here’s the second way to play this – based off the E shape:
If you are obsessing because you feel like the E shape needs to have an E string root note…
Then, uhhh be my guest to have a go at this version:
That looks easy, it’s basically the same as the last one!
Hahaha… I pity your innocence.
Anyway, that’s all the major 9th chords for ya.
You’ll want to learn an A shape and an E shape version for each 9th chord.
That way you won’t have to move up and down the fretboard too much during chord changes.
So let’s get straight into the Dominant 9th ones…
How to Play a Dominant 9th Chord
If you want to awaken the true jazziness within you, then learning the Dominant 9th chords on guitar is the way to go.
Just have a listen to this A shape C9 chord:
But for those of you who aren’t finding it too delicious because barring the top 3 strings is a bit of a pain, then you can always play it this way, without the 5th on top:
It’s perfectly fine, but in my opinion the other first version sounds better.
I just think it’s worth the effort getting used to the slightly awkward barring in this case.
And luckily, the E shape is pretty similar to a Dominant 7th E shape so it’s easy to play anyway:
A bog standard C7 barre chord with an added 9th on the end, nice.
But oh no, what’s this on the horizon…
*BEWARE – EXTREMELY DIFFICULT CHORD SHAPE INCOMING
Here’s the second way you can play the C9 E shape:
If this feels somehow feels comfortable, you’re a jazz chord king or you prefer the sound of it, then knock yourself out.
But personally, I think the first one will cause less headaches.
*Practicing Chords For Fast Progress
Alrighty, so it’s a good idea to try and get at least semi-decent at the chords above before moving on.
Otherwise you’ll just forget how to play all of the 9th chords on guitar.
So I recommend using what I call The Switch Method to help with this:
- Take two of the chords you are trying to learn (E.g. Amaj9 – E shape and Dmaj9 – A shape) and get comfortable with them by taking your fingers off the fretboard, then back again onto their shapes.
- Then practice switching between these two chords, back and forth for a couple of minutes. (E.g Amaj9 to Dmaj9 to Amaj9 to Dmaj9)
- Once this feels comfortable, add a third chord to the mix (E.g. B9 – E shape) Play it on it’s own for a bit and then add it to the chords you are switching between. (E.g. Amaj9 to Dmaj9 to B9 to Amaj9 to Dmaj9 to B9)
- Once this feels comfortable, you can repeat this process with another chord (E.g. E9 – A shape).
And BOOM! In the space of 10-15 minutes you have four brand new chords under your belt.
This method is great because you are essentially memorizing and practicing changing to multiple chords all at the same time, making it super efficient.
I wouldn’t go past 4 chords in a set though, otherwise it get’s confusing and you don’t get enough reps of each new chord you add.
Give that a go, and you’ll be more than ready to learn to play some Minor 9th chords on la guitar…
How to Play a Minor 9th Chord
Well done. You are now officially 2/3rds of the way to 9th chord virtuosity.
To complete your arsenal, you’re gonna need to know how to play a Minor 9th chord.
So here’s the A shape for ya:
Pretty similar to your C9 A shape, but it’s more common to play this one without anything on the high E string.
But that’s not to say that you can’t! Just attempt it at your own peril hehe…
And that brings us onto the final chord of the day… Whoop, whoop!
The Cm9 E shape:
You’re gonna need some serious index finger clamp strength for that one…
Nowadays, my index finger is so strong that I crush peanut M&Ms on a daily basis, so it ain’t a problem for me.
But not everyone will be in the same position as me and it may take a while getting used to it.
And for that I recommend getting a cheap bouncy ball and doing reps of squishing it between your index finger and thumb like this:
But if that all sounds like too much effort to you there is a second shape you can use…
You have to pay the price though with a more awkward fingering but it’s still perfectly fine:
That’s all the 9th chords for today so now if you’d kindly let me to go back to my Dominoes Meat Feast *Vegetarian Edition* Pizza with stuffed cru-…
Holy cow! I almost forgot to tell you how to actually use these things.
Oh well, the pizza is just gonna have to wait.
How to Use 9th Chords When Writing a Chord Progression
Fundamentally, there’s literally no point learning to play 9th chords on guitar if you don’t know how to use them.
You’ll just end up just not using them, forgetting them and throwing your guitar out the window for good measure.
So how do you actually use 9th chords?
Thankfully there’s not any complicated music theory that goes along with how and when to use 9th chords.
Any time you would play a major 7th chord normally, you can play a major 9th chord…
Any time you would play a dominant 7th chord normally, you can play a 9th chord…
Any time you would play a minor 7th chord normally, you can order yourself a pizza…
Man, I just love 9th chords!
Just find a simple chord progression and ninth-ify it with major, minor and dominant 9ths and see if you can find something that works.
It might also help to find the 7th versions of each chord that work in the progression first and then add the 9th on afterwards
And if, for whatever reason, the chord in the progression sounds good with the 7th but odd with the 9th, it’s probably because the 9th note isn’t in the key of the music.
Then you can either choose to not play the 9th in this case or just play it for effect.
Wrapping it Up
And there we have it. Those big, scary, why-did-I-choose-to-learn-guitar 9th chords – conquered like a pro.
Your chord prog skills are soon gonna be reaching a whole new level in the not too distant future.
People are gonna be like…
Teacher: Wow Sam, that sounds great. I’ll give you an A* if you tell me what it is…
Me: It’s called a major 9th chord, you might have heard of it… *smug look on face*
Best mate: Woah man! That sounds sick, what is that?
Me: Pff, it’s just a major 9th chord, nothing special… *even smugger look on face*
Hot girl: Omg! That sounds so sweet. Can I get your number?
Me: I mean, it’s just a major 9th chord, but yeah sure… *smuggest look on face*
See? Works a charm.
You’ll be able to get some super smooth chord progs out of these 9th chords so use and abuse them to your will.
Anyway, I’ve got a Dominoes Meat Feast *Vegetarian Edition* Pizza with stuffed crust to get back to, and you’ve got some 9ths to play around with, so I’ll see you in the next one…