Learn Five Ways to Play Cmaj9 | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In a previous lesson I showed you the Cmaj7 chord. This time, we’ll build on that chord to learn the C major ninth, often written as Cmaj9.

The Work


You should already know that a Cmaj7 chord is a C major triad (C E G) plus the major seventh (B), as shown in Example 1. To get a Cmaj9, just add the major ninth, D, which is the same as the second, to the top of the chord (Example 2). You already know how much difference in sound it makes to add the seventh—now you can hear how much more difference it makes to add the ninth. In general, jazz is the type of music in which you’ll most often encounter the major ninth chord.    

Example 3 shows how to make a Cmaj9 chord from a Cmaj7 in open position. You can also include the open first string in these shapes. Example 4 depict the same idea using barre chords. Note that you don’t have to play the first string in both chords. For voicings higher up the neck, see Examples 5 and 6. Note that for added texture, you can use the open first string in Ex. 5 and the open first and second strings in Ex. 6. In Example 7, the third, E, is the lowest note.

The Result

You should now know how to build various Cmaj9 voicings from Cmaj7 chords. To hear the Cmaj9 chord in context, check out Radiohead’s “Creep.” Stay tuned for next time, when I’ll introduce another new chord, the minor seventh.

Kate Koenig
Kate Koenig

Kate Koenig is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and music journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They have been a regular contributor to Acoustic Guitar since 2017.

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