How omitting the 5th in chords can open doors to a much wider musical vocabulary

Joe Pass
Joe Pass, seen here playing his signature Ibanez JP20 archtop, would teach students the CAGED system to help them figure out chord theory on the fretboard (Image credit: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Anyone who has studied chord theory will confirm that the basis of a major or minor chord is the triad of root, 3rd (or b3rd) and 5th. Once we start altering or extending chords, though, the picture becomes slightly less clear. A sharp or flat 5th deviates from the norm, but it still refers to the ‘root, 3rd, 5th’ formula as a basis.

Sometimes, one of the notes from the basic triad is omitted altogether. Power or ‘5’ chords omit the 3rd, blurring the lines between major and minor. In extended chords (7th, 9th, 11th and 13th) the 5th is usually omitted – partly to keep these chords from sounding too harmonically ‘dense’. 

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Richard Barrett

As well as a longtime contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, Richard is Tony Hadley’s longstanding guitarist, and has worked with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ronan Keating.