Major Sixth Chords

In this lesson we will look at the Major Sixth Chord. All chords are constructed by building up a group of notes from within or outside a given scale. Chords are not restricted to triads. Four, five and six note chords are used in varying styles of music.

The Major Sixth Chord

Major sixth chords are created by starting with a major triad and adding the sixth degree of the major scale. This new four note chord is called a major 6th as the sound focus is on the 6th degree. Do not confuse the 4 note major sixth chord with a chord that contains six notes.

If we consider the C major scale as an example, we can derive the 4 note chord C major sixth, C-E-G-A.

C Major
Scale
C D E F G A B C
Scale
Degree
I II III IV V VI VII VIII
C Triad C E G
C6
(major sixth)
C E G A

The C major sixth chord (C6) is built by using the first, third, fifth and sixth degrees of the C major scale.

Stacking Intervals

Four note chords can be constructed by stacking an interval on top of a triad. The major sixth chord stacks a major second on top of a major triad. Using the C major triad as our starting point:

C Major Sixth Chord Stacking Example

Starting with C major, C-E-G, adding and interval of a major second from G, G - A, results in the formation of the major sixth chord.

Naming Major Sixth Chords

When naming four note chords the numeric identifier (the number in the name) is taken from the last scale degree in the sequence. In the table below, the note added to the C major triad, A, is the sixth degree of C major, hence this chord has the number 6 as its numeric identifier.

C6 (major sixth) C E G A
Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C Major Scale C D E F G A B C

Following on from the example above, the correct chord symbol for the C major sixth is C6. Other variations such as Cma6, Cmaj6, C major 6 and C (add 6) are all inaccurate symbols for this chord.