View Full Version : One man's 6th is another man's minor 7th.

12-04-2015, 10:10 AM
I finally had read it too many times: "Whether it's C6 or Am7 depends on the context." Finally I had to figure out what this "context" is that everyone keeps talking about. I did an internet search and found surprisingly little about this but what I did find suggested that the difference between a C6 and an Am7 is determined by the lowest note in the inversion (assuming that the lowest note is either C or A, if it's E or G then all bets are off). If this is true then in normal music theory "context" has nothing to do with it. By this definition the 4 open strings on the uke would be a C6 and not an Am7 regardless of context.

Now I understand that we are talking about the Ukulele here and sometimes normal music theory goes out the window (see Hawaiian D7). Given the limitations of the uke it makes sense we should use the names C6 and Am7 interchangeably but I'm no closer to understanding this idea of "context" than I was before.

At this point I'm inclined to think that the naming of the chord either C6 or Am7 is pretty arbitrary but if you can explain to me what is meant by "context" I'm all ears, um, eyes. Thanks.

Down Up Dick
12-04-2015, 10:57 AM
We had a heated discussion about this subject a long time ago. I got lambasted, but I still believe that C6 and Am7 are the same sound. However, in my opinion nothing was ever settled and never admitted defeat. I don't use m7 s!

Maybe you can find the thread in "Search Thread". I wash my hands of it.

What ever happened to ubulele? I miss his pages long explanations. :old:

12-04-2015, 11:20 AM
It depends on what the bass player is playing.

12-04-2015, 11:22 AM
I'm a min7th guy myself. 6ths are an abomination.

12-04-2015, 11:23 AM
It depends on what the bass player is playing.

I don't think I can afford a bass player.

12-04-2015, 11:30 AM
It's a C6, and you could also play an Am7 like that if you don't care about the root. Lazy man's Am7.

12-04-2015, 11:39 AM
It's a C6, and you could also play an Am7 like that if you don't care about the root. Lazy man's Am7.

That makes sense based on what I read. I guess to play a true Am7 you would need a low G or play pretty far up the neck.

12-04-2015, 12:20 PM
It's a C6, and you could also play an Am7 like that if you don't care about the root. Lazy man's Am7.
I agree, it's easiest to see an ukulele tuned gCEA and played with all open strings as a C6 first. With a little creative thinking, then it can be seen as an Am7. With more creative thinking, I suppose an Em sus4 dim6(?) or a G6 sus4 add9(?). I stand to be corrected.

12-04-2015, 01:09 PM
What about 2433 ? Is that C6 or Am7? hehe


Jim Hanks
12-04-2015, 01:24 PM
I don't think I can afford a bass player.

When you analyze an object "in context", it implies there is something else surrounding the object in question. This is common in normal language when we say things like "you took that phrase I said out of context and tried to make it mean something I didn't mean if you have quoted the whole thing". Music is also a language so the the same thing applies.

Let's take your open strings reentrant chord with the notes C,E,G, and A (low to high). If you play this by itself, there is no context, and it must be called C6. It can't be called Am7. You can't really even call it Am7/C since A,E,G do not make Am7.

Now let's add some context. Say you have a bass player (or piano or singer, whatever) playing a low A note. Now you and the bass player *together* are playing an Am7 chord.

I could probably go on, but that's what "in context" means.

Jim Hanks
12-04-2015, 01:34 PM
Another thing to keep in mind here - everything I just said is true in musical theory. Musical practice is quite a different matter and full of half truths and shortcuts. That's why we call 2000 Am instead of Am/C and why 2020 is D7 instead of "three fourths of a real D7 cuz we can't play the C and D on the same string".

12-04-2015, 04:27 PM
I thought the context would be what key the piece of music is in. I mean, a Ab note could equally well be a G#, a C#= Db etc, depends on the key as to what it is called & how it is written. I therefore assumed it'd be the same with chords.

12-04-2015, 06:52 PM
The way I understand it is that C6 is a variation on a C major chord. An Am7 is a variation on an Am chord.

A C6 is a tonic chord, the chord you come back to to complete a phrase, the chord that is the home base.

In the key of C, an Am is the relative minor. You move back to the C from the Am.

Try playing 0003/0000/2010/0212. C Am7 F G7

Then, 5757/5453/2013/4535. C6 Am F G7

You should here how Am7 functions as a relative minor and C6 as a tonic in these contexts.

12-04-2015, 08:19 PM
all about the key... same notes (names at least) but different voicing...

playing something in Am vs C Maj is very very different sounding... even if you are using the same notes... all part of the cord progression play a I>IV>V progression in each key one is the 1 chord of the C scale with the 6th note of the scale put on top and the other is the 1 chord of the Am Scale with a 7th on top... at least on keys... but if voicing for vocals or keys or strings (or because of lack of strings... only having 4 means you're going to be making lots of voicing compromises anyway) means it'll sound more smoothly with a different voicing it's still an Am7 or a C6 based on they key... no different than a Gb when playing in Db... it is always a Gb, even though it's pitch is the same as a F#... sure you could notate it differently but it would be part of the wrong progression for the music although it would sound right...

side note... wow it's been a long time since I've though anything about my music theory lol... wish I studied harder and could remember more...

12-04-2015, 09:31 PM
What about 2433 ? Is that C6 or Am7? hehe


Neither. It's an E-something. I actually stopped thinking about what kind of E it is, I could hear the gears in my head struggle. Some kind of strange Em.

Or a C6 or an Am7, if you don't care about the root.

12-05-2015, 04:41 AM
This is pretty helpful. Thanks to all. I'm picking up that "context" may have something to do with the movement from chord to chord. When I play C --> Am7 I can hear the movement on the first string from C to A. When I play G7 --> C6 I pick up the movement on the 3rd string from D to C. So with a C6 the progression may not be completely resolved but the movement from the D to C in the progression gives you a sense of resolution.

I guess another way of looking at it would be that "context" refers to where the chord lies within a musical phrase.

Thanks for all the input.

12-05-2015, 01:39 PM
"I guess another way of looking at it would be that "context" refers to where the chord lies within a musical phrase"

Yes!!! Music is a continuum of sound, a beautiful river of moving energy.
Am7 and C6 sound the same, but the "context" is where they fit into the flow - not how they sound or are named in isolation.
The name the same chord is given contains clues to the nature of the "flow" of the music around it.... So - in isolation - what a chord is called doesn't matter, but relative to what's happening before and after, it is an encryption of the alchemy....
Beautiful, isn't it? Poetry in motion...

Down Up Dick
12-06-2015, 05:02 AM
I can't stand it any more! C'mon people, if one plays a Uke all strings open, it will sound a C6, but if he/she plays a Uke with all strings open and calls the sound Am7, it will sound the same sound as before--C6.

Context or not, an open C6 is an open C6 is an open C6, There's no such thing as an open Am7 on the Uke!

Record an open C6, and then record an open "Am7". Do you hear two different sounds? If so, your recorder's broken.

I rest my case. Down with ukulele Xm7s!! :old:

12-06-2015, 05:29 AM
I can't stand it any more! C'mon people, if one plays a Uke all strings open, it will sound a C6, but if he/she plays a Uke with all strings open and calls the sound Am7, it will sound the same sound as before--C6.

Context or not, an open C6 is an open C6 is an open C6, There's no such thing as an open Am7 on the Uke!

On reentrant gCEA the correct Am7 in the first position would be (counted from the first string) 7 8 9 12. So we cheat. Or avoid playing it.

12-06-2015, 05:31 AM
Jim that's a good explanation. Context does matter. Music is a language, and theory is its grammar. You could say that the notes in G A B C D E F# G or you could say they are G A B C D E Gb G, but the first is proper grammar and the second is not. It's the same with chords, only more complicated. Often a word means more than one thing, and context gives it meaning. On the other hand often two words sort of mean the same thing, but choosing the right one gives a slightly different meaning. Having a common grammar and vocabulary enables communication and sharing. It's the same for music. It doesn't matter what you think in your head, but it does matter when you write music down or communicate with another musician whether you say Am7 or C6. And, depending upon the voicing of the chord it may make a difference how it sounds musically within the piece (context).

I don't "get" why people are so put off by music theory and its concepts. It's all pretty much just counting.

Down Up Dick
12-06-2015, 10:00 AM
I can't say that I understood all of your post or got a lot out of it, but I think most of us UUers are "put off by music theory and it's concepts" because many of us just wanna have fun strumming and croonin' a tune or two.

Once one learns a good bunch of chords, the tune he/she wants to sing and the words, he/she is satisfied--especially if his/her warbling sounds good to him/her and his/her audience. They don't care about music on the staff; they're happy with the tabs. They don't care about the different numbers of beats in 6/8 time; they just want time that can make their toes tap. They wanna have fun!

Music Theory is important, necessary and very interesting (to some), and those planning a career as a professor or a composer or something along those lines should grab a good theory book or hie themselves to a nearby college and immerse themselves in it.

But us who wanna sing "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" "don't need no stinkin' Music Theory!" :old:

12-06-2015, 01:10 PM
I guess it just goes to show that ignorance is bliss for some.

Down Up Dick
12-06-2015, 02:35 PM
Yeah, I guess so. Some of us are ignorant, and some are superior. It takes all kinds. :old:

12-06-2015, 03:11 PM
Some are just open to learning, even if it takes a little bit of effort. Five Foot Two uses movement from the cycle of fifths. Learning the cycle of fifths helps you hear patterns and figure out songs. Figuring out songs is fun. Learning the cycle of fifths helps you write songs. Writing songs is joyous.

This whole discussion has been about people trying to grow and understand. If you're not interested in growing and understanding, perhaps you don't really need to participate. You've got all you need.

12-06-2015, 03:16 PM
I guess it just goes to show that ignorance is bliss for some.count me in. but it is useful when you come across a suspended something or a diminished other thing to be able to figure it out, especially if no "source" is handy. I need to learn some of that stuff eventually.

Down Up Dick
12-06-2015, 03:19 PM
I thought Kimosabe meant friend or partner or like that. Where's your Aloha Spirit? You mean that if I don't agree with what you think is fun that I should withdraw? Who the heck died and made you leader?

Well, Kimosabe I've had my say anyway. The thread is yours, and I hope you have lots of fun. :old:

12-06-2015, 03:28 PM
My Aloha spirit is here on the island where I live. Abe Lagrimas has a great jazz theory book. Kimo Hussey teaches how to use jazz chords. Aaron at HMS teaches elements of theory. I sat with Corey Fujimoto while Kimo was teaching him, expanding his ability and horizons. Benny Chong and Lyle Ritz are masters of theory. They are all professors of the uke, to be studied, revered, and listened to, and learned from. Ohta-San has big aloha and big theory behind him.

I contributed to the original discussion which was what is the difference between the chords; you're the superior one who claimed to speak for "most of us UUers".

You're the one who interjected that the discussion wasn't of interest to most UUers. That's not the purpose of this forum. If a subject interests you, you participate. Otherwise, you politely keep your self-satisfied distaste to yourself.

12-06-2015, 05:19 PM
You have to remember on uke that we're playing a treble instrument, and our brains, experts on pattern recognition they, will automatically fill in the blanks.

e.g. "Hawaiian D7" with no D, Gerald Ross' playing "DM7" in his arrangement of "Chestnuts Roasting..." with no D . . .

Doesn't change what you play, and often with guitar players and bassists, I'll type up the chart "He plays this, you play that" rather than telling them it's a Cm6913#5 . . .

04-15-2016, 08:38 AM
The context is this: where the chord fits in the progression. The most often seen chord progression is the ii-V-I. It's ubiquitous in jazz and can be inserted almost anywhere to add color to a progression. The ii chord in the key of G is Am7. The ii-V-I in G is Am7, D7, G (Gmaj7). It's not C6, D7, G. The poster referencing the circle of fifths has it right: you can always backcycle to add a chord to the beginning of the progression. So in G, the progression expands to Emin7, Amin7, D7, G. Making these all dominants, and you have the "ragtime" progression E7, A7, D7 G. In C this is A7, D7, G7, C. We've all played these in dozens of songs, especially classic American songbook songs from the 20s and 30s that work so well on the ukulele. The circle of fifths is your friend; it's not much theory. Keep your C6 and your Amin7 straight and progressions make more sense. The sixth chord is a convenient major voicing the people often overlook, when looking for convenient major voicings. So use it, just not as a min7.

04-15-2016, 11:42 AM
ironically, everything one plays is applied music theory whether they realize it or not.

04-15-2016, 11:52 AM
I'm very much a novice at this but I keep seeing pieces where the arranger calls out for an Am7 but C6 seems more logical to me. This makes me think either that many uke arrangers aren't very careful about this or that I have no idea what's really going on.