Another One of the Most Exciting
Chord Types You'll Ever Learn...

Today we're going to learn to form a 13th chord. It's just like the 11th chord, except you move your little finger up from the 5th of the chord to the 13th -- same as the 6th, except the chord includes the 7th, 9th, and 11th.

So:

An 13th Chord = Get your chord in 2nd inversion,
add the 7th and 9th and 11th,
then bring your little finger up a whole step
-- from the 5th to the 13th (same as the 6th).

Thirteenth Chord

C13

Even though C13 chord has the quality of a polychord (BbMA7/CMA), it is rarely spelled as a polychord in chord symbols. In jazz practice, the 13th chord is usually played as a four-note chord, omitting the 5th, 9th and 11th (e.g, C13 = C (root) + Bb - E - A) or as a five-note chord, omitting the 5th and 11th (e.g. C13= C(root) + Bb-D-E-A).

Source: How to Play Chord Symbols in Jazz and Popular Music, by Lee Evans and Martha Baker

PSR Note: The PSR will recognize three notes as the 13th: the 3 - 6 - 7b (E - A - Bb for C13). It will also recognize 1 - 3 - (5) - 6 - 7b as the 13th (the 5th may be omitted). A simple way to remember this is to play the 7th chord in the 2nd inversion and then add the 6 note. For C13, play G - Bb - C - E and then add the "A" resulting in G - A - Bb - C - E. You can drop the G if you want. The 3-note, 4-note, or 5-note variations shown here will be recognized as C13 in all their inversions. - Joe Waters

Here's what 13th chords look like on the staff:
(Remember that accidentals carry over in each measure!)

The lowest note in each case is the root of the chord -- even though I have shown them above directly under the chord, be sure to play that note before you play the chord, and use your sustain pedal to "hook the two parts together.

And here's what they look like on the staff when played with the left hand:

Fingering Position for 13th Chords

Now - go through all 12 major chords, inverting every one. Then go through all the 12 minor chords, inverting each one up and down the keyboard -- hands alone, then hands together. Then go through all 12 diminished chords, inverting each one up and down the keyboard -- each hand alone, then together. Then play the 12 augmented chords, up and down the keyboard. Then skip around from major to minor to diminished to augmented, etc. Then add minor 6th chords to your rehearsal schedule. And then add 7th chords and their inversions; then major 7th chords; then 9th chords, and now, 11th chords.

Do you feel like you're getting a handle on chords yet? You ought to -- I know we're going slowly, but chords are SO important that you absolutely MUST master them if you are ever going to play the piano like you hope to!

So here's our revised chord scorecard:

12 major + minor + diminished + augmented chords

with 3 inversions of each plus

12 major 6th + minor 6th + 7th + Maj7 chords

with 4 inversions of each plus

12 minor 7th + 9th + 11th + 13th chords *

with 4 inversions of each

means you can now play

528 chords!

And there are 7 octaves on a full piano keyboard!

Wow! Are you a genius, or what?

* Since the left hand plays the root and then holds that with sustain as it plays four more notes, I am only counting 4 inversions for this chord. Next week we will investigate diminished 7th chords. So be sure to master 13ths before next week.

This page updated on October 26, 2013.