Expanded guitar chords like B9 are mysterious and sometimes confusing. Learn more about B9 - sometimes written as B7(9) - along with how to play it.
By Kristin Bigness
B9 and B7(9) are two different ways of referring to the same chord. B9 is a chord commonly used in jazz and funk songs and includes the 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 notes of the B major scale. Some people will write B7(9) to ensure the players knows that both 7 and 9 notes should be included — but when they write B9, the inclusion of the 7 is implied.
In this post, we’ll dive into more about this mysterious chord, along with how and when to play it.
When you see numbers like 7 and 9 in chord names, the numbers refer to specific notes or intervals of the scale that should be included in the chord.
A normal major chord is built by taking the first (root), third (3) and fifth (5) intervals of a major scale and putting them together. In the key of B, those notes are B, D# and F#. They create a stable, predictable sound.
When you start introducing the seventh (7) and ninth (9) notes, the chords sound a lot less predictable. The additional notes create tension, and the tension makes the song more interesting.
But wait — isn’t a scale eight notes (an octave)? Totes. But snazzy, expanded chords like 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths are simply using two octaves. In reality, the 9 is the 2 of the next octave.
To hear what we’re talking about in terms of tension, listen to the song “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole. This song is full of 7 and 9 chords that give it a rich, jazzy, emotional sound.
In addition to using expanded chords throughout, there are also several unexpected changes that create interest. You can hear the B9 specifically at the end of the first verse. At the end of the line, “This will be the first time anyone has loved me …” there are four chords that feel like they are turning the song on its head. They ultimately resolve into the next verse. The last chord in that changeup is B9. When the song reverts back to the chords that started the song, it’s that much more gratifying because of the prior instability.
So remember: the numbers in chord names refer to notes that expand upon the standard major chord and allow songwriters to create a heightened swell of emotion.
If you know how to play the B7 chord in an open position, this will be a breeze. You’re simply adding one more note: the 9.
Remember that B9 implies that you will play the major chord plus the 7 and 9.
To play B9 in an open position, do the following:
This allows to you play the following notes: B, D#, F#, A, C#
Once your fingers are in place on the frets, strum the four middle strings. Do not play the low or high E strings or your listeners and bandmates will give you the stink eye.
If your fingers are feeling strong, you can try the following variation on the B9 chord in an open position:
It’s a bit more challenging, but if you barre the remaining strings as noted above, you can strum strings 1-5 and only worry about omitting the low E.
Another way to play B9 is as a barre chord. Barre chords are created by using one or more of your fingers, typically your first finger, to press all the strings down at once on a single fret. The remaining fingers form the rest of the chord in front of the barre.
Barre chords can be challenging if you’re just starting out, but keep at it. Your hands and fingers will get stronger and it’s great to have the option to play a chord in multiple ways. Different ways of playing the chord will give you options for how it sounds. Depending on the rest of the song, barre chords can also make it easier to slide up and down the neck, transitioning more quickly to other chords.
So, here we go:
You can strum all six strings with the barre chord version of B9.
Now you that you know the B9 chord, try it out! Challenge yourself to learn the iconic protest song “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye. If you’re feeling wild, explore the flat and sharp versions of B9 in the 1976 essential "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry.
Chords like B9 can be tricky to learn, but they add so much rich intrigue to songs that you just can’t get by sticking to normal triads. So stick with it, try out a few of the songs in this article, and then move on to the next nine chord on your list.