§1About Blackadder Chord
“Blackadder Chord” is a strange chord found in recent J-Pop and named by Joshua Taipale on YouTube in 2017.
He initially found the same chord in 7 songs below:
And now there’re many examples of this chord gathered in this spread sheet.
Chord Tones of Blackadder Chord
The Blackadder Chord (In this article I abbreviate it “Blk”) is explained as “A slashed chord composed of an augmented chord and the bass note +2 semitone higher than the root of upper aug.”
Super-dissonant sound! Really intriguing that such a monsterous chord lives peacefully in J-Pop world.
Seeing it as a stack from Root, its interval structure is :RtM2+4m7.
Now, before introducing this chord itself, I’d like to share some basic concept on chord theory.
§2 Multiple Interpretations
There’re tons of examples reported, but the only thing common is the interval structure RtM2+4m7. That is, the context of this chord may vary.
Behind a structure lies a context. The meaning of a chord may differ according to its root and the parent scale. Let’s take Half Diminished Chord as an example.
They all are “Half Diminished Chords” but each one originates from different places. Starting from the left…
- the VIIth diatonic chord
- Related IIm of V/II
- ii borrowed from parallel minor key
- Borrowed from Lydian Scale
- Rootless form of V/V 9th, 1st inversion
It is these contexts that matters when you interpret chords or think of impressions they have. Scales or tensions you choose also varies according to these contexts. Since interval structure itself does not tell us these information, you cannot assert like “Half Diminished comes (solely) from ○○.”
The same thing is true of Blk chord. So one thing I strongly want you to remember is that Blk chord should not be seen as a single chord, but as a chord with many contexts & origins. Your analysis won’t end when you find Blk. It is where your analysis starts.
Among all chords, Blk especially has very large number of contexts. There’re 2 reason for this.
Being a Hybrid Chord
The first is that it’s a hybrid chord. Though Joshua primarily see it as a slashed chord, it can also be described as a tension chord (with 3rd omitted).
You cannot clearly say whether it’s (-5) or (+11) since the scale you play on a Blk chord may vary, anyway it’s a kind of Dominant Ninth Chord.
From both a slashed chord or a tension chord can a Blk arise. That’s the first reason why Blk chords have many contexts.
Being an Augmented Chord
The other is that, if you see it as a slashed chord, the upper triad is an Augmented Chord.
Aug chords are, like Dim7 chords, known for their characteristics that their chord quality doesn’t change when inverted.
And since a Blk has an independent bass note, there’s no way of knowing which note is the root of the upper triad, which makes interpretation a lot harder.
B♭aug/C has 2 other ways of describing it.
So just giving it a chord name can have 5 results (domi9(-5),domi9(+11), 3 aug patterns). And looking into it further, there’re multiple contexts behind them, according to their root degrees, parent scales, where they progress and what precedes them.
Hence the caution here again: Each Blk chord you encounter may have different origins.
§3Categorizing Blk Chord
This interpretation issue is so heavy that categorizing Blk chords must be the first thing to be done. I made a quick chart for that. (I’m gonna explain each category later on so you don’t need to read them thoroughly!)
Chords listed in the images are the ones where a Blk may be derived from, that is, they’re fairly ready to be substituted by Blk!
As you can see, it’s super-complicated. What makes it so is that a Blk doesn’t have 3rd tone, which is crucial for a chord quality to be defined. So please note again that “many differently derived chords are all called Blackadder”.
§4Listen to Blk
OK, a long way preparation is now done. Let’s listen to Blk chords!
Wholeton Scale has all the Blk intervals in it so you can put Blk whenever you play this scale.
This is an example of wholetone scale song. Now change this piano backing all to Blk!
No incongruity at all😉 Since wholetone scale itself has as a strange type of sound, it’s quite natural for Blk to stay there.
The real instance of this type is “Guilty Eyes Fever”.
In this part the melody plays “mi-re-do”. Utilizing this wholetone line, wholetone scales & Blk chords are eccentrically interplated. Really shocking usage!
②Slashed Chord – (1)Transitional Chord
In the short moment when the upper part and the bass part moves in contrary motion, Blk may appear.
Especially during I-IV or V-IV motion, ♯IV Blk can easily happen to arise.
This is it. the bass going down & the upper triad going up, very smooth motion.In classical terms, these kind of chords are called “transitional chord“.
Many of those with root at ♯IV seems to have this origin.
Listen to the chord just before the chorus. The strings going up & the bass going down, which creates the structure of ♯IV Blk.
Japanese Augmented Sixth
People in classical music find similarity between this ♯IVblk and “Italian Sixth” or “German Sixth”, and propose to call it “Japanese Sixth”.
Regarding the "Blackadder" ("Ikisugi") Chord, I'd like to propose a formal name more fitting for analysis: "Japanese Augmented 6th" (abbreviated "Jpn+6" or "Jp+6").
Here, I've shown the prototypical example. Resolves to major or minor chord a semitone below, usually IV. pic.twitter.com/DIetxQix6j
— Atelier Joshua (@joshuataipale) February 28, 2019
In classic world, there’s a custom to add such cultural names in addition to their intervalic names. In all Blk chords, ♯IVblk is the easiest one to use, so having a special name only for it would be a good idea.
②Slashed Chord (2)Flipped Bass
Another one listed in “slashed chord type” is an Aug chord with its bass flipped tritone away. It’s similar to “(1)Transitional Chord” type but it’s distinct in :
- it sustains longer than transitional chords (like 1 bar)
- Phrases are regularly played without stepwise-double-contrary-motions.
- Its idea is associated more with Jazz theory;”Tritone Sub” & “Playing Outside”, than classical theory.
Tha last one is important since the meaning, intention or orientation is one important material you should consider when analyzing music.
Sekai wa Sore wo Ai to Yobundaze
In the riffs in Intro or Verse, the second chord is “Aaug/D♯“.
This is such a straight rock song that it’s rather natural to interpret it as the mixture of the guitarist simply playing Aaug & the bassist somehow playing D♯ just to make it fun, than to see it as “Dominant 9th (+11)”.
Since these “Slashed Chord Type Blk” arise from the independence between upper chord & bass, it’s not a good idea to suppose they all play the same single scale. In this case, the vocalist ignores all these strange chords and sing his melody within A major scale.
This is a crazy song whose chorus part starts withIII+/VII!
In this case, the composer himself declare (in Twitter) that he flipped the bass tritone away.
This “tritone flip” technique is common especially in Jazz realm. Such tricky ideas make Blk happen.
③Tension Chord Type – (1)domi9
On the other hand, there’re cases where you should see Blk not as a slashed chord, but as a tension chord.
A little twist can transform Dominant 9th Chords into Blackadder Chords.
In these cases, refilling the omitted 3rd will sound very very very natural, which will be one of the criteria for categorization.
While instances of “Slashed Chord Type” can be found relatively in pops/rock genre, those of this type is closer to Jazz, since they are high-level tension chords.
Ohayo, Mata Ashita
This is a song from K-On!, our everlasting fairytale anime!! This is obviously derived from the Tritone Sub ♭II7 interpolated between ii-V-I progression.
I couldn’t find other examples, so I made some with other roots as samples.
In this case, Taking the tritone as ♯11th, P5th is included in the scale. ♯11th works like a blue note (minor 3rd of the key), making it naturally incorporated.
If VI is flipped tritone away, it becomes ♭III7blk.
Since this can be interpreted as both “Tension Chord Type” & “Slashed Chord Type”, it’s based upon double contexts, which seems to make it sound really smooth despite its strange chord tone members.
Lastly, IV7, the tritone sub of VII7, turned into blk. In this case the tritone is taken as +4 and I played P5 (so the actual chord name is IV9(+11)omit3). If you take it as o5 and use P4 instead of P5, it will also make good results.
This is it. P4 & o5, entailing the flavour of a blue note. In this case the actual chord name is IV9(-5)omit3.
③Tension Chord Type – (2)Half Dim.
Not only Dominant 9th chords but also any Half Diminished Chords can easily turn into Blk chords.
I explained ♯IVblk in the “Slashed Chord Type” section above, but viewed from different perspective, it has Half Dim context as well.
I suppose; we are so familiar to ♯IVø that we can easily accept ♯IVblk.
♯IVblk is the only instance I could find in this “Half Dim Type”, but if you try the same thing in other roots like VII or III (we’re also accustomed to VIIø, IIIø), you’ll be convinced that it’s possible.
(Note that chord degrees are based on major key.)
This is an example. The “minor ii-V progression” is replaced by Blk. You may hardly hear the difference, don’t you?
Also natural. Our well-known IIIø with just one altertation. So any Half Dim Chords is readily interchangeable with Blk!
This time I analyzed Blk chords with the items you find only within popular music fields. If you look around Jazz/Classic realm, there’re still more findings.
From “Mystic Chord”
For example, the “Mystic Chord”, which Scriabin creates loved to use, has the exact interval of Blk :Rt,M2,+4,m7.
Scriabin use this chord on Piano Sonata No.5 (1907).
- Sonata no. 5, Op 53 (mm.263-264)
Left hand arpeggio is the mystic chord. And going back another 4 years, you can find some prototype for mystic chord, which happens to resemble Blk chord.
- Sonata no. 4, Op 30 (mm.6-7)
I cropped 6-7 bars, please listen to bar 7。First comes Rt・M3・M9, then +4. Though M3rd is redundunt, it can be seen as an ancestor of Blk. This song is composed in 1903. So some song around these period might be the very oldest example of Blk chord🤣 That said, maybe you can find one even in Chopin’s period.
From Jazz perspective, You can find RtM2+4m7 in the sixth mode of Melodic Minor Scale.
But anyway, I’m gonna stay within popular music field, because the very point you should focus is that It is J-Pop that seems to love to use this chord.
§5 Contexts and Cognition
Yes, that’s the point. Some (Jazz people) cinically say “Oh, this is nothing special. You can find ton of these in jazz”.
However, what a short-sighted comment it is! As you somehow notice, the thing is much more complicated, far deeper than it looks.
The first thing you cannot miss is the cultural perspective — Such a strange chord is adored by J-pop.
Looking at Trap music, oriental scales called “maqām” are used frequently.
Some may say “Wow recent Trap music is interesting. They mix themselves with Arabic music”. And who on earth answers to this, “Oh, this is nothing special. You can find ton of these in Arabic music”? That’s utterly off the point.
EDM and Arabic Music, which never seem to have affinity each other, somehow fit perfectly and give us new kind of sound. And if we look closer, there rises an assumption like: “EDM loves pitchbend and maqām uses quarter tones. That could be why the two go along with well.” And these studies may open the new sonic world.
The same is true of Blackadder Chord. A super-jazzy chord falls in love with J-pop. It is this strange combination that we find intriguing.
The second is rather important : This chord gives us insight about what we often overlook when thinking of music theory.
Let’s recall the ones categorized in “Half Dim Type”, especially IIIblk or VIIblk.
Interestingly, they don’t have much scent of Aug when compared to I+/IV.
If you interpret IIIblk as “Slashed Chord Type”, the upper triad is either II+,IV+ or VII+ but to none of them are we familiar in popular music.
So I suppose: How strongly a Blk evokes Aug quality depends on how much you remember its original Aug chord. Let me perform a small experiment to confirm this.
The example above is a chord progression without Blk. Through these songs your ears learn and get used to the sound of IIIø and I+.
Then one day you happen to hear this:
Compare how you feel when you hear IIIblk and IVblk. The former sounds a bit closer to Half Dim while the latter a bit to Aug, aren’t they? (YMMV tho.)
Blk being still stranger to your ears, your brain at first gets struck by its sound. It then automatically looks up your “mind library” and returns the best possible result, causing each Blk to taste slightly different to ears.
This is soooooooo much interesting because their intervalic structure is identical. What it suggests is that Your memory affects how a chord sounds to you.
Have you ever experienced this? : The song starting with power chords, you think it a sad, minor-key song, suddenly turns out to be major-key as other intervals are revealed. After recognizing the actual key, you can never replicate the very first impression you had of that song.
The case above is something related to this. Your brain spontaneously fills what’s missing there and sculpture the imaginary chord quality.
This leads us to further study: The necessity of cognitive psychology in music theory.
Albeit it’s scarcely put on the table, it cannot be denied that cognitive psychology, besides math and physics, has a lot to do with music.
Let’s make a hypothesis : The reason why ♯IVblk is the easiest one to use is that it is supported by the largest number of contexts.
So far we’ve analyzed Blk chords by its type ( wholetone / slashed chord / tension chord ), but now let’s reverse lookup: Analyze Blk chords by its root and see how many contexts it may have.
②-1:Transitional / ②-2 Aug with Tritone Flipped Bass / ③-1 Dom9 / ③-2 Half Dim
★:Strong / ☆:Medium / -:Weak or none
Let me explain. For example, ②-2 column in I row is marked as [-]. This means “However we try to interpret Iblk as ♯IVaug/I, it’s unnatural because we’re not at all familiar to ♯IVaug and cannot feel the scent of Aug chord. Instead, it should be interpret as ③-1 tension chord”.
[☆:Medium] is a mark for “Tritone Sub of Secondary Dominants”. True they’re common in Jazz, but not common in popular music. Hence not “Strong” but “Medium” context.
From this list you can clearly see that ♯IV is supported most strongly, by all 4 contexts. and 5 if you count Wholetone Scale! This is extraordinary. Most chords have only single context, or double at most.
♯IV bass passing between V-IV is fairly common (②-1). So is Iaug→IV progression (②-2), so is ♯IVø (③-2), and ♯IV9 too (③-1, not strong tho).
Isn’t it this “quadruple contexts” that makes ♯IVblk the easiest to use?
And vice versa. Iblk, for example, has only single context; ③-1 Dominant 9th.
I tried using Iblk and actually it was quite hard to make it work, at least not as easy as ♯IVblk.
This is what I eventually made. In spite of our great acquaintance with I7, it doesn’t fit much. Part of the reason for it would be its rack of contexts.
It’s damn easy to close discussion by simply asserting that “Blk = domi9(+11)omit3”. But this verdict never explains why ♯IVblk is easier than Iblk, nor why we feel “the scent of Aug”, ignoring its root.
As I mentioned above, your experience affect how a chord sounds to you. Current music theory seems to put little importance on these cognitive perspectives. Blackadder Chord, though unexpectedly, does throw a stone at this point.
The thesis “Multiplex-Contexts”
Some people seem to be stuck in the thought that you have to identify the parent scale of a chord when you “analyze” music, in the thought that each Blk instance has to be either slashed chord or tension chord, its quality to be either major or minor, and only either view must be right.
But the truth is : It need not necessarily be either. It can be both, or it can be neither.
The ANS(Available Note Scale) Theory, the most common system among current music theories, has its origin in Jazz improvisation, inevitably sets its direction like: “A chord is derived from a scale. They represent each other and by thinking this way, we can make clear on which scale we play ad-lib.”
But when it comes to composing, there actually is no need of clarifying all the intervals behind a chord.
You can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the duty of music theory is to make music “clear”, to make clear chord qualities, parent scales, available tensions and so on.
But viewing differently, you notice that something “unclear” is not bad. On the contrary, it could be a key to the new music realm — where a chord feels different to each listener, depending on their condition or experience and every interpretation is right, and that is exactly intended by the composer.
Blackadder Chords could be a key to the paradigm shift for music theory!
Let me show you some examples using Multiplex-Context techniques.
This starts from repetitions of C and C+. On measure 8 it goes into Fblk and progress to Bm7!
And taking it as IIm, it starts 2-5-1-4 progression in A major key.
This is a rather interesting example in which Fblk goes to B7 and taking it as IV, it starts 4-5-1-6 progression in F♯ major key. It’s modulation tritone away. Nonetheless, it sounds super smooth!
Blk as a pivot chord. Pivot chord itself is a very common technique, but in both cases Blk plays an intelligent trick : On entrance he disguises himself an Aug chord, while on exit he pretends to be a Dominant Seventh chord.
I carefully controlled the balance of chord tones and other intervals in order to gradually weaken the scent of Aug, transforming it gradually from “Slashed Chord Type” into “Dominant 9th Type”, which end up as solid Domi9 with the appearance of A#, the M3rd interval for F#blk. Only Multiplex-Context chords can perform such chameleon-like strategy.
This is beyond what current music theory deals with. This “context metamorphosis” is of great use for modulation. I reckon you can travel almost anywhere by way of Blk!
These Multiplex-Context technique must be applicable to other intervalic structure than RtM2+4m7, though I haven’t found any yet.
As to the Name
After all, it became obvious that “Blackadder Chord” has too many contexts to be explained in a single line.
So if you use the term “Blackadder Chord”, it would be smart to use it as a general name including all these types, rather than to assert that “Blk is Domi9(-5)”, “Blk comes from Whole Tone Scale”, or anything like that.
If you want to make it clear, you should simply use the existing chord names. Or would it be interesting that you call it Blk if you intentionally make it unclear?
Some say “No you don’t need a new name because there’s nothing new at all”. But I think the chord fairly deserve a name, in view of what it truly casts over the music theory world. Moreover, I’d like to give respect to Joshua, who has eagerly studied J-Pop and found this remarkable usage of this chord. People never know how difficult it is to “connect the dots”, but I do!
So I’m gonna keep using the term “Blackadder Chord”, just like an asteroid whose name’s given by its finder😉