Minor Considerations

Oct 18 2007

Chord symbols used to indicate “minor” vary. C minor 7 might have three different renderings: Cmin7, Cm7, C–7.

The third of these is best rendered as an “en-dash.”

C minor 7 chord with en dash

The possible dashes are:

- [hyphen], used for compound adjectives such as blue-green algae
- [minus sign on numeric keypad] minus symbol, as in -6 (in some fonts, this looks identical to either a hyphen or an N-dash)
– [en-dash], used for symbols (minor chord symbol, sometimes the negative sign), as well as ranges, e.g., A–Z or 315–19
— [em-dash], used to interrupt sentences—like this.

Making a hyphen is easy enough. Just type the hyphen key.

A minus symbol is also easy. Type the dash on the numeric keypad. Whether this looks different than the hyphen and/or en-dash will depend on your font.

To make an en-dash, on Macintosh, type Option-[hyphen]. On a Windows machine, it’s trickier. You need to use ASCII codes. To do this, type Alt, then 0150. You could also cheat and use the Character Map utility, which lets you copy it to the clipboard and then paste it where you will. In Microsoft Word only, you can use CTRL-[minus sign on numeric keypad]. You can also type [space] [hyphen] [space], but then delete the spaces.

To make an em-dash, on Mac, type Option-Shift-[hyphen]. On PC, use Alt-0151. A low tech alternative is to use two hyphens, which is how it’s done on typewriters. Word will convert two hyphens into an em-dash automatically. Or, again, only in Word, type CTRL-Alt-[minus sign on numeric keypad].

Here’s how to set Finale up to accept an en-dash in minor chord symbols.

1. Choose the Chord tool, and select Chords > Manual Input.

2. Click the note you want to add your minor chord, say C–7, and then in the Chord Definition window, type C–7 in the Chord field. You can type the dash as a hyphen or as an en-dash; hyphen is actually easier, as we will set it to automatically replace the hyphen with a proper en-dash.

3. It will ask you if you want to add it to the library. Say “OK.”

4. Click the Edit button next to “Suffix” to open the Suffix Editor.

5. In the field showing the dash, replace the displaying hyphen with an N-dash, by hook or by crook. Even click “Select” to hunt for it.

Now, when you enter C-7 for a chord, it will automatically display as C–7. My Finale course goes into some more depth on this, but at least now you can do it.

I recommend using the en-dash, as the dash of choice, because the hyphen is too easily lost (particularly with A-7) and the em-dash is too big and dorky (C—7).

If you are using the JazzText font for your chord symbols, though, just use the hyphen, as that (problematic) font doesn’t include an en-dash.

By the way, using the dash for minor is purported to have its origins at Berklee. The story goes that people were getting messier and messier with their lowercase m’s until it was just a line. I will confess to hating it at first, feeling that it was a sort of institutionalized laziness, like having class times officially start at ten minutes past the hour. But it’s grown on me over time.

These days, I prefer it to the lowercase m. The reason is that in Finale, if someone uses the JazzText font for chord symbols, the lowercase letters are actually smallcaps—in other words, just little versions of capital letters.

The problem is that another common convention is to use M for major and m for minor. But if lowercase is just a teeny tiny uppercase letter, and particularly if all chords in the chart are minor, it’s impossible for readers to know whether you intend major or minor.
JazzText M and m
My own personal preference? I like CMaj7 and Cmin7. It’s easy to tell what’s what, and they are of parallel construction. Berklee Press house style, though, is CMaj7 and C–7. They are certainly easy to tell apart. My only concerns with it are that first, the meaning of the dash is not immediately evident to all musicians (i.e., beyond Berklee), and second, so many people don’t know how to make proper en-dashes, and so use hyphens instead, which again, are difficult to read. And it’s like mixing up two different approaches: an abbreviated word and a symbol.

But if you are “in the know,” as you likely are, now that you have finished reading all this, the dash will serve you well.

Consistency, though, is important. For example, don’t have C–7 and Gmin9 in the same piece. Stick with the same symbol throughout the chart.