This post is about a type of chord that occurs frequently in Steely Dan songs and that is known to Steely Dan fans as the ‘mu major chord‘ or
the ‘µ chord‘.
Mu major is another name for an ‘add 2 chord’ and is nothing more then a major triad with an added 2:
Mu chord formula: 1 2 3 5
(This type of chord is not the same as a sus2 chord because sus2 chords do not contain a 3rd.)
The ‘add 2 chord’ is not invented by Steely Dan and many artists (notably Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers) have been using this chord long before them, but the way and frequency Steely Dan has been using the chord in their music made the mu major chord a part of Steely Dan’s signature sound and that’s why it is known as one of the Steely Dan chords. The name ‘Mu major’ itself started as a joke, the exact reasons for calling it that way are forgotten.
The main sound characteristic of the chord is the major 2 interval between the 2 and the 3. This interval has to be present because it is the essence of this chord’s appeal (Donald Fagen’s own words). To listen to the Mu major chord in action listen to songs like Reelin in the Years (the intro) from the album Can’t Buy a Thrill or Deacon Blues (also the intro) and Aja from the album Aja.
The mu major chord is usually played on the piano in Steely Dan albums, but also on the guitar, although these chords are much harder to play on the guitar than on the piano. In the words of Walter Becker:
“That’s something that I did where available on guitar. It’s always available on piano. We had Denny (Dias) do it on the guitar because he had far greater dexterity. But whole-tone dissonances like that are quite awkward on guitar except in certain open chord positions”.
Here’s how the Mu major chords are voiced on the guitar:
A mu major with an open bass note:
A mu major with the bass note on the 6th string:
Another voicing for A mu major:
D mu major with an open bass note:
The same D mu major, but with the bass note on the 5th string:
E mu major with an open bass note: