We explore the power of a single chord to define a world of suave sophistication, danger, and intrigue – the enigmatic James Bond chord.
In music, certain chord structures are synonymous with specific moods, places, or even characters. Few examples exemplify this more remarkably than the so called “James Bond chord,” which immerses listeners in a world of suave sophistication, danger, and intrigue.
The iconic chord belongs to the world of British secret service agent 007, as realised in the films of Eon Productions. It’s instantly recognisable, instantly transporting you into the heart of a James Bond movie. The chord first made its appearance in the James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman and so memorably arranged by John Barry for the first Bond film, Dr No.
The secret of the 007 sound
The James Bond chord is actually an E minor major 9, a unique blend of notes that results in a striking, dissonant sound. The chord can sound mysterious, dangerous, and even slightly unsettling – precisely the feelings required for the thrilling Bond world.
What makes the E minor major 9 – the Bond chord, as it is widely recognized – so unique?
The chord (E-G-B-D#-F#) is structured from the root note (E), a minor third (G), a perfect fifth (B), a major seventh (D#), and a major ninth (F#). This intriguing concoction of notes creates a dissonant sound as the frequencies generated by the notes, when played together – or arpeggiated, as they are best known – refuse to blend harmoniously. This mix of notes which, in another context might not seem fitting, makes the chord sound suspenseful and, oddly enough, quite pleasing – especially for Bond fans.
The outlandishness of the chord is what makes it so instantly recognisable. This stark sound has become synonymous with James Bond, instantly recalling images of car chases, exotic locales, dangerous missions, and of course, the eloquent charm of James Bond himself.
How to play the James Bond chord
While it may sound complex, the chord is surprisingly easy to play and hardly even requires any practice. It’s simple enough to be played on both guitar – on which it is played in the James Bond theme – and keyboard.
On a guitar, playing the E minor major 9 – or the James Bond chord – involves simple finger placement. The fingering for the chord is (from low E string to high E string): 0–10–9–8–7–x. The ‘x’ means you should not play that string, or mute it to prevent it accidently sounding. The chord is usually played slightly arpeggiated starting with the open low E string.
While playing this chord, you also need to make sure your fingers are pressing down the strings sufficiently. Any less pressure and you risk losing that distinctive dissonant sound that makes the James Bond chord so special. In particular, ensure your little finger is firmly on the 10th fret of the A string and completely clear of the D string. This can be an issue for many guitarists.
On a keyboard
To play the James Bond chord on the keyboard, you must need to press the keys that correspond to the E minor major 9 chord. These keys are E, G, B, D# and F#.
An easy position to begin with is placing the thumb of your left hand (1) on E, with the thumb of your right hand (1) on G, index finger (2) on B, ring finger (4) on D#, and little finger (5) on F#. Or play the E and G with your left hand and B, D# and F# with your right. Notice how the low E truly brings out the dissonance of the chord.
The genius of John Barry
Weaved into the complex structure of John Barry’s iconic James Bond Theme, the E minor major 9 chord creates a sense of rhythmic suspense that became the auditory signature of Bond films.
Barry’s arrangement includes shrill brass instruments, an intense bass line, and a guitar carrying the melody. Amidst these layers, the James Bond chord stands out powerfully, making the Bond themes sound mysterious and daring.
The striking contrast between the dissonant Bond chord and the overall harmony of Barry’s arrangement fuels suspense and infuses the James Bond Theme with an unforgettable melody.
Consequently, whenever the James Bond chord is played, it navigates us through dim-lit corridors, smoke-filled casinos, and the dangerous, glamorous world of 007, a testament to its iconic status and the power of music.
Understanding the construction of this dissonant chord offers an insight into the genius of composers like John Barry. Playing the James Bond chord on your own instrument dissolves the boundaries between you as a listener and the evocative world of 007.
Seemingly sophisticated but quite easy to play, the James Bond chord continues to fascinate music enthusiasts and Bond fans alike. Its dissonance illustrates music’s power to shape our perceptions of character as well as narrative, making it a staple in cinematic music.
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