We can also add color tones to triads as a fourth pitch that is not part of the structure of the chord. The pitch simply adds color and texture to the sound of the harmony. The most popular color tone for this effect is the 2nd. The fourth can also be used, but it tends to have a strong suspension quality to its sound. When the 6th is added to a major triad it will cause the chord to sound like a major seventh. In addition, the 6th can convert a minor triad into a minor seventh chord. The 6th can be used as a substitution for the 7th in both cases.
When adding color tones to seventh chords, the pitches are usually identified as upper extensions. This means that they are named by intervals that are one octave higher than their basic identities. The 2nd is called a 9th, the 4th is called an 11th and the 6th is called a 13th. The primary purpose for these alternate names is to simplify chord labels. For example, a major seventh chord with a tonic of C would normally be labeled as CΔ7 or Cmaj7. If we add a 9th to this chord the label could get confusing (CΔ7+9 or Cmaj7 add 9). The use of the label “9” implies that the 7th is present since upper extensions are only added to seventh chords. This allows us to simplify the chord label in our example to CΔ9 or Cmaj9.
The seventh chords that usually have upper extensions applied to them are the minor seventh, dominant seventh and major seventh. When these upper extensions are added, they are labeled as natural, flat or sharp. We do not assign qualities to them such as major or minor, because qualities imply structural significance. Since these pitches are not structural cord tones, they do not have an impact on the structural quality of the cord.
The primary uses for the major seventh chord are adding the 9th or the #11th. The flat 9th clashes since it would create a seriese of 3 consecutive half steps between the major 7th , the root and itself. The sharp 9th is enharmonically equivalent to the minor 3rd. Having a minor and major 3rd sound simultaneously in one chord would be too dissonant. The flat 11th is enharmonically equivalent to the major 3rd, so it automatically takes on this identity as a chord tone. The natural 11th is a half-step away from the major 3rd. This creates a strong sense of suspension that clashes too much when both pitches are present simultaneously. The only use for the 13th is as a 6th substituting for the 7th. A sharp 13th would sound like a minor 7th simultaneously next to the major 7th (way too harsh). A flat 13th would sound like an augmented 5th simultaneously next to the perfect 5th (way too harsh). A 6th and major 7th played simultaneously usually sound too rich and dense (although it may have a use in some contexts).