Steely Dan: The Mu Major Chord

Just what is the mysterious Steely Dan mu (µ) major chord?

Mu major Part 1 Mu major Part 2 Mu major Part 3

New: The Birth of the Mu Major chord

Read my article "The Birth of the Mu Major Chord" which describes the first documented use of the chord in 12th century Paris (article hosted on Mizar6 website).


The Mu Major Chord - Part 3

The mu major chord in chord substitutions

As well as being used as a more interesting variation of the simple major chord, mu majors can also be used in chord substitutions to vary the sound of other chords. Any chord that contains a major triad can make use of a mu major substitution.

When substituting the mu major chord into other chords, it is possible to use all four notes of the mu major (1st 2nd 3rd 5th), or to use just three. In Steely Dan songs, it is more common for a triad of three notes to be substituted, and as dissonance is one of the main features of the mu major, the substituted triad is nearly always one containing a dissonant interval of a second. Typically, the root note (1st) is omitted and a triad using the 2nd, 3rd and 5th is used (as in the example below).


The chord Am7 can be thought of as a C major triad with an A bass:

Am7 = A bass + C major triad = A C E G

If we now substitute a C mu major instead of plain C major (keeping the A bass) we get a new chord that can be used in place of the original Am7:

Am7 ... becomes ... A bass + C mu major triad = A D E G (= A7sus4)

Try out the guitar chord shapes below to compare the two chords:

Am7 (C/A) =   x 0 10 9 8 x
A7sus4 (Cmu/A) =   x 0 12 9 8 x

Listen Sound Example: listen to the two chords
(wav file, 183 KB)

What matters is not the particular chord that you end up with (in this case m7 becomes 7sus4) but the fact that you incorporate some of the dissonance of the mu major chord into the original chord. Substituting the mu major in this way is a simple way to "spice up" other chords.

With any chord that contains a major triad, a mu major triad can be substituted to generate a new chord variation. Minor 7th, minor 9th and minor 11th chords can all be used for mu major substitutions, as well as major 9ths, major 11ths and major 13ths. Steely Dan songs contain many "X/Y" chords made up of a major triad with an altered bass (C/F, Bb/C, D/G etc). With any of these, the mu major can be substituted. The Michael Omartian piano parts on Katy Lied are a perfect example of how this mu major substitution idea works. Many of the chords and voicings are played in an ad lib way, with variations, triad inversions and so on being mixed in freely.

Examples of the mu major chord in Steely Dan songs

The Steely Dan mu major chord has appeared on each of their albums, from songs such as Reelin In The Years on their first album, to Almost Gothic and Things I Miss The Most from their recent albums Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go. Katy Lied is probably the album that has the highest number of mu majors.

The list of Steely Dan songs which use the mu-major chord is a long one, and includes Deacon Blues, Dr Wu, Black Cow, Reeling in the Years, Peg, Your Gold Teeth, Razor boy, Any Major Dude ...

The list below is not an exhaustive list of all songs that use mu major chords, but gives a few example songs from each Steely Dan album of the mu major chord in action. Each album is scored (1-3 stars) to give a rough idea of how often the mu major chord is used.

Can't Buy A Thrill

Mu major score: * *
nearly all type I mu, basic voicing


  • Dirty Work - two type I basic mu majors at end of chorus (both resolving to plain major).

  • Reelin' in the Years - introduction and chorus built around two (piano) mu major chords: Gadd2 and Aadd2. Both are type I basic voicing.

  • Fire In The Hole - several type I basic mu majors ("a woman's voice reminds me", "I'd love to run out now"), and some mu derivatives in the chorus.

  • Turn That Heartbeat Over Again - many type I basic mu majors during verse and guitar/keyboard solos.

Countdown To Ecstasy

Mu major score: *
all type I


  • Razor Boy - type I mu majors are used throughout as substitutes for plain major chords (e.g "You'd gamble or give anything...")

  • Your Gold Teeth - very brief appearances (type I, basic voicing) at 2:40 and 4:55 at the end of the middle eight sections ("Won't suck me in this time").

  • Pearl of the Quarter - no simple mu majors, but type I basic voicing substituted to create Em7 variation in the verses (E bass with G mu: ABD)

Pretzel Logic

Mu major score: * *
all type I


  • Rikki Don't Lose That Number - mixture of mu major and plain major chords used throughout on the piano. Mu major triads also used in substitutions e.g as m7 variations.

  • Any Major Dude - keyboard part uses mu majors throughout to replace simple major chords, as well as to spice up other chords (e.g m7).

Katy Lied

Mu major score: * * *
all type I


  • Rose Darling - mu majors used (ad lib) throughout as alternatives to plain major chords (e.g "dreams come true", start of 2nd verse). Mu triads also used in m7 variations.

  • Doctor Wu - lots of type I mu majors used, often as ad-lib variations for major chords (e.g Gadd2 on "you walked in", "I've been waiting", "Biscane bay"). Just before the sax solo ("are you with me Doctor") the basic chord here is C/F, but the C triad at the top is replaced with the mu-major (guitar equivalent: x 10 12 9 8 x); the same C-mu is used with an A bass as an Am7 variant.

  • Your Gold Teeth II - the verse uses lots of type I mu majors (guitar shapes: A mu = x0242x, G mu = 3x020x). After third chord in intro (Bb/Eb) an Eb mu major (Ebadd2) is used high up on the piano.

  • Any World That I'm Welcome To - lots of type I mu majors used in the verse.

The Royal Scam

Mu major score: * *
types I & II


  • Caves of Altamira - type II (3rd in the bass) mu major used in the verses (e.g "hide inside a hall of rock and sand").

  • Don't Take Me Alive - type I mus in rising sequence ("crossed my old man ..."), also ad lib D mu arpeggio used as D/G variation ("man of my mind can do anything").

  • Green Earrings - type II mu major used in the rising "rings of rare design" sequence.


Mu major score: * *
types I & II


  • Black Cow - type II mu major used in the chorus ("it's over now").

  • Aja - mu major chords used in several places: type I mu (basic voicing) in piano (Eadd2 on "just don't care"), also in vocal harmonies ("run to you") and during marimba section. Basic type I mu major triads also used during Cmaj7 descending section (start of guitar solo).

  • Deacon Blues - probably one of the most well known uses of a type II mu major is in the intro chords (Cmaj7 Gsus2/B Bbmaj7 Fsus2/A), type II also used during chorus ("call me Deacon Blues").


Mu major score: *
nearly all type II


  • Glamour Profession - classic type II mu used in the verse (just before "local boys ...")

  • Time Out of Mind - type II mu used several times in the instrumental section half way through the song.

Alive In America

Mu major score: *
types I & II


  • Reelin In The Years - first chord is a type I mu major (basic voicing) and the intro uses some mu major substitution ideas. The reworked verse uses classic type II mu majors.

Two Against Nature

Mu major score: *
types I & II


  • Almost Gothic - type II and I mu majors used one after the other at end of intro sequence and chorus ("in a natural way").

  • Negative Girl - type I mu used in the chorus, and mu derivatives in the chorus.

Everything Must Go

Mu major score: *
mostly type II


  • Things I Miss The Most - first chord of the intro is a type II mu major. Type II also used during the verse and the outro sequence.

  • Pixeleen - type II used at the start of the chorus ("Pixel-een").

Previous: Mu major Part 2

Last updated: February 2017