What Are Seventh Chords?
As a beginning musician and songwriter you will start out learning triad chords (chords with 3 notes). The next step is now learning about seventh chords, what they are and how to use them to play and write music.
Seventh chords are chords that have a triad plus one extra note placed a seventh interval away from the root note.
Why should you learn seventh chords?
They are most heavily used in Jazz and Blues but can be found in all other genre’s of music as well.
Their versatility makes them a powerful tool in your belt. Furthermore you will notice that they begin to add complexity and nuance to your sounds, as they add additional colors to chords beyond the basic happy and sad sounds of major and minor chords.
Let’s go through a few questions you might have about them.
What is the 7 in Chords?
You might have seen a chord chart before and wondered what the number 7 at the end of a major or minor chord meant. This means it is a seventh chord.
Seventh chords are written with a number 7 next to the triad’s name. For example, Amaj7, A7, or Amin7. The number refers to the 7th interval from the root note.
What are the Types of 7th Chords?
There are 5 different types of seventh chords. These are: Major Seventh, Minor Seventh, Seventh, Diminished Seventh, and Half Diminished Seventh.
This is due to the different possible interval combinations to make seventh chords.
How to Make 7th Chords
In general, to make a seventh chord we want to add the seventh interval note to a triad. Since there are different types of 7th chords, there are also different formulas for them.
The formulas for the different types of seventh chords are:
- Major Seventh Chords: 1, 3, 5, 7
- Minor Seventh Chords: 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7
- Seventh Chords: 1, 3, 5, ♭7
- Half Diminished Seventh Chords: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭7
- Diminished Seventh Chords: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭♭7
You can also see them like this:
- Major Seventh Chords: Major triad + major 7th
- Minor Seventh Chords: Minor triad + minor 7th
- Seventh Chords: Major triad + minor 7th
- Half Diminished Seventh Chords: Diminished triad + minor 7th
- Diminished Seventh Chords: Diminished triad + diminished 7th
For a quick and simple example, let’s make a C Major into a C Major Seventh:
- Major Scale Formula: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
- C Major Scale Notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
- C Major Chord Formula: 1, 3, 5
- C Major Chord Notes: C, E, G
- C Major Seventh Formula: 1, 3, 5, 7
- C Major Seventh Notes: C, E, G, B
As you can see we added the Seventh interval note from the Major Scale to our C Major triad which is the B note. This makes it a Cmaj7.
What is the Most Common Type of 7th chord?
The most common type of seventh chord is the Dominant Seventh chord. When we say Dominant we are referring to the 5th degree chord in a major key because the 5th degree has a “Dominant” chord function. The Dominant chord in a key is often played as a Seventh chord.
This chord is used often because it has such a strong pull to the first chord in a key. Adding the seventh increases that tension and pull further.
You will also come across Major Seventh and Minor Seventh chords quite often in songs.
Half Diminished Seventh and Diminished Seventh are less commonly used.
When to Use Seventh Chords
Dominant Seventh chords are widely used in Jazz, Blues, Funk and Pop styles. They hold a lot of tension which makes them great for transitions.
The most common way to use Seventh chords is using them in chord progressions as the Dominant Seventh chord function. So going from a V7 – I.
It is useful for pulling the harmony to a more stable chord resolution, usually a Root chord of the key. Try using it to make transitions to different song sections that start on the Root chord of the key.
Chords like Minor and Major Sevenths are very nice chords to use instead of traditional Major or Minor chords, if you want to have a more colorful sound.
In my opinion Minor Sevenths have a more sensual sound than Minor chords, while Major Sevenths are like a nostalgic sounding Major chord.
Common Positions for Seventh Chords on Guitar
Major 7th Chords
Formula: 1, 3, 5, 7
Minor 7th Chords
Formula: 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7
Formula: 1, 3, 5, ♭7
Half Diminished 7th Chords
Formula: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭7
Diminished 7th Chords
Formula: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭♭7
Wrapping it up
As you can see, Seventh chords are still fairly simple, but begin to add more complexity to your chords. They are excellent for making jazzy sounding chord progressions but can really be used in any style.
As we covered, the important thing is to know the triad and then just adding the 7th note that corresponds to it, whether you are trying to play a Major, Minor, Half Diminished or Diminished Seventh chord.
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