Chord Theory

7th Chords

March 8, 2009

Welcome this lesson on seventh chords. Seventh chords are probably the most common chord types used in jazz harmony and in this article I will show you how seventh chords are built and how you can use them in your own playing.

Triad Chords

Let’s start by looking at the simplest type of chord, the triad chord. I think it is worth quickly reviewing triad chords because all seventh chords are simply triad chords with an extra note added. A triad chord always has three notes and there are three types of triad chord, major, minor and diminished.

Major Triad

The major triad chord has three notes 1, 3, 5. A C major triad for example would have the notes C, E, G.

Minor Triad

The sad sounding minor triad is made up of three motes 1, b3, 5. A C minor triad for example would have the notes C, Eb, G

Diminished Triad

The diminished triad is a dark sounding chord made up from the notes 1, b3, b5. A diminished triad in the key of C for example would have the notes C, Eb, Gb.

Seventh Chords

Now that we have a better understanding of how triad chords are built, we can take a look at adding one extra note to the triad to form a seventh chord. Seventh chords can be found from a scale by moving up in thirds. Take a look at the example below which shows how you find a seventh chord from the C major scale. You should notice that there is a clear pattern here. You start on C, skip one note to get to E, skip one note to get to G, skip one note to get to B. The chord we form here is a Cmaj7 chord.

C D E F G A B

We can do the same thing and follow the same pattern to form all of the 7th chords of the major scale. Take a look at this example which starts on the D note of the C major scale and produces a Dm7 chord. You are simply starting on D, skipping one note to get to F, skipping one note to get to A and finally skipping one more note to get to a C. You can start on any note of a scale and use this pattern to find 7th chords.

D E F G A B C D

Major 7th Chords

A major 7th chord has four notes and is built from a major triad and an added major seventh note. A major 7th chord has the notes 1, 3, 5, 7. As an example, a major 7th chord in the key of C would contain the notes C, E, G, B.

Minor 7th Chords

A minor 7th chord has four notes and is built from a minor triad and an added minor seventh note. A minor 7th chord has the notes 1, b3, 5, b7. As an example, a minor 7th chord in the key of C would contain the notes C, Eb, G, Bb.

Dominant 7th Chords

A dominant 7th chord has four notes and is built from a major triad and an added flat seventh note. A dominant 7th chord has the notes 1, 3, 5, b7. As an example, a dominant 7th chord in the key of C would contain the notes C, E, G, Bb.

Minor 7b5 Chords

A minor 7b5 chord has four notes and is built from a diminished triad with an added flat seventh note. A minor 7b5 chord has the notes 1, b3, b5, b7. As an example, a minor 7b5 chord in the key of C would contain the notes C, Eb, Gb, Bb.

Harmonizing The Major Scale

We can harmonize the major scale and produce seventh chords. Take a look below to see the harmonized C major and G major scales that show you which seventh chords make up the major scale:

C Major (7th chords)

Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7b5

G Major (7th chords)

Gmaj7, Am7, Bm7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, F#m7b5

I hoped you enjoyed learning about seventh chords. You will need to know a bit about these chords because they come up time and time again in all kinds of music. There is nothing complicated about seventh chords. Seventh chords are simply triad chords with an extra note added to them.

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