Chords Part 3: Major and Minor Seventh Chords
So far in this series, we’ve looked at major and minor triads, as well as the ever-important dominant seventh chord. Today we’ll take a look at major and minor seventh chords.
Major and minor seventh chords come from major or minor triads. Triads take the root (1st), 3rd and 5th notes in a given major or minor scale, giving you three notes that when played together creates a chord. If the root, 3rd and 5th come from a major scale, the chord is major, and if they come from a minor scale, the chord will be minor. As we discussed in part one of this series, the only difference between a given major (say C major) triad and C minor triad is the 3rd—the root and the fifth are always the same note, in this case C and G. The 3rd will be either E (major) or Eb (minor).
To create a seventh chord, simply stack the seventh note in the same major or minor scale that gave you the notes in your basic triad. Let’s stick with C. In a C major scale our notes are as follows:
Therefore, to create a C major seventh chord (Cmaj7), we would take C-E-G-B.
Here are the notes in a C minor scale:
If we again take the root, 3rd,5th and 7th, our C minor seventh chord (Cm7) will consist of C-Eb-G-Bb.
On the guitar, we often add the interval of the minor seventh into a chord by removing a finger (I know, a bit counterintuitive at first but bear with me). For example, to play an Am7 chord in root position, simply form an Am chord, and then lift up your second finger. This moves the A that you were previously pressing back a whole step to G, which is the interval of a minor 7th in an A minor scale.
To create an Amaj7 chord, place your fingers as follows: 2nd finger on the D string on the second fret (that note is E), 1st finger on the first fret on the G string (that note is G#), and your third finger on the second fret on the B string (that note is C#). In effect, the only difference between this Amaj7 chord and a normal A major chord (no matter how you organize your fingers) is that the A note we would play on the second fret on the G string is moved back a half step to G#, which is the seventh note in an A major scale. By moving to a G#, we add the major seventh, creating an Amaj7 chord. Both this and the Amin7 chord can easily be made into moveable (Barre) chords.
There are many uses for the major and minor seventh chords. To keep things simple, we can think of them simply as major or minor chords with an added note. This adds flavor while not actually changing the quality of a chord. For the most part, any major chord can be made into a major seventh chord at will, and the same can be said for minor seventh chords.
As always, there are exceptions—perhaps most notably on the chord created from the fifth scale degree in a given key. As discussed in the previous posting, the V chord in a progression must be either a major triad or a dominant seventh chord (not a major or minor seventh chord). The dominant seventh chord is created by first making a major triad, and then adding a minor seventh, (not a major seventh). As a result, this is one case in which a major triad cannot be made into a major seventh chord. The next time you are playing a chord progression, try making some of your major and minor chords Maj7 and Min7th chords—you’ll probably hear something you like!
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next posting in this series: a discussion on the often-complicated task of naming chords. Rock on!