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Music Theory for Guitar - 7 means 4: 7th chords

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Voice leading Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - The Authentic Cadence

The seventh chords are triads with one note added. The way one construct these basic chords is to stack thirds on top of each others. The basic triads contains the notes 1-3-5. The 7th chord is extended with the 7, meaning that it is a chord that consists of 1-3-5-7.

You probably know by now that there are minor and major thirds, and chords are built with a mix of major and minor thirds in different orders.

If the first third is a minor third, then it is a minor chord (or sometimes a diminished chord). If the first third is a major third, then the chord is a major chord.

The maj7 chord

If the first triad is a major, and the second is minor, then we have a major triad. If we put another major third on top of this, we get a major 7th chord (maj7). The I and the IV chord of a diatonic harmonized scale might be extended to maj7 chords. If you listen to the old Donovan hit "Catch the Wind", he is changing from C to Fmaj7 at the end of the first and the third line. For the rest of the verse, he is using the normal F chord. He plays the Fmaj7 as an ordinary F-major chord, with the first string open.


Fmaj7

To build a maj7 chord, you add, as said, the note one major third (two whole steps) above the fifth. But at least in my head, it is easier to find the note by thinking 8-1, meaning up one octave and then a half step down from the root. I have made a table of the notes in the maj7 chords, where the note in italic is the added 7th.

Cmaj7:
C-E-G-B
Dbmaj7:
Db-F-Ab-C
Dmaj7:
D-F#-A-C#
Ebmaj7:
Eb-G-Bb-D
Emaj7:
E-G#-B-D#
Fmaj7
F-A-C-E
F#maj7:
F#-A#-C#-E#
Gmaj7:
G-B-D-F#
Abmaj7:
Ab-C-Eb-G
Amaj7:
A-C#-E-G#
Bbmaj7:
Bb-D-F-A
Bmaj7:
B-D"-F#-A#

Here are some other open string voicings of maj7 chords. I give you the voicing as a series of numbers, where 1=root, 3=3rd, etc. An X means that the string should not be played. I list the voicing from the bottom sting and up.


Emaj7:
1-5-7-3-5-1

Amaj7:
5-1-5-7-3-5

Dmaj7:
X-5-1-5-7-3

Gmaj7:
1-3-5-1-3-7

Cmaj7:
X-1-3-5-7-3

The closed voicings of the maj7 chords are all derived from the open sting voicings. I list them all as played on 1st fret, but they are all moveable. The keys are not very guitaristic, but just move them up one fret, and you will have keys like A, E and D. No open strings should be played. I list only the fretted strings when giving the voicing.


Fmaj7
1-5-7-3

Bbmaj7:
1-5-7-3

Ebmaj7:
1-5-7-3

Abmaj7:
5-1-3-7

Dbmaj7:
1-3-5-7

Dbmaj7:
7-3-5-1

Fmaj7
7-3-5-1

F#maj7:
1-3-5-7

Abmaj7:
7-3-5-1

The first three positions may also be extended to barré chords. For the Fmaj7 and Bbmaj7: shapes, you can play a full barré instead of fretting just one string. For the Ebmaj7: shape, you cannot play the 6th string.

You can also use closed four string, skip string voicings. By that, I mean that you have voicings where you do not play on adjacent strings. You may for instance play on 6th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd string. If you are strumming with a flatpick, you will have to dampen the unfretted string in between. You do that by slightly touching it with the finger fretting one of the adjacent strings. If you fingerpick or plays arpeggios with a flatpick, it does not cause very much of a problem. But it is hard to prevent the string from ringing, unless you dampen it, so I would prefer to dampen the string no matter how I play. In some of the chords, you could play a barré instead of damping out the string. In the spelling of the voicing, I put the tone that could be played with barré in parenthesis. By not playing the note, the actual voicing becomes clearer.


Fmaj7
1-x-7-3-5

F#maj7:
1-x-x-3-5-7

Bbmaj7:
1-x-7-3-5

Bbmaj7:
5-1-x-7-3

Ebmaj7:
3-(x)-1-5-7

Ebmaj7:
3-5-1-(x)-7

Ebmaj7:
5-1-x-7-3

Abmaj7:
7-x-5-1-3

Abmaj7:
3-5-1-(x)-7

Dbmaj7:
7-x-5-1-3

Dbmaj7:
3-7x-5-1

You might ask if there are any good reasons for learning all these voicings. You might even think that some of them does not sound well at all. One reason is that this will help you to a better understanding of how these chords are constructed. If you understand the construction of a chord, then you will never need a chord book anymore. And if you will try to play a chord-melody solo, then you need to know many voicings of the same chord. It will for instance make it possible to have the melody on top of the chord throughout the solo.

Even a voicing that does not sound very well on it's own might work well in context. A 7th in the bass might not sound too good. But if you play a descending bass line, you might play through the 7th, and the voicing with the 7th in the bottom might work well. And a chord might work well as a passing chord on your way from somewhere to somewhere else.

You might recognize some minor triad chord shapes in these maj7 chords. If we use capital M for a major third, and m for a minor third, a maj7 chord might be spelled like this: M-m-M. A major chord is M-m, while a minor chord is m-M. I guess you got the point: The top three notes of a maj7 is the same as a minor chord built on the third. A Cmaj7: could be seen as an Em chord over a C. Those who knows more of the theory of harmony than I do, might object and say that the chord function as a C chord, and then it cannot be an Em chord. They may be right in a way, but this way of viewing the chords help me to understand their construction and some basic of chord substitution. If we decompose the chords in this way, we might se the maj7 chords as:

Cmaj7:=C+Em Dbmaj7:=Db+Fm Dmaj7:=D+F#m Ebmaj7:=Eb+Gm Emaj7:=E+G#m Fmaj7=F+Am
F#maj7:=F#+A#m Gmaj7:=G+Bm Abmaj7:=Ab+Cm Amaj7:=A+C#m Bbmaj7:=Bb+Dm Bmaj7:=B+D#m

 

 

The 7th (dominant 7th) chord

If we put a minor third on top of our major triad, then we get a 7th. The 7th chord can be fingered in many different ways. I guess that you know all the open position chords, but it does not hurt to repeat them:


C7
X-1-3-7-1-3

D7
X-5-1-5-7-3

E7
1-5-7-3-5-1

E7
1-5-1-3-7-1

G7
1-3-5-1-3-7

G7
1-3-7-1-3-1

A7
5-1-5-7-3-5

A7
5-1-5-1-3-7

B7
X-1-3-7-1-5

Some of these chords are partially moveable (and some are fully moveable, but we will come back to that). By partly movable, I mean that the chord may be played in some, but not all positions, in combination with one or more open strings.

The C7 shape gives a nice E7 when played on the fifth fret, with E on the open 6th and 1st string. If you play the C7 shape on the middle four strings only, it can be moved to any position. Shifting between the E7 in C7-shape 5th fret and D7 in C7-shape 3rd fret, is a nice move in bar 9 and 10 in a 12 bar blues played in A.

A variation of the C7 shape is xxx. If you play on your own, it might not work very well because it does not have the root in the bass. You have C only on the 2nd string. But if you play with others, and a bass player and/or a keyboard player gives you a solid bass, then it is fine.

If you move it up to 5th fret, then you can add the open 6th string, and you get a nice E7. But be careful not to play the open 5th string. The A on the open 5th string does not belong to the E7, and will create a very dissonant chord. Damp the 5th string with the finger with which you are fretting the 4th string. (For me, it would be the middle finger.)

If you move it up to 10th fret, then you will get an A7, and can play the A on the open 5th string. Since A7 contains E, you can also play the open 6th string. But at least in my ears, it usually sounds better if you don't play the open 6th string.

xx (B7) The B7 is basically the same shape as the C7. But since we have the root on the open 2nd string, we can add the fifth on the 1st string if we compare with, or the root on the 5th string if we compare with xx. A third variation of the C7-chord is xxx. It will give you the root on the 5th string, 3rd fret. But to do that, you have to give up the root on the 2nd string, unless you have six fingers or have hands big enough to fret the 6th and 5th string with you thumb. You should dampen the 2nd string with the finger on 3rd string (ring finger).

If you move it up one fret, you get a C#7. The B on the open 2nd string is the 7th of that chord, meaning that it can be played. You might find that the 7th note will be to strong when it is played on both the 3rd and the 2nd string, but it is a note that belongs to the chord.

If you go up to 6th fret, you will get an E7. The B is the 5th of the E7, and sounds nice. If you move it up to the 9th fret, you get a G7. The B is the 3rd of the G7, and can be played.

The barré chord versions of the 7th chord should be well known from the lessons on the I-vi-IV-V7 and the I-vi-ii-V7 progressions. But repetition never hurts, so we take a quick look, and includes indication of the voicing this time. The first four fingerings are just ordinary barré fingerings. The second "F-shape" voicing (written as G7) doubles the 7th, and you might find that this makes the 7th stick out too much, but it is a matter of taste. The last voicing is the one that sounds best in my ears. But it is really difficult to finger. You have to make a partial barré with your 3rd finger on 5th and 4th string, without touching neither the 6th nor the 3rd string, and still let all the strings ring. It takes a lot of practice.

 

We can deconstruct the 7 chord in the same way as we did with the maj7. You will probably not recognize any hidden chord patterns as easy as you did with the maj7. That is because the 7 chord is root+IIIdim, and most guitarists are not as familiar with the dim triad as they are with the minor triad. But we will do the same kind of exercise, to strengthen our understanding of chord construction and chord substitution. If we use letters as we did with our maj7, then a 7 is M-m-m.

C7=C+Edim Db7=Db+Fdim D7=D+F#dim Eb7=Eb+Gdim E7=E+G#dim F7=F+Adim
F#7=F#+A#dim G7=G+Bdim Ab7=Ab+Cdim A7=A+C#dim Bb7=Bb+Ddim B7=B+D#dim

If the first third is a minor and the second is a major third, then we get at basic minor tirad. If we put a minor third on top of it, then we get a minor 7th.

If we put a major third on top of the minor triad, then we will get a minor maj7 chord. This is a rather dissonant chord, and you cannot really rest on it. But it might work well as a passing chord, often utilized by The Beatles. We will look a bit into that in the lesson called The Minor Walk.

If we put two minor thirds on top of each other, we get a diminished chord. If we put another third on top of the diminished triad, we get a diminished 7th. The diminished 7th is symmetric chord, meaning that all the intervals are equal. If you put another minor third on top of the dim7, you will return to the root. It also means that one dim7 chord can function as four different chords. A Ddim7 consists of the notes D, F, Ab and Cb. The Fdim7 is F, Ab, Cb and D. We can continue to Abdim7, and it will have the notes Ab, Cb, D and F.

If we try to close the circle, then we will realize that it is not a perfect match. The Cbdim7 will have the notes Cb, Ebb, Gbb and Bbb. But the Ebb (E double flat) is enharmonic with D, meaning that it is the same note. The same goes with Gbb and F, and Bbb and Cb. In practice we will hardly ever write anything in the key of Cb. Cb is enharmonic with B, and we will write in the key of B. If we spell a chord with the same notes as Cbdim7 as the enharmonic Bdim7, it will be B, D, F and Ab.

You might ask: Why bother with this? The notes are the same, so why not just spell the chord Cb, D, F and Ab? The answer is that this is not a dim7 chord, although it sounds the same. A dim7, just as any other 7th chord, must have a root, some kind of a third, some kind of a fifth and some kind of a seventh. If the root is some kind of C, the third has to be some kind of an E, the fifth some kind of a G and the 7th some kind of a B. They might have flats, double flats, sharps or double sharps, but they have to be spelled as a variation of that note. If we change the root to B, then the third has to be some kind of a D, the fifth some kind of an F and the 7th some kind of an A. You might say that you don't care, and that's fair enough. But I find it good to know the theory, even if it might give some strange result. If you know the theory, then you know how to construct a chord, and you do not have to memorize the notes of each individual chord.

If we put a major third on top of a diminished triad, then we get what is often called a half diminished seventh. The most common notation is either m7-5 or m7b5 (Bm7-5 or Bm7b5).

If we put two major thirds on top of each other, we get an augmented chord. It is usually notated as aug or by a +. (Caug or C+). The Caug have the notes C, E and G#. If we try to construct an augmented 7th by putting another major third on top of the augmented triad, we will get back to the root. Again the correct spelling would have been C, E, G# and B#, but as B# is enharmonic with C, this does not make sense. The augmented chord is a symmetric triad, although the spelling will not close the circle. The Eaug has the notes E, G# and B#, and the G#aug has the notes G#, B# and Dx (x: double sharp=##, up two half steps) (which is enharmonic with caug: Ab, C and E).

After this explanation of the different 7th chords, it is time for another look at the harmonized scale, but this time with 7th chords. You will notice that the harmonized major scale has maj7, m7, 7 and m7b5 chords. Neither the dim7 nor the aug chords do belong to the harmonized scale.

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