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Chord Type:

Major 7th - maj7

Name: maj7

maj7 Chords

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maj7 means major 7th. This may be a source of confusion. The maj7 is a major chord. But the label maj refers to the 7th as such and not to the basic chord. We add a major 7th to a major chord, which is 11 half steps up from the root. I actually find it more easy to think of a major 7th as an octave minus a half step, but from a strict music theory point of view, that might not be correct (but who cares?). Just to add to the confusion: What we think of as the normal 7th chord, is a major chord with a minor 7th added. But we do not use any indication of minor here. When we refer to minor 7th (m7), then it is a minor chord with a minor 7th added. It is a practical shorthand notation, but it can be a source of confusion if we start to think too much. If we should have been very precise, we should probably have used labels like major(min7) for the good old 7th chord, min(min7) for the m7 and major(maj7) for the maj7. For some more odd chords, like the mM7 or m(maj7) (two labels for the same chord), we have to use such notation. But we do not use it for the more common chords.

The major 7th of C is B. A Cmaj7 will then be a Cmajor + a major 7th = C-E-G-B. I we compare the chord with the 7th, there are some important differences. A C7 has the notes C-E-G-Bb. The interval E-Bb (or the inverted Bb-E) is a tritone. This is a very dissonant interval that cries for a resolution. The normal way to resolve a C7 is to go to F, where the E goes to F and the Bb to A. This is the V7-I resolution. The interval E-B is a perfect fifth, which is the most stable and consonant of all the intervals - next to the octave. The inverted interval B-E is a perfect foruth which is almost as stable as the perfect fifth. This gives the maj7 a very different character compared to the 7th chord. The major 7th interval C-B is a dissonant inverval, and the inverted B-C gives us a minor second, which is the most dissonant of all the intervals (if you want to sound like an alarm siren, play a minor second). But the major 7th does not have the same leading effect as the tritone.

To understand the basic application of the maj7 chord, it might be worth taking a look at the Haronized scale with 7th chords. We know – or at least I think we should know – that there are three primary chords in a major key, and they are all major chords. But when we extend these chords to four note seventh-chords, they split up. The Tonic - I and the Subdominant - IV extends to maj7, while the Dominant - V extends to 7th (dominant 7th).

I like to break larger chords down to triads. I have already said that the maj7 is a major triad with an added major 7th. But if we look at the three top notes, they form a minor triad. A Cmaj7 can be broken down to a C + an Em chord. This gives us some clues when it comes to chord substitution. The minor chord built on the third may substitute a maj7 chord. In the context of diatonic chords, this means that the Imaj7 may be substituted by the iii (mediant), and the VImaj7 may be stubsituted by the vi (submediant, relative minor chord), and vice versa. I am not saying that these substitutions always will work, but sometimes. Your ear decides.

Recordings with - maj7 Chord

Further references:

The CAGED system - basic extended chords
Guitar Techniques 2008 - 148 2008-02

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