What is a Seventh Chord?
If you read the major triad pattern lesson, you should remember a triad contains three notes a root, a 3rd, and a 5th. A seventh chord contains four notes a root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th.
There are several varieties of seventh chords. When notated, chord symbols for seventh chords have the number 7 in them somewhere. Emaj7, E7, E7+ are all different types of seventh chords. The first seventh chord we will look at is the major seventh chord.
What is a Major 7th Chord?
A major 7th chord is the same as the major triad plus one more note the 7th. This 7th is a major 7th above the root. (See intervals.) The intervallic construction of the major 7th chord is root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and major 7th.
Building the chord from stacked thirds is the same as the major triad plus another major 3rd. The root to the 3rd is a major 3rd. The 3rd to the 5th is a minor 3rd; and the 5th to the 7th is a major 3rd.
Since this chord has four notes in it, it is a little denser and fuller sounding. The major seventh chord has a bright, pretty sound to it.
You will come across this chord a lot in jazz. You will also run into it in rock and other pop music. Since it has a prettier sound, it sees less use in heavier styles, blues, and funk. It’s not forbidden however.
Depending on the style, this chord is less common than other seventh chords we will learn, but it will help you understand those chords and their construction better. It’s good to learn, and it’s easy.
Major 7th Pattern Fingering
Just as with the major triad pattern, we're going to explore one versatile fingering first. Fingering the major 7th chord pattern is easy if you learned the major triad. All you do is add the 7th to the major triad pattern. For this fingering use your 3rd finger to play the 7th. The 7th of the chord is always a half-step below the root.
Just as with all patterns, you can move the major 7th pattern anywhere on the fretboard. It can be built on any of the 12 notes of the musical alphabet.
Major 7th Notation
Major 7ths are most often notated with the chord symbol “maj7”. A major 7th built on the root C would be notated Cmaj7.
You may see other chord symbols, too. Sometimes you will see “M7” where the capital M stands for major. This is a poor symbol since it can be easily confused with a lowercase m used for minor. Avoid writing this way. Other times you might see a triangle followed by a 7 like CΔ7. This is also hard to read and should be avoided.
Applying the Major Seventh Chord
The 7th of the major 7th chord is not a very supportive, foundational note. It’s not a note you would typically sustain through the entire chord in a bassline. Instead, you will more often use this note in passing while supporting the sound of the base major triad.
Often times you might not play the 7th of this chord at all in your bassline. Usually the other instruments in the group will play the 7th in their parts to create the sound of the major 7th chord even if you just stick to the basic triad.
Major 7th Exercises and Examples
You can practice the major 7th chord pattern similarly to how you practiced the major triad patterns. I’ve also recorded a few examples of the major 7th at work in basslines.
|Major 7th Details|
|Chord symbol notation:||Cmaj7, [also CM7 and CΔ7]|
|C major 7th spelling:||C, E, G, B|
|Intervallic construction:||Root, M3, P5, M7|
|Thirds construction:||M3, m3, M3|