In this lesson we’ll explore 7th guitar chords: How they are formed from a theoretical point of view, how to play them (chord diagrams) as well as how to use them in a musical context.
Part 1: 7th Chord theory
A major or a minor guitar triad is made of the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of its respective major and minor scale.
Thus the triad of C major is made of the notes C, E and G while the triad of C minor is made of the notes C, Eb and G.
(There are another two types of triads – the diminished and the augmented triad, but these go beyond the purpose of this lesson) 7th Chords are formed by adding either a major or a minor 7th interval from the root to an existing triad.
The three types of 7th chords most commonly used are the major 7th, the minor 7th, and the dominant 7th.
We get a major 7th chord when we add at major 7th interval to a major triad.
Thus, Cmaj7 is made of the notes C, E, G and B.
We get a minor 7th chord when we add a minor 7th interval to a minor triad.
Thus, Cm7 is made of the notes C, Eb, G and Bb
We get a dominant 7th chord when we add a minor 7th interval to a major triad
Thus, C7 is made of the notes C, E, G and Bb
Part 2: 7th Guitar chord diagrams
Now that you know the basic theory behind 7th chords, the next step is to learn them on the guitar and add them to your chord vocabulary.
The first chart includes all possible open position 7th chords on the guitar.
Open position chords are chords where at least one string is played open, thus you don’t need to use a barre to perform.
Note that it is not possible to play in all 7th guitar chords in open position, which is why a few, (such as Bmaj7 and F7) have been left out.
To perform barre chords you need to use the first finger of your left hand to press all the strings of the fret you’re barring.
Since barre chords are moveable, you only need one pattern for each 7th chord with the root on the sixth string, and one pattern for each 7th chord with the root on the fifth string to be able to play them in all keys.
For instance, to play B7 you just need to move the A7 shape up two frets. (Being able to do this is one of the reasons why you should know the notes of the guitar fretboard. Learn how to do so in this lesson).
In following chord chart, the first three diagrams show you 7th barre chords starting on the sixth fret while the last three show you 7th barre chords starting on the fifth fret.
Part 3: The role of 7th chords
In this lesson I show you how each chord has a role to play when used in a key.
And that the chord formula for major keys is:
Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished
Thus, the key of C major, is harmonized by these chords:
C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim.
If we add the seventh note to each of these triads, we would come up with the formula for the major scale harmonized in 7ths.
Which is this:
Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, G7, Amin7, Bmin7(b5)
We will not deal with the last chord of the harmonized major scale in this lesson (which is a type of diminished chord, who deserve a study of their own).
The first and fourth chord are major 7ths, the second, third and sixth chords are minor 7ths while the fifth is a dominant 7th.
So, how do you use this information?
Click here if you don’t know what guitar chord progressions are.
When playing chord progressions, the respective 7th chord, can replace major or minor chords in order to add variety to your music (or rather, to create dissonance, which sounds pleasing to the ear when resolved into consonance)
Let’s take the ii – V – I chord progression for instance.
If we’re playing in the key of C major, harmonizing this chord progression in triads will give us the following chords:
Dm – G – C
If we harmonize it in 7ths it will give us the following chords:
Dmin7 – G7 – Cmaj7
As another example we’ll use the I – V – vi – IV chord progression which gives us the following triads:
C – G – Am – F
And the following 7th chords:
Cmaj7 – G7 – Am7 – Fmaj7
Now, in practice you rarely harmonize all the chords in the progression in 7ths.
For instance the instead of ii – V – I, you may play ii – V7 – I (Dm – G7 – C) rather than add the seventh note to all three triads.
Which chords you decide to harmonize in regular major or minor triads and which ones in 7ths is up to you when writing songs.
Conclusion: Learn chords through use
If you want to grow as a guitar player, developing a chord vocabulary is a very important thing.
But developing a vocabulary of chords you can easily use in a musical context is even more important.
Now that you know how 7th guitar chords are formed, how to play them, and how to use them in chord progressions, it’s time to practice them by using them.
As an exercise you can go through all chord progressions you can already play and substitute all major and minor chords with 7ths.
Then experiment with harmonizing only some of the chords in 7ths while some with just a major or a minor triad.
Listen to the different flavor these combinations give to your chord progression.
Practicing like this will not only give you a profound knowledge of the chords you’re learning, but also train you in applying music theory, as well as your ear.
It also helps you to easily recall the options you have available when writing songs.
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