Join Julian Velard for an in-depth discussion in this video Major 7th chords, part of Music Theory for Songwriters: Harmony.
- Up to this point, we've only explored chords with a maximum of three notes, triads. Let's make things a little more interesting. Let's explore the world of chords with four or more notes. The first type of chord with more than three notes that I want to discuss is the 7th chord. The 7th chord consists of a triad plus a 7th above the root of the chord. We can build 7th chords through the same method we used for building triads, which is stacking thirds or skipping every other note in a scale. 7th chords built through this method are called "tertian".
Let's start by looking at the 7th chord in C major built on the tonic of C. We start with a root of C (C note on piano), skip D and play E (E note on piano), skip F and play G (G note on piano). With a triad, we would stop here, but to make a 7th chord, we'll continue by skipping the 6th, A, and playing the 7th B (B note on piano). (C major 7 chord on piano) We've just created what's called a "C major 7" chord, which is a C major triad with a major 7th, C to B.
(C major triad on piano) C major triad with a major 7th, C to B. (C major 7 chord on piano) As you may have guessed, there are several types of 7th chords just like there are with triads, and they have different harmonic qualities. The types of tertian 7th chords we can create using the notes of the diatonic scale are the Major, Minor, Dominant and Half-diminished 7th chords. Let's continue with the Major 7 chord. I just showed you the C Major 7th chord, which contains a Major 3rd (C and E on piano), a Perfect 5th (C and G on piano), and a Major 7th (C and B on piano).
(C Major 7th chord on piano) We can also look at a Major 7 chord as three 3rds stacked on top of each other that are Major, Minor and Major, respectively, in quality. You have a Major 3rd from C to E, a Minor 3rd from E to G (E and G on piano), and another Major 3rd from G to B (G and B on piano). A major 7th chord occurs in the major scale on the 1st and 4th degrees. C Major 7 and F Major 7 in the key of C.
So here we have a C Major 7, which is a 7 chord built on the tonic of C. (C Major 7 chord on piano) And if we move up to the fourth degree of the scale, start on F (F on piano), skip G, play A (A on piano), skip B, play C (C on piano), skip D and play E (E on piano). We have an F Major 7 (F Major 7 chord on piano). There are three different symbols we use for Major 7 chords, and here they are. If we use the Roman numeral system we call the Major chords I just played the I major 7 (I Major 7 chord on piano), and the IV major 7 (IV Major 7 chord on piano).
In pop music major 7th chords became prominent in the late 60's and early 70's. Famous examples of the Major 7th sound in songs are the opening of "Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings and Chicago's "Colour My World". Another nice example is the chorus of Carole King's "It's Too Late". We can even hear it outlined in songs like Maroon 5's "Sugar". The Major 7 chord is often used as the tonic chord in jazz as opposed to the Major Triad. Here are some common voicings of the Major 7th chord on the piano.
While the chord does sound good in a tight voicing, notice how nicely it sounds when I spread the voicing out. Here's a Major 7 in root position. (C Major 7 chord on piano) And we'll look at it at it's various inversions. First inversion (plays chord on piano), second inversion (plays chord on piano), third inversion (plays chord on piano). And let's spread it out, we'll take a C in the bass and an E here, then we'll play a B and a G. (plays C major 7 chord on piano) Let's try it spread out with a different note in the bass.
Let's put E, and G, then C, then B. (plays chord on piano) Look at all the different textures we can get just by voicing a Major 7th chord. Here are a few ways to voice the Major 7th chord on a guitar. (strums guitar then picks strings) Outside of examples in songs it's hard to describe the sound of harmonies of four note chords a succinctly as I did with triads, because there are more notes the sound is more complex.
That said, each 7th chord has a very distinct sound and the more your ears grow accustomed to them the easier they are to pick out. Next, we'll explore minor, dominant, and half-diminished 7th chords.
In this installment, musician Julian Velard digs into more intermediate-level music theory topics. Starting with minor scales, he shows examples of classic songs in minor keys, and then explores the modes of the diatonic scale (e.g., the mixolydian mode). Next, Julian dives into chords with 4 or more notes, covering 7th chords, chord extensions (e.g., 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths), suspended chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, and inversions. Finally, he covers key centers, modulations, pedal points, alternate bass notes, and polychords. At the end of each chapter, Julian explains the techniques shown within the context of his own original songs.
- Working in minor scales
- Using Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes to write songs
- Extending chords
- Using 7th chords in a song
- Transposing a song
- Building different harmonies from a single melody