Now that you’ve got major and minor chords under your belt, it’s time to move to more advanced territory. We’re talking about seventh chords. As the name suggests, this class of chords has another interval—the seventh—thrown into the mix, resulting in jazzier sounds.
After today’s lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Understand what seventh chords are and how they are formed
- Play major, minor and dominant seventh chords in both “E” and “A” shapes
- Form seventh chords from open chords on the fretboard
What are seventh chords?
Seventh chords are a unique class of chords that comprise four chord tones (or unique notes). So in addition to the three intervals in major and minor chords, you have to add either a major seventh or minor seventh interval, which lends a bluesy, jazzy vibe to the chord.
A major seventh chord, for instance, is a major chord—specifically, a “major triad,” which comprises the root, major third and perfect fifth—with a major seventh interval. And a minor seventh chord is a minor triad plus a minor seventh interval. A dominant seventh, on the other hand, is ‘in-between’ the two, and comprises a major triad plus a minor seventh.
Take a look at the table below to find the intervals that make up a seventh chord. For reference, the intervals for a major chord are listed in the first row.
Major seventh chords are straightforward enough. And if you take that chord, flatten the major third and major seventh, you’re left with a minor seventh chord. But if you only flatten the seventh, you have a dominant seventh chord.
Before we move on, here are a few things to take note of. A major seventh is denoted as “C major 7” or “Cmaj7,” while a minor seventh is written as “C minor 7” or “Cmin7.” And a dominant seventh chord is, simply, a “C7.”
Barred seventh chords
Fortunately, there are fast and effective ways to play seventh chords all around the fretboard. We simply take those handy “E” and “A” chord shapes, then modify their intervals accordingly to create seventh chord shapes.
The diagram above shows how the three classes of seventh chords can be formed by tweaking the position of an “E”-shaped major chord.
For example, a major seventh chord can be created by playing the major seventh interval on the D string, which is one fret below the root’s octave. To play a minor seventh chord, you need to flatten the third and seventh intervals: So hit the note one fret below the major third (aka the minor third) on the G string, and two frets below the root’s octave (aka the minor seventh) on the D string.
And to form a dominant chord, all you have to do, starting with a major chord, is hit the minor seventh, with no change to the major third.
The same can be done for the “A”-shaped major chords, too.
It’s simple: For a major seventh, flatten the note on the G string by one semitone. For a minor seventh, flatten the same note by two semitones instead, and then hit the minor third on the B string. For a dominant seventh, you only have to take the root’s octave on the G string, and turn it into a minor seventh by hitting the note two semitones lower. If you’re using your index finger to barre the chord, all you gotta do is lift your ring finger off the fretboard.
Open seventh chords
You can play seventh chords using open chords, too. Simply modify the chord tones accordingly, based on the chord you wish to form. Try beginning with a D major open chord:
So with this basic shape, here are the intervals and finger positions you have to move around:
And like the “E” and “A” barred shapes, the “D” shape can be moved up and down the fretboard—just remember to move the root note, too. We’ve only shown examples with the “D” shape, but try it out with the “C” and “G” open shapes, too.