7th Chords Made Easy

Weekly Newsletter #24

January 20, 2022

Anybody who’s been playing guitar long enough gets bored with your standard open string cowboy chords. 

You know, those first few chords you learn that use open strings? 

C, G, E, D, Am, Em etc. 

After a while of playing those and then moving those shapes up the neck using a capo, most players yearn for more color and flavor in their chord choices, particularly if they write music. 

Today I’d like to show you a very simple tool that can teach you the four basic types of 7th chords, but first we should establish what those chords are and how they relate to standard triad chords found in the major scale. 

If you aren’t sure what triad chords are, please read Newsletter #3 before going any further. 

If you are familiar with the three types of triads found in the major scale then this shouldn’t be too difficult for you to master. 

To start, let’s brush up on the three triad chords are and how they are formed: 

Major Triad: 

-Uses the 1-3-5 beginning on the root note. You can alternately think of this using intervals (Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th) 

-Example: A Major Triad = A-C#-E 

Minor Triad: 

-Uses the 1-b3-5 starting on any note. Using intervals this would be: Root - Minor 3rd - Perfect 5th 

-Example: A Minor Triad = A-C-E 

Diminished Triad: 

-Uses the 1-b3-b5 starting on any note. In Intervals this is spelled as: Root - Minor 3rd - Tritone. A Tritone is another name for a flat 5. 

-Example: A Diminished Triad = A-C-Eb 

Notice how as you go from a major triad to minor triad, there is only one note that changes? The major 3rd becomes a minor 3rd while the root and 5th stay the same. 

Then when going from a minor triad to diminished triad the same thing occurs, except this time the 5th becomes flattened while the root and 3rd remain the same. 

This principle of changing one note at  a time is the basis for today’s exercise. 

7th chords are created by adding only one note to a triad; the 7th of the root note. This means that instead of a 1-3-5 chord you have a 1-3-5-7. 

By adding a 7th to one of the three triad chords you can create much more color and character than simply playing triads. These “color” chords are what separate novice and early-intermediate players from advanced and professional ones. 

Now to introduce the four types of 7th chords and what you need to do in order to go from a triad to a 7th chord. 

Major 7 (maj7) 

-This chord is created the addition of the 7th of the major scale to the root note triad: 1-3-5-7 

-Another way to think about this is to take the root note and in your mind go down a half-step. This note will then be added to the chord. 

-Thinking in intervals this would be adding a Major 7 to the formula for a major triad, creating: Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th - Major 7th 

-Example Gmaj7 = G-B-D-F# 

If intervals and triad spelling is too complicated for your current level of theory, simply go down a half-step from the root and add that note to the chord. In G, a half-step below is an F#, so that note is added to a G Major chord to create a Gmaj7. 

Dominant 7 (7) 

-A Dominant 7 chord is spelled as 1-3-5-b7. 

-You can simply take a Major 7 chord and flatten the 7th and you’ll get a Dom7. 

-However, you can also think of going down a whole-step from the root note and adding that note to a major triad. 

-The intervals would be: Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th - Minor 7th 

-Example: G7 = G-B-D-F 

Dominant 7 chords are extremely common and are the basis for most blues music, but they are found in literally every single genre. These are “tension” chords that create a high degree of dissonance and have the feeling of wanting to “resolve”. 

Most often these Dom7 chords are used on the 5th of a key as a way of getting back to the 1 chord. For example a G7 resolves to a C (G is the 5 in the key of C and thus is often expressed as a G7). 

Minor 7 (m7) 

-Min7 chords are spelled as: 1-b3-5-b7. 

-Take a Dom7 chord and flatten the 3rd and you end up with a Min. 7 

-Alternately you can take a minor triad and add a flat 7 to the chord (think a whole-step below the root). 

-This is spelled out intervallically as: Root - Minor 3rd - Perfect 5th - Minor 7th 

-Example: Gm7 - G - Bb - D - F 

This is an extremely common chord, in fact you most likely already know how to play various versions of this chord (Am7, Em7, Dm7 etc.) 

Half-Diminished (m7b5) 

-Half Diminished chords are also known as m7b5 (Minor 7 Flat 5). However the “half-diminished” name is usually written using “ø” after the chord name. 

-These chords are spelled as 1-b3-b5-b7 

-Flatten the 5th of a m7 chord and you end up with a half-diminished chord. 

-Intervallically this is spelled as Root - Minor 3rd - Tritone - Minor 7th 

-Example: Gø = G - Bb - Db - F 

Learning to play all these chords is actually quite easy. Since they are only one flatted note away from the previous chord, learning the chord shapes becomes a simple matter of visualization. 

Watch this VIDEO for a great exercise that will teach you all the main shapes of these chords in about 10 minutes! 

Refer to the TAB as well. 

Essentially, if you are looking to create more unique sounds and colors with your chords, this is the first step you should take. 

Try incorporating these chords into some of the songs you already know how to play and see what new musical ideas come your way. 

-Max Rich