Seventh Chords


Seventh chords are the most common extension of the basic 3-note triad you come across.

A seventh chord is built by adding an extra note to a triad which is an interval of a 7th above the root note.
e.g. If you build a triad on C you will use the notes (C-E-G). If you add a another note a 7th above C then you will have C-E-G-B. You have just created a basic seventh chord.

The 5 Types of Seventh Chords

There are 5 types of 7th chord you will come across and want to use in your music. Each one gives a characteristic sound which will help you when composing music.

Major seventh chord

The major seventh chord has a much softer sound than the dominant seventh. Again, it is created by taking a major triad, but this time adding a note a major seventh (11 semitones) above the root.
e.g. a major seventh chord on C contains the notes C-E-G-B (B is a major seventh/11 semitones above C).
You will often see it written as CM7

      Click Here To Listen To Major Seventh

The major 7th is used a lot in jazz as it gives a very laid back feel to the music.
If you want to start to learn how to play jazz just try playing around with the primary chords and play them as major seventh chords instead of the basic triads – your playing will definitely sound jazzy very quickly!



Dominant seventh chord

The dominant seventh chord is the most common and in many ways the most important of the seventh chords.
It is created by taking a major triad and adding a note a minor seventh (10 semitones) above the root. e.g. a dominant seventh chord on C contains the notes C-E-G-Bb. (Bb is a minor seventh/10 semitones above C).
You will often see it written as C7

      Click Here To Listen To Dominant Seventh

The dominant 7th is used a lot in blues music.
It is also used at a perfect cadence to make the ending sound really strong (listen to how strong the ending sounds in the audio example). If you have used chord V then chord I in a song/piece you have written try adding the 7th to the chord V and see how strong it makes the cadence sound.



Minor seventh chord

The minor seventh chord also gives quite a jazzy feel to a piece of music.
It is created by taking a minor triad and adding a note a minor seventh (10 semitones) above the root.
e.g. a minor seventh chord on C contains the notes C-Eb-G-Bb (Bb is a minor seventh/10 semitones above C).
You will often see it written as Cm7

      Click Here To Listen To Minor Seventh

Try playing some major seventh chords followed by the minor seventh version – this will sound like “cool jazz”!!



Half-diminished seventh chord

The half diminished seventh chord is the first of the two 7th chords which give a feeling of tension.
It is created by taking a diminished triad and adding a note a minor seventh (10 semitones) above the root.
e.g. a half diminished seventh chord on C contains the notes C-Eb-Gb-Bb.
You will often see it written as a slashed circle followed by a 7 (see the table below)

      Click Here To Listen To Half Diminished Seventh

Can you hear the feeling of tension you get with the half-diminished seventh chord?



Diminished seventh chord

The final seventh chord is the diminished seventh chord. This gives a very distinctive tense and scary feel.
It is created by taking a diminished triad and adding a note a diminished seventh (9 semitones) above the root.
e.g. a diminished seventh chord on C contains the notes C-Eb-Gb-Bbb). (Bbb is “B double flat”).
You will often see it written as a small circle followed by a 7 (see the table below)
As you can tell from the audio example below it is a brilliant chord to use if you want to create tension in your music.

      Click Here To Listen To Diminished Seventh


Seventh Chords Made Easy

Hope this lesson has helped you understand seventh chords and given you some inspiration for your composing.
I have put together a summary table below of the 5 seventh chords to make things easy for you. Feel free to screen shot or print it out so you’ve got it to refer to.

Seventh Chords symbols

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