• Week 7: Major Seventh Chord + Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    major 7th chord

    At last, we’re studying seventh chords in our FREE 16-week chord revival program.

    Having gone through triads and sixth chords, it is only natural for us to get into seventh chords next.

    If you are just joining us, feel free to review the content of the first six weeks:

    Week One: Major Triads
    Week Two: Augmented Triads
    Week Three: Minor Triads
    Week Four: Diminished Triads
    Week Five: Major Sixth Chords
    Week Six: Minor Sixth Chords

    To start our seventh chords series, we’ll be covering the major seventh first.

    In the major scale, the major seventh chord can be formed on the first and fourth degrees. That means that approximately 29% of scale degree seventh chords are major seventh chords.

    Even though the major seventh chord is considered to be dissonant in classical music, it is the toast of several popular music styles like jazz, r&b, and funk to name a few.

    We’ll be covering as much as we can on the major seventh chord, ranging from its definition to its intervallic breakdown and formation.

    Once again, welcome to week seven. There’s so much to cover so don’t be in a haste to zone off from this post.

    “What is a Major Seventh Chord?”

    A major seventh chord is basically a seventh chord.

    Seventh chords are note combinations (aka – “chords”) that encompass seven diatonic degrees.

    In music theory, chords can be created by stacking notes together. The relationship between these notes that are stacked together can be based on intervals of seconds (aka – “secundal harmony”):

    …thirds (aka – “tertian harmony”):

    …and even fourths (aka – “quartal harmony”):

    Heck, there are even chords that are stacked together in fifths (aka – “quintal chords”) and I hope to cover quintal chords in subsequent posts.

    Our use of  the term major seventh chord in this post refers to any chord built off the major scale, whose size encompasses seven scale degrees with third intervals between chord tones (aka – “tertian harmony”).

    If this doesn’t make any sense right now, don’t worry. I’ll break it down, step-by-step, in this lesson.

    Starting from the first degree of the C major scale (C):

    …if we stack a third (E):

    …and another third (G):

    …and yet another third (B):

    …this would produce the C major seventh chord.

    Notice that all these thirds are not the same in quality.

    C to E:

    …is a major third.

    E to G:

    …is a minor third

    G to B:

    …is a major third.

    In tertian harmony, we are not particular about the quality of third used, whether major or minor.

    To take you to the next level in your understanding of the major seventh chord, let’s break it down to see the intervals it is made up of.

    “What Stuff Are Major Seventh Chords Made Up Of?”

    If we breakdown the C major seventh chord:

    …into intervals, here are the three intervals in relation to C, the root:

    C to E:

    …a major third interval.

    C to G:

    …a perfect fifth interval.

    C to B:

    …a major seventh interval.

    Let’s look at the properties of these intervals…

    The Major Third Interval

    The major third is the relationship in pitch between the first and third tones of the major scale. Using the C major scale, the major third interval is formed by the relationship between C and E:

    This quality of interval on the third chord tone determines the tonality of a chord, whether it is major or minor. This is the interval that makes the major seventh chord a major chord quality.

    The Perfect Fifth Interval

    The perfect fifth is the relationship in pitch between the first and fifth tones of the major scale.

    Using the C major scale, the perfect fifth interval is formed by the relationship between C and G:

    This quality of interval on the fifth chord tone determines the stability of the chord. The major seventh derives its stability from the perfect fifth interval, which is said to be universally consonant.

    The Major Seventh Interval

    The major seventh is the relationship in pitch between the first and seventh tones of the major scale. Using the C major scale, the major seventh interval is formed by the relationship between C and B:

    Although intervals of a seventh are considered dissonant in traditional European art music (aka – “classical music”), the major seventh chord is incredibly popular in jazz, r&b, and other popular music styles.

    Alternative Chord Formation Techniques

    There are various approaches to chord formation. In previous weeks, we’ve approached chord formation using scales, intervals, and even chords.

    In addition to these approaches, we’ll be using mutual intervals also in the formation of the major seventh chord. If you’re not certain about what the term mutual interval means, don’t worry, we’ll cover it in the last part of this segment.

    Let’s get started.

    Scale Approach to the Chord Formation of the Major Seventh Chord

    The major seventh chord can be formed using the major scale.

    Using the major scale of C, for instance, we can stack notes in thirds or using my favorite technique – the pick-skip-technique.

    We can pick C:

    …skip D and pick E:

    …skip F and pick G:

    …skip A and pick B:

    Playing all the notes we’ve picked out will produce a chord that spans from C to B:

    …exactly seven degrees in the C major scale. Like we said in the earlier segment, C E G B = C major seventh chord.

    “Let’s take two more examples using the major scales of D and Ab…”

    The D major scale can be subjected to this chord formation to produce the D major seventh chord. Of course, you must know your D major scale (D E F# G A B C# D). Here’s how it works…

    We can pick D:

    …skip E and pick F#:

    …skip G and pick A:

    …skip B and pick C#:

    Playing all the notes we’ve picked out will produce a chord that spans from D to C#:

    …exactly seven degrees in the D major scale.

    Here’s the second example…

    The Ab major seventh chord can be formed from the Ab major scale (Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab) using the same approach. Here’s how it works…

    We can pick Ab:

    …skip Bb and pick C:

    …skip Db and pick Eb:

    …skip F and pick G:

    Playing all the notes we’ve picked out will produce a chord that spans from Ab to G:

    …exactly seven degrees in the Ab major scale.

    Attention: If you’re not familiar with the major scale in all the keys, this approach will prove challenging, if not impossible. Endeavor to familiarize yourself with the major scales if you must approach the formation of the major seventh chord from the major scale.

    Let’s move on to the next chord formation approach for the major seventh chord.

    Interval Approach to the Chord Formation of the Major Seventh Chord

    Earlier in this post, we broke down the seventh chord into smaller bits known as intervals. Here are three of them…

    Major third
    Perfect fifth
    Major seventh

    These intervals can be stacked into one octave to produce the major seventh chord. Familiarity of these intervals in all the keys will help you play the major seventh chords in all keys.

    Remember these intervals:

    The major third is derived by the combination of the first and third tones of any given major scale.

    The perfect fifth is derived by the combination of the first and fifth degrees of the major scale.

    The major seventh is derived by the first and seventh degrees of the major scale.

    “Let me show you these intervals in the key of Eb…”

    Using the Eb major scale (Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb):

    …here are the intervallic components of the major seventh chord:

    Major third

    The major third interval is formed between the first and third tones of the Eb major scale which are Eb and G:

    …respectively.

    Perfect fifth

    The interval formed between Eb and Bb:

    …which are the first and fifth tones of the Eb major scale, respectively, is called the perfect fifth interval.

    Major seventh

    The major seventh interval is formed between the first and seventh tones of the Eb major scale which are Eb and D:

    …respectively.

    Stacking these intervals will produce the Eb major seventh chord:

    Attention: Intervals are the building blocks of chords. You will do well to learn more about intervals if you want to have a deeper understanding of chords (aka – “harmonic structures”). If you are interested in learning all about intervals, click here.

    Let’s take our knowledge of chord formation a step further by looking at mutual intervals.

    [Bonus Approach]: Use of Mutual Intervals in the Chord Formation of the Major Seventh Chord

    In this segment, we’ll be breaking the major seventh chord into mutual intervals. If you call this an advanced interval approach, so be it.

    The major seventh chord can be broken down into two perfect fifth intervals. For example, the C major seventh chord can be broken into two perfect fifth intervals. Check them out below:

    C-G:

    …and E B:

    The placement of these perfect fifth intervals side by side (aka – “juxtaposition”) would produce the major seventh interval.

    Owing to the fact that these mutual intervals are identical (two perfect fifth intervals), your understanding of the perfect fifth interval in all the keys will help you through the chord formation of the major seventh chord.

    For reference purpose, here are all perfect fifth intervals:

    C:

    Db:

    D:

    Here are the remainder of them…


    Eb:

    E:

    F:

    Gb:

    G:

    Ab:

    A:

    Bb:

    B:

    “Here’s How to Juxtapose Two Perfect Fifth Intervals To Produce A Major Seventh Chord”

    Step 1Choose the note you want to form the major seventh chord on.
    Step 2Determine the first and third tones of the major scale of that key.
    Step 3Form the perfect fifth interval both on the first and third tones (your answer to step 2).
    Step 4Juxtapose the intervals derived in one octave.

    If you can follow steps 1 to 4 above, you can form the major seventh chord using this method.

    Step 1 – Choose the note you want to form the major seventh chord on.

    Our choice is C:

    Step 2 – Determine the first and third tones of the major scale of that key.

    The first and third tones of the C major scale are C and E:

    Step 3 – Form the perfect fifth interval both on the first and third tones.

    Formation of perfect fifth intervals on the notes we derived in step 2.

    We derived C and E. Check out the perfect fifth intervals on the keys of C and E:

    C-G:

    E-B:

    Step 4 – Juxtapose the intervals derived in one octave.

    The intervals C-G:

    and E-B:

    …are the perfect fifth intervals derived in step 3.

    If we place them side by side within the compass of an octave, here’s the outcome:

    C-G:

    …plus E-B:

    …equals C-E-G-B:

    If you follow the same procedure, you can reproduce the major seventh chord in all keys.

    Final Words

    I’m pretty sure that all what we explored in this post has presented the major seventh chord to you in another light.

    I’m also sure that you can define, breakdown (or analyze with intervals), and form the major seventh chord using all the approaches we covered.

    Chord Of The Day Quiz

    Who knows what chord the G major seventh chord will produce over A on the bass?

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Richard Blocher

    G-B-D-F# OVER A : A13 CHORD.

    Reply

    2 Rona

    Wouldn’t this be a G9 chord?

    Reply

    3 Richard Blocher

    Dearest Rona,

    You are so right, I apologies. It is a Gmaj9. Thank you for making me slow down.

    Respectfully, Rick Blocher in Pennsylvania

    Reply

    4 Alan Purvis

    In terms of the 13 chord construction then play the root in the left hand.
    In the right hand play the Maj7 based on the b7 of the key.
    So for example we have C in left hand as a bass
    The dominant 7th of C is Bb
    So add Bb Maj7 constructed from the b7, 9 , 11 and 13 of the root
    this gives us for the RH Bb, D, F and A
    C13 = C Bb D F A
    This also is equivalent to paying the Root and the dominant 7th in the lede have and placing a minor trip on the second tone of the C Major scale.
    This gives left hand C Bb, right hand D F A
    Note these are 2 ways of seeing the 13th chord. Both omit the 3 and 5 which can be added pattern to the left hand accompaniment

    Reply

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