• A Lesson On Two Unstable Major Seventh Chords And How They Can Be Used In The Formation Of Dominant Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Jazz music,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, we’ll be taking a look at two unstable major seventh chords and how they can be used in the formation of dominant chords.

    Dominant chords are chords of the fifth degree of the scale and are next in importance to the chord of the first degree, which is known to music scholars as the tonic chord.

    Secondly, dominant chords enhance the features of the concept of tonality, which is the establishment of a particular tone as the tonal center or key center or what musicians regularly call ‘key’.

    Believe it or not, most songs end on the chord of the first degree (the tonic chord), and this is usually preceded by the chord of the fifth degree (aka – “the dominant chord”.

    In this lesson, we’ll be learning how to form dominant chords with unstable major seventh chords. But before we go into all of that, let’s do a review on seventh chords.

    “What Is A Seventh Chord?”

    A seventh chord is basically a chord that encompasses seven degrees of the scale. Pursuant to traditional principles of chord formation, a chord is formed by the relationship of the notes of a scale in third intervals (aka – “tertian harmony“.)

    When chords are formed by stacking thirds together, this produces the tertian harmony and here’s how it works…

    We’ll be using the C major scale:

    …which is a traditional scale of the key of C major.

    Starting from C:

    …which is the tonic or the first degree, we can form the seventh chord by stacking notes in thirds.

    A third from C:

    …is E:

    A third from C-E:

    …is G:

    A third from C-E-G:

    …is B:

    So all together, C-E-G-B:

    …is a seventh chord because it encompasses seven degrees of the C major scale:

    From C to B:

    Now depending on the scale you are using, you can also come up with a variety of seventh chords – minor seventh, dominant seventh, diminished seventh, half-diminished seventh and so on.

    To take you a step further into today’s lesson, let’s take a look at unstable major seventh chords.

    Unstable Major Seventh Chords

    The major seventh chord is a chord formed by a relationship between the first, third, fifth, and seventh tones of the C natural major scale.

    Submission: I’m aware that there are other scales [and modes] that can produce the major seventh chord, however, we are sticking to the natural major scale for the sake of simplicity.

    The C major seventh chord:

    …consists of the following intervals…


    …the major third.


    …the perfect fifth.


    …the major seventh.

    So all together, the major seventh chord can be broken down to three intervallic constituents…

    The major third:

    …the perfect fifth:

    …and the major seventh.

    Two of these intervallic constituents (the major third and major seventh), contributes to the major quality of the major seventh chord. While the perfect fifth interval contributes to the stability of the chord.

    As it were, the major seventh chord is a stable chord because of the perfect fifth interval that is musically, scientifically and acoustically stable.

    However, you can make the major seventh chord to be unstable by raising or lowering the fifth interval. Raising or lowering a perfect fifth interval, produces augmented and diminished intervals respectively, which are considered to be dissonant and harsh.

    “That’s The Idea”

    Our goal is to make the major seventh chord unstable, dissonant, and harsh, so that it can have the tendency to resolve to a stable chord. The easiest way to achieve this is by substituting the perfect fifth interval with other dissonant fifth intervals like the augmented and diminished fifth intervals.

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …raising the fifth tone (G):

    …by a half step (to G#):

    …produces the Cmaj7#5 (aka – “C augmented major seventh“):

    …which is an unstable variant of the major seventh chord.

    Conversely, lowering the fifth interval by a half step:

    …produces the Cmaj7b5 chord:

    Altogether, there are two variants of unstable major seventh chords…

    The maj7#5:

    …and the maj7b5:

    Time will fail me to go into the scales that can produce these chords (aka – “underlying scales”) and that’s because our focus in this lesson is on the formation of dominant chords using these unstable major seventh chords.

    The Formation Of Dominant Chords Using Unstable Major Seventh Chords

    In addition to what we learned in the beginning of this lesson, I’ll want to say that dominant chords are a dissonant class of chords. The term dissonant is used to describe a disagreeable combination of notes that sounds harsh and unpleasant.

    For instance, on the fifth degree of the C major scale:

    …which is its dominant (G):
    …the formation of a seventh chord in thirds using the C major scale:

    …produces a G dominant chord:

    A third from G:

    …is B:

    A third from G-B:

    …is D:

    A third from G-B-D:

    …is F:

    So G-B-D-F:

    …is the G dominant seventh chord, which encompasses seven degrees of the C major scale:

    …from G:

    …to F:

    What makes this seventh chord dissonant is the interval between the third (B):

    …and the seventh tone (F):

    …which is a diminished fifth.

    The beauty of dominant seventh chords lies in their dissonance, which makes them sound tensed up, harsh, and have a tendency to resolve to stable chords like the major and minor chords.

    We’ll be using the two unstable major seventh chords we covered in the last segment…

    • The maj7#5
    • The maj7b5

    …respectively, to form dominant chords.

    Using The Maj7#5 In The Formation Of Dominant Chords

    The maj7#5:

    …is basically a major seventh chord with an augmented fifth interval and it is also known as the augmented fifth interval.

    Given a C major seventh chord:

    …raising it fifth:

    …by a half step (to G#):

    …produces the maj7#5 chord:

    …which is also known as the augmented major seventh chord. The augmented major seventh chord can be used to form dominant chords, and here’s how it works…

    All you need to do is to consider the root of the major seventh chord as the seventh tone of the dominant chord you want to form.

    So if you want to form a dominant chord using the Cmaj7#5 chord:

    …one question you should ask yourself is “what note is a minor seventh below C?”

    The answer is D.

    A minor seventh below C:

    …is D:

    Consequently, playing a Cmaj7#5 chord:

    …over D in the bass:

    …produces a dominant chord.

    “Here’s another easier way…”

    You can also form a dominant chord using a maj7#5 chord by playing a bass note that is a whole step higher than the root note of the given maj7#5 chord.

    Take note that the root note of the C maj7#5 is C, and a whole step above C:

    …is D:

    So D:

    …over C maj7#5:

    …produces the D dom13[#11]:

    with an omitted third tone.

    Let’s go ahead and apply one of the left hand techniques we’ve covered in the past on the use of tenths and sevenths.

    A major tenth form D:

    …is F#:

    You have the option of playing D-F# either as a tenth:

    …or as a third:

    …whichever way you consider most suitable.

    Therefore, with D-F#:

    …or D-F#:

    …on the left hand, and the C maj7#5:

    …on the right hand, you’ll have the Ddom13[#11] chord:

    So the dom13[#11] chord:

    …is one of the dominant chords that can be formed using the maj7#5 chord:

    Let’s take another approach to the formation of the dom13[#11] chord using the maj7#5 chord.

    Choose a note which (let’s say A):

    …make it a third:

    …or a tenth:

    …depending on what you want to play, and then go down a whole step to form a maj7#5.

    A whole step below A:

    …is G:

    So Gmaj7#5:

    …over A major tenth (or major third) on the bass:

    …produces the Adom13[#11]:

    Using The Maj7b5 In The Formation Of Dominant Chords

    Following the same principle we’ve covered earlier, you can form a dominant seventh chord with the maj7b5 chord by going down a minor seventh.

    A minor seventh below C:

    …is D:

    So C maj7b5:

    …over D:

    …on the bass produces the Ddom13[add9] chord:

    Here’s an alternate approach to the formation of the Dom13[add9] chord…

    Choosing a root, for example G:

    …and going down a whole step to F:

    …to form a major seventh flat five chord:

    Altogether, the Fmaj7b5:

    …over G:

    …on the bass produces the Gdom13[add9] chord:

    Submission: I’m aware that the third tone of your G dominant chord is B:

    …and not Cb:

    Following the same procedure, anybody can form a dom9[add13] chord in all twelve keys

    Final Words

    Although there are a variety of chords you can form with these two unstable major seventh chords, we’ll be focusing on these two in this lesson. In subsequent lessons, I’ll be showing you other chords that you can form with unstable major seventh chords.

    Until then, for you reference, here are the dom13[#11] chords and the dom13[add9] chords in all twelve keys…

    Dom13[#11] Chords In All Twelve Keys

    C dom13[#11]:

    C# dom13[#11]:

    D dom13[#11]:

    Eb dom13[#11]:

    E dom13[#11]:

    F dom13[#11]:

    F# dom13[#11]:

    G dom13[#11]:

    Ab dom13[#11]:

    A dom13[#11]:

    Bb dom13[#11]:

    B dom13[#11]:

    Dom13[add9] Chords In All Twelve Keys

    C dom13[add9]:

    C# dom13[add9]:

    D dom13[add9]:

    Eb dom13[add9]:

    E dom13[add9]:

    F dom13[add9]:

    F# dom13[add9]:

    G dom13[add9]:

    Ab dom13[add9]:

    A dom13[add9]:

    Bb dom13[add9]:

    B dom13[add9]:

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Chidi

    Very good post.
    However, I have these to say.
    1. The maj7b5 over a whole note above it’s root as the bass note produces a 9add6 chord. For e.g. Cmaj7b5/D gives DF#ACEB which is D9/6 a.k.a D9add6 [which can be a voicing for D13, omitting the 11th because of the m2 interval it makes with the 3.]

    I would love to know what prompted your choice of name as a dom13add9 instead of a dom9add6 or dom9add13.

    2. I have always known that a maj7b5 over the note a major 3rd below it’s roots gives a 7#5#9 of the bass note and when over a note a minor 3rd below its root, it gives a min6/9. For e.g. Cmaj7b5/Ab gives Ab7#5#9 as AbCEGbB and Cmaj7b5/A gives Amin6/9 as ACEF#B.
    Now, I get to add the knowledge gained from your post.

    Thank you sir.


    2 Casey D

    Could you tell me why many other websites are claiming the Dominant C 7 chord to be C,E,G,Bb and not C,E,G,B like you explained? Thank you for taking the time to hopefully respond to my question. I am in the process of learning music theory and I do not understand much at this point.


    3 Casey D

    Nevermind, I think I understand now after reading more.


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