• Mutual Fifth Intervals: A Fresh Approach To Major Seventh Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    Today’s post offers you a fresh perspective to the major seventh chord.

    I’m talking about the consideration of the major seventh chord as a combination of  mutual intervals. Right before we get into all that, let’s take some time to do a quick review on the major seventh chord (I don’t want to assume that everyone is familiar with it.)

    A Quick Review On The Major Seventh Chord

    The major seventh chord can be broken down into three terms:

    • Major
    • Seventh
    • Chord

    If you need a bird eye-view on the major seventh chord, then you must understand what each of these terms mean, starting from the term “chord.”

    Explanation Of The Term “Chord”

    The definition of a chord can vary from the simplest to the most complex. Believe it or not, all of them are basically saying the same thing. Here’s a very simple definition of a chord you can always remember:

    A chord is a combination [or a collection] of three or more related notes played or heard together.

    – Jermaine Griggs (2008)

    Due to time constraint, we’ll not delve into the relationship between the notes that form a chord, but suffice it to say that the two factors that relate the notes of a chord are [underlying] scale and [class of] harmony.

    The major seventh chord consists of a collection of notes that are related by scale and harmony. The scale of the major seventh chord is the major scale, while the harmony of the major seventh chord is based in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“.)

    Explanation Of The Term “Major”

    There are basically two musical qualities – major and minor. These qualities are products of two key types (aka – “tonalities”) – the major and the minor keys.

    The term major here refers to the quality of the major seventh chord that it inherits from the major scale, which is the traditional scale of the major key.

    Explanation Of The Term “Seventh”

    The major seventh chord which is formed from the major scale in thirds, encompasses seven degrees of the major scale.

    In the case of the C major scale:

    …the major seventh chord encompasses seven degrees, from C to B:

    …in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“.)

    Check it out…

    C to E:

    …a third, C-E to G:

    …another third, C-E-G to B:

    …another third.

    Altogether, C-E-G-B:

    …is a major seventh chord. Here’s a transposition of the C major seventh chord:

    …to other keys…

    Db major seventh:

    D major seventh:

    Eb major seventh:

    E major seventh:

    F major seventh:

    Gb major seventh:

    G major seventh:

    Ab major seventh:

    A major seventh:

    Bb major seventh:

    B major seventh:

    Yeah! Those are major seventh chords transposed to all twelve keys. To prepare you for the exciting perspective to the major seventh chord is the perfect fifth interval.

    “What Is A Perfect Fifth Interval?”

    A perfect fifth interval is the relationship between the first and the fifth tones of the major scale. Using the major scale of any key that you are familiar with, the C major scale for example:

    …the perfect fifth is between C and G:

    If transposed to all twelve keys we’d have…

    Perfect fifth on C:

    Perfect fifth on Db:

    Perfect fifth on D:

    Perfect fifth on Eb:

    Perfect fifth on E:

    Perfect fifth on F

    Perfect fifth on Gb:

    Perfect fifth on G:

    Perfect fifth on Ab:

    Perfect fifth on A:

    Perfect fifth on Bb:

    Perfect fifth on B:

    Having reviewed the perfect fifth interval in all twelve keys, here’s something about the major seventh chord that probably might have escaped your notice – mutual perfect fifth intervals.

    Mutual Perfect Fifth Intervals

    A closer look at the C major seventh chord:

    …reveals two mutual intervals – the perfect fifth in the key of C:

    …and the perfect fifth in the key of E:

    This perspective gives us the room to voice the major seventh chord as mutual perfect fifth intervals.

    Check it out:

    The voicing of the C major seventh chord above is formed by playing a perfect fifth interval in the key of C:

    ….on the left hand and a perfect fifth interval in the key of E:

    …on the right hand.

    Here’s an intervallic analysis of this voicing:

    …of the C major seventh chord…

    The root and fifth tones are played on the left hand

    The third and seventh tones (aka – “the  skeleton“) are played on the right hand.

    Attention: The third and seventh tones of a chord are called its skeleton because they outline the quality of the chord.

    In a nutshell, the skeleton of the C major seventh chord on the right hand is played over its root and fifth on the left hand – two mutual perfect fifth intervals coming together to give you the C major seventh chord.

    Once again, let’s transpose this voicing of the major seventh chord to all the keys…

    The C major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on C:

    …and a perfect fifth on E:

    The Db major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on Db:

    …and a perfect fifth on F:

    The D major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on D:

    …and a perfect fifth on F#:

    The Eb major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on Eb:

    …and a perfect fifth on G:

    The E major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on E:

    …and a perfect fifth on G#:

    The F major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on F:

    …and a perfect fifth on A:

    The Gb major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on Gb:

    …and a perfect fifth on Bb:

    The G major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on G:

    …and a perfect fifth on B:

    The Ab major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on Ab:

    …and a perfect fifth on C:

    The A major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on A:

    …and a perfect fifth on C#:

    The Bb major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on Bb:

    …and a perfect fifth on D:

    The B major seventh:

    …which consist of a perfect fifth on B:

    …and a perfect fifth on D#:

    Final Words

    Our goal in this post was to dissect the major seventh chord into mutual perfect fifth intervals and I’m happy you made it to the end of this lesson.

    “Here’s One More Thing…”

    In addition to breaking up the notes of the major seventh chord into these mutual intervals, you can reinforce the sound of this voicing by playing the perfect fifth intervals in octave position.

    “Here’s how to go about that…”

    The C major seventh chord can be broken down into C-G:

    …and E-B:

    …which are all perfect fifth intervals.

    To reinforce this voicing of the major seventh chord:

    …feel free to play the perfect fifth intervals (C-G and E-B) in octave position. This is as simple as duplicating the bass note of each interval.

    C-G:

    …becomes C-G-C:

    …while E-B:

    …becomes E-B-E:

    If you put both perfect fifth intervals played in octave position together, here’s the product:

    …a C major seventh chord.

    I’m so privileged to share this with you and I want to thank you for investing time in learning another exciting and effective way of voicing the major seventh chord. I’ll be exposing how you can use this voicing approach to play the 2-5-1 chord progression in another post.

    See you then!

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

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




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