• Who Else Wants To Know What Seventh Chords Are?

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    In today’s lesson, we’ll be learning about seventh chords.

    Seventh chords are important in music because although they are bigger than triads, they are not extended chords (with bigger widths) that are considered to be harmonically advanced. They are just in between the world of triads and extended chords.

    We’ll also deal with the voicing of seventh chords, but before we get into all that, let’s take some time to do a review on chords.

    The Definition Of A Chord

    There are so many definitions of a chord out there, which may vary from the simplest to the most complex. However, here is a simple definition of a chord:

    A chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not) that can be played (or heard) together or separately.

    This definition highlights all the essential keywords in the definition of a chord, let’s go ahead and expound on them.

    Let’s start by taking a look at the part that says, ‘three or more.’ It takes three or more notes to form a chord. A chord of three notes is called a triad while a chord of four notes is usually a seventh chord (we’ll talk more about this later.)

    The next keyword in the definition of a chord is relationship. A chord is a collection of related notes. Inasmuch as three notes can form a chord, the combination of any three notes on the keyboard cannot form a chord, unless there’s a relationship between them.

    There are two types of relationship that can exist between the notes of a chord:

    • #1 – Scale relationship
    • #2 – Intervallic relationship

    Scale Relationship. The notes of a chord must be related by a given scale. For example, the notes of the C major triad which are C, E, and G:

    …are related by the C major scale:

    A closer look at the C major scale:

    …and C major triad:

    …would show you that the C major triad:

    …consists of the first (C), third (E), and fifth (G) tones:

    …of the C major scale:

    Intervallic Relationship. The notes of a chord must have an intervallic relationship. This simply means that there must be a fixed distance between the notes of any given chord.

    Following traditional principles of chord formation, the interval between chord tones is usually third intervals – major and minor thirds. This explains why the C major triad:

    …consists of C, E, and G.

    From C:

    …to E:

    …is a third.

    From C-E:

    …to G:

    …is another third.

    There is another keyword in the definition of a chord that says, agreeable or not and its means that when a chord is played, the outcome of the combination of [its three or more] notes can either sound pleasant or unpleasant.

    Music scholars use the word concord and discord to describe chords that are pleasant and unpleasant respectively.

    There’s another keyword there that says, played or heard together or separately. The notes of a chord is usually played (or heard) together because the root of the word chord comes from the old English word ‘accord’ which means together.

    However the notes of a chord can be broken up especially when broken chords or arpeggios are played.

    With the review we’ve done so far, I believe we can now go into our subject in today’s lesson – seventh chords.

    “What Is A Seventh Chord?”

    There are two words in the term seventh chord.

    The word seventh is used to quantify any idea in music (be it an interval or a chord) that encompasses seven degrees of a scale, while the word chord according to what we covered in the first segment is a collection of three or more related notes.

    Altogether, a seventh chord is a chord that encompasses seven degrees of the scale. For example, using an intervallic relationship in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“), we can stack the notes of the C major scale:

    …in thirds, and here’s how it works…

    A third from C:

    …is E:

    A third from C-E:

    …is G:

    Another third from C-E-G:

    …is B:

    Altogether, C-E-G-B:

    …is a chord.

    Due to the fact that this chord encompasses seven degrees of the C major scale:

    …from C to B:

    …it is called the C major seventh chord. Like I said earlier, seventh chords are basically chords that encompass seven tones of any given scale.

    Unlike triads where we have the fantastic four – the major, the minor, the diminished and augmented triads, there are several qualities of seventh chords and we’ll be looking at them in the next segment.

    Five Common Qualities Of Seventh Chords

    Now there are several qualities of seventh chords, however five are commonly used. Check them out…

    The chord qualities listed above are five out of the several and mastering five of them will give you 60 chords in all twelve keys. (12 keys x 5 chord qualities = 60 seventh chords.)

    “Let’s take a look at these chord qualities…”

    The Major Seventh Chord

    The major seventh chord is formed by the scale relationship of the major scale in intervals of thirds, and here’s how it works…

    Using any given major scale (like the C major scale):

    …and stacking notes in thirds from C:

    …to E:

    …to G:

    …to B:

    …produces the major seventh chord:

    “Here are major seventh chords in all twelve keys…”

    C major seventh:

    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:

    The Minor Seventh Chord

    The minor seventh chord is a product of the scale relationship between the notes of the minor scale in interval of thirds.

    Using the C minor scale:

    …here’s how the C minor seventh chord is produced…

    A third from C:

    …is Eb:

    …another third is G:

    …a third from G:

    …is Bb:

    So put together, C Eb G Bb:

    …is the C minor seventh chord.

    Here are the minor seventh chord in all twelve keys for your reference…

    C minor seventh:

    C#minor seventh:

    D minor seventh:

    Eb minor seventh:

    E minor seventh:

    F minor seventh:

    F# minor seventh:

    G minor seventh:

    G# minor seventh:

    A minor seventh:

    Bb minor seventh:

    B minor seventh:

    A Short Note On The Voicing Of Seventh Chords

    Voicing is the consideration of notes as voices or voice parts. If you’ve been in church for sometime, then it’s likely that you must have heard of the following voice parts:

    • Soprano
    • Alto
    • Tenor
    • Bass

    ….which are the four voices in choral music.

    The consideration of the tones of the seventh chord as voices is called voicing. In the voicing of seventh chords, usually the four notes (aka – “voices”) are distributed between the four voice parts.

    For example in the C major seventh chord:


    …is the bass,


    …is the tenor,


    …is the alto,

    …and B:

    …is the soprano.

    Attention: Seventh chords are more advanced than triads. Although they can be inverted, voicing them makes them sound a lot better.

    There are various voicing technique of seventh chords and we’ve covered quite a number of them in the past, ranging from the A & B voicing technique, to the part-over-root voicing technique, to the rootless voicing technique and so on.

    “Check them out…”

    The A & B Voicing Of The C Major Seventh Chord

    In the A voicing:

    …the third tone (E):

    …is played before the seventh tone (B):

    …while in the B voicing:

    …the seventh tone (B):

    …is played before the third tone (E):

    The Part-Over-Root Voicing Of The C Minor Seventh Chord

    In the part-over-root voicing technique, the root of the chord is isolated from the rest of the chord. In the C minor seventh chord:

    …isolating the root (C):

    …from the rest of the chord tones produces an Eb major triad:

    …over C:

    …on the bass, the part-over-voicing of the C minor seventh chord:

    The Rootless Voicing Of The C Dominant Seventh Chord

    In the rootless voicing technique, the seventh chord is played with its root omitted. Omitting the root of the C dominant seventh chord (C):

    …produces the E diminished triad:

    …which is the rootless voicing of the C dominant seventh chord.

    The Drop-2 Voicing Of The C Major Seventh Chord

    In the drop-2 voicing technique, the second voice in the chord is played an octave lower. In the C major seventh chord:

    …where first, second, third, and fourth voices are B, G, E, and C respectively, playing the second voice (G):

    …an octave lower produces the drop-2 voicing of the C major seventh chord.

    Final Words

    Seventh chords are used in a variety of music styles in classical and pop music, Seventh chords are important in music, and I’m glad that we’ve covered five of these seventh chord qualities in this lesson. Feel free to check out this lesson on what 60 percent of five common seventh chord qualities have in common.

    Until I come your way again…I wish you all the best and thanks for investing your time in this blog.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku 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.

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