Once you have mastered basic chords, seventh chords provide a quick way to add texture and variety to your progressions. Based on triad structures but featuring an additional seventh tone added on top, these chords bring something altogether new to the table!
There are two primary methods for creating chords. We’ll first look at how movable shapes can help form these chords on the fretboard.
Major seventh chords are composed of a major triad plus the addition of the 7th interval above it, making them very prevalent on guitar and often heard in popular songs such as Eagles’ “One of these Nights” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”.
Mellow sevenths tend to sound more melancholic than their dominant seventh counterparts and can even be heard in Jazz music. Learning these chords is an excellent way to expand your repertoire of open shapes.
These chords can also be moved around freely to produce different inversions; see diagrams above for some commonly-used major seven chord shapes.
Add extra notes to major seventh chords to add variety and spice to your playing. The following diagram shows how adding ninth, eleventh and thirteenth intervals gives rise to three distinctive major seventh chords: Maj9 chord, Maj7add11 chord and Maj7#5 chord.
Once you are proficient at playing major and minor barre chords, the next step should be exploring minor seventh chords – another class of chords which add an extra color by including an added flat 7th interval in their structure.
Minor seventh chords are built just like minor triads, but add an emotional depth that works beautifully in certain songs. To play one, take any minor triad and lower its third and seventh tones by one half step each before adding in the seventh note as needed.
This chord type can be difficult to construct due to its limited availability on the fretboard – only about three open minor seventh shapes exist – yet when found it can make for an intriguing addition to your chord vocabulary. A half diminished chord is actually a special form of triad which is created by stacking two minor triads upon one another and stacking.
Dominant seventh chords can create an air of tension within a song. Not quite major (which has brighter tones) nor minor (with darker, foreboding overtones), dominant sevenths are an amalgam of both and can add great drama and emotion.
Dominant seventh chords are widely employed in blues music. If you’ve heard any songs by John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters, chances are they used dominant seventh chords in their compositions.
To play this chord, the fourth finger must be used on the G string, fret three. All other fingers should then be spread between E and A strings with your thumb resting over D string to palm-mute it.
This chord is easy to form as it simply requires inverting D major shape. Once you gain experience playing it, however, it makes for a valuable addition to any blues chord repertoire – be sure to practice with palm muted strumming for optimal sound!
Half Diminished Seventh
The half diminished seventh chord is essentially a regular diminished chord with an extra minor 7th added on top. This chord can add extra tension and emotion to your progressions.
As is true with all diminished chords, spending time playing and practicing them will allow you to understand when they work and when they don’t. Once you understand their shapes on all sets of strings, move onto practicing moving them around on the fretboard.
Dim7 chords can be found throughout both major and minor scale music, so to start learning them it would be useful to search your favourite songs for any that use diminished chords; also try looking up chord progressions to see which diminished chords may be included; by doing this you will slowly build your repertoire and eventually discover your own uses for these chords.