How to Identify Seventh Chords

Seventh chords add a special charm to piano music that can really elevate any composition, yet they may be challenging to maintain due to their variety.

Beginners would do well to learn the identification of seventh chords by their analysis symbols, as outlined in the Intervals chapter. This method follows a similar path as that used for triads.


A seventh chord begins at its root note. Like triads, seventh chords consist of three notes connected by either third, fifth or seventh intervals which then are added on top to form its chord form. Depending on which quality seventh interval you use for this seventh chord chord type will depend upon its use.

For instance, the dominant seventh chord can be created by adding a major seventh (7 half steps) above its root note of C and adding an augmented fifth (7 half steps). Meanwhile, another type of seventh chord that adds tension is the diminished seventh; this one involves taking a diminished triad and adding a minor seventh (9 semitones). On C this would produce notes C-Eb-Gb-Bbb.

To identify a seventh chord, visualize its root major key signature and write down any accidentals that apply (for instance if E or G would otherwise be sharp, they are both flattened). On closed staff this sounds similar to an extra long snowman – bottom, two middles and head all coming together as one unit.


Add a seventh above the root of a triad, and you have created a seventh chord – its name stemming from its namesake interval of seven between root and bass notes. There are five varieties of seventh chords.

When creating seventh chords, it’s essential to keep in mind that all pitch classes belong to a four-pitch-class cluster arranged as thirds. A seventh chord contains four notes known as its root, third, fifth and seventh notes – these notes form its triad structure.

When identifying seventh chords on staff, start by writing their roots on the bottom line of the staff and drawing an extra-long snowperson above it. Draw major triads and major sevenths above it while considering key signatures of that triad’s root note as you draw them above it; add accidentals as needed according to key signature; identify its quality through Roman numeral identification – for instance m7 for major triad and major seventh and dm7 for minor triad and diminished sevenths.


Seventh chords can be distinguished from triads by both their root and quality notes, which can also be stacked into thirds (like snowmen).

Add a seventh interval above the root to create a major seventh chord; or lower third and seventh chords by one semitone in a minor triad to form half diminished seventh chords.

A diminished seventh chord can be extremely dissonant and requires careful resolution to avoid sounding “tense.” To identify it, start by considering its major key signature and imagine how many sharps or flats it would contain within that key.

There are nine qualities of seventh chords, although many are rarely employed in Western music. The dominant seven chord, or V7, is by far the most frequently utilized chord quality; to identify it look for V in its major key signature and an extra flat or sharp above its root to mark it as dominant seven.


Seventh chords are an indispensable element of music and create intricate harmonic landscapes. However, as they contain four notes instead of just three notes as their foundation, seventh chords can often be dissonant and difficult to voice-lead effectively.

To identify a seventh chord, sketch its root note on a staff, adding notes a third, fifth and seventh higher up (like an extra-long snowperson). If using closed spacing, include any major key signature notes applicable to its roots as part of your chord’s identification.

Some theorists employ a system in which chord quality can be identified by writing its analysis symbol on its root along with the letter name of each triad and seventh quality on its chord root. While this approach can help beginners learn how to spell seventh chords consistently, it is an inefficient and time-consuming way of learning them; for a quicker solution try practicing building and spelling out different qualities of seventh chords until they become part of your regular playing practice routine.