Seventh chords are an indispensable element of songwriting. Their distinctive sound adds tension to progressions and helps build drama.
A seventh chord is a regular chord with an additional note added either 11 semitones (maj7) or 10 semitones (min7) above its root note to create its unique sound.
Major chords are the easiest chords to learn and they form the basis of more advanced ones. For instance, adding a major seventh to a minor triad adds drama and tension; you could even use such chords in progressions for darker sounds.
As you explore basic chords, attempt to match them up with scales so they work well together. An effective method for doing so is looking at one chord and trying out which scale it falls under; once this has been established, play one scale over it!
After some practice, these chords will become simple to transition between and you’ll quickly discover creative ways of using them in songs – for example by muted the outer strings with underside of index finger and tip of thumb for creating bass note that adds new dimensions to chord.
Minor chords create a somber or serious sound. They’re often used to contrast with major chords in a progression and create some of the most iconic classical pieces – Fur Elise by Beethoven and Prelude in C minor by Rachmaninoff being two examples – while often serving as transitions between major keys in an arrangement.
To create a minor chord, simply reduce the middle note by one half step – one fret lower on your fingerboard – for example A minor is formed of notes A – C and E. To form a minor seventh chord add one major sixth interval above it; so for example a C minor seventh would contain notes C-E-G.
Create an extension chord by taking a regular triad and adding either a ninth, eleventh or thirteenth note – creating something completely unique from its basic version and ideal for jazz, neo-soul and blues guitar styles.
A dominant seventh chord adds another note to a major triad by including its 7th interval above it, creating a rich sounding progression in many genres of music such as blues and rock.
Note: Musical notation standardizes chord names according to their type of triad and seventh interval; however, for dominant or minor seventh chords this information can often be left off when writing out chord names for easy reading.
There are two movable shapes for dominant seventh chords that you can play using your thumb on the lowest string (see diagram below). Additionally, an open shape may also work, though this requires playing all strings simultaneously. An excellent way to practice playing these chords with an open shape is with songs like The Beatles’ Tin Man; this will exercise both your thumb and rhythm!
Once you’ve mastered barre chords and the major and minor sevenths, it is time to expand your knowledge with open chords. Open chords allow more strings to be fretted at once and can give your music a unique sound.
To create an open chord with your left hand, fret all six strings simultaneously with your fretting fingers. Chord diagrams with black dots on the fretboard indicate which strings are being played and which finger(s) is responsible for fretting them; 1 indicates index finger, 2 middle finger, 3 ring finger and 4 pinky.
G major is one of the most frequently played open chords. B major, which can be fingered using your third, second and fourth fingers (21ooo3) is another popular form. Practice playing this chord when transitioning between regular chords for an easy changeover experience.