How to Use Seventh Chords to Enhance Your Music

how to use seventh chords

Seventh chords can help add warmth, security, or tension to your progressions – and here are five types you can use to enrich your music.

Seventh chords are four-note chords constructed by adding a seventh interval from their root triads. Each has its own distinctive sound that musicians use to convey emotion through songs.

Major Seventh

The major seventh chord is an integral component of modern music, often used in love songs to add warmth. You’ll often hear this chord featured prominently in jazz arrangements; for instance, you might hear it in Wayne Shorter’s song Fall.

“7th chord” refers to any quality of seventh chord; most commonly though it refers to major seventh chords without their signature bottom note containing an E7th, for instance [R – 3 – 5 – 6].

Major 7th chords can be found in most modern chord progressions and offer depth and richness to accompaniments. You can also find them frequently used in jazz and classical music – Thelonius Monk wrote many major seventh chords into his songs! Also referred to as 7alt chords, these major seventh chords can be constructed by stacking major thirds over dominant sevenths; giving them their distinct sound.

Minor Seventh

Minor seventh chords offer an innovative way to add flair and variety to your progressions. Created by adding a minor seventh interval above the root of an augmented triad, for instance adding one in C major would yield Caug7; these chords can often serve as replacements for dominant sevenths; in sheet music this term is usually written out as C7(#5).

Another variation of minor seventh chord is an augmented sixth, constructed by adding an augmented sixth interval above the root of a diminished triad, such as playing B minor as Abm7. Augmented sixths are often used in jazz pieces to add tension or drama; they provide an interesting alternative to regular minor and major chords; you may hear such progressions such as Georgia On My Mind featuring this chord type.

Dominant Seventh

The dominant seventh chord is one of the most useful seventh chords because it produces tension that must be resolved by cadence back to tonic. Understanding its characteristics when composing music gives your work a genuine sound; to easily convert major triads to dominant sevenths just move down their lowest note by one step as shown in Ex. 3.

Another type of dominant seventh chord that’s often used is one with an additional minor third above a major triad, written as [R – 3 – 5 – b7] or C-E-G-Bb. This chord adds a floating sense of ambiguity to your music, something Wayne Shorter masterfully does by creating tension and resolution through harmonic movement. Plus, this one stands out because of its distinctive sound thanks to including diminished 7ths!

Half-Diminished Seventh

The half-diminished seventh chord is an intriguing chord to have in your harmonic toolkit. With its dramatic tone and its ability to add tension, you’ll often hear this chord featured in Blues, Jazz and R&B music as well as in your progressions; many rock songs feature it too! Also referred to as Jimmy Hendrix chord.

The half-diminished seventh chord consists of a major root, minor third and flat fifth as with other seventh chords; you may see this chord written as either m7b5 or O. Like its diminished counterpart, this chord can be difficult to remember due to all of its forms; however, once learned individually and understood its construction it will become much simpler to remember. Practice is key when learning seventh chords!