Seventh Chords Explained

seventh chords explained

Seventh chords add tension and color to any chord progression, easily identifiable by their combination of an underlying triad with an added seventh interval.

Each note in a seventh chord has an interval relationship to its root note, which ultimately determines its quality. There are six categories of seventh chords based on which triads they contain.

Major Seventh

Seventh chords are by definition dissonant and can add tension or emotion to a bassline. There are numerous varieties of seventh chords; major, minor and dominant are among them.

Locating the roots of a seventh chord on the staff is the first step to understanding its quality. Once identified, examine its key signature for any accidentals which apply to its triad or seventh interval; for example a C major seventh includes F# and G notes as part of its interval (see the note interval table above).

Next, count the half-tones (or semitones) between each root note and each note in the triad and seventh intervals – this gives an indication of the chord’s quality. Chords built using scale degrees 1, 2, 3 or 5 are major chords while those constructed on 6/8 scale degrees are minor; chords composed using scale degrees 11-16 rarely occur as their dissonant seventh would undermine tonic triad stability.

Minor Seventh

Minor seventh chords can add tension and enhance emotionality in songs, as well as being excellent choices to include when performing harmonic minor scales.

Just like its larger cousin, the minor seventh chord consists of two triads connected by a seventh interval. It can create a melancholic sound and works especially well in harmonic minor scales.

It has a distinctive sound and was made famous by Bernard Hermann in Psycho. Additionally, it’s frequently used in jazz music.

Like its major counterpart, minor seventh chords do not follow any set pattern when identified in open spacing. They can usually be recognized by writing min7 after their tonic note or using lowercase “m” with number 7. They consist of a diminished triad at their core with an optional minor seventh interval placed atop, often known as half diminished chords due to having minor third between fifth and seventh.

Dominant Seventh

Dominant seventh chords are an integral component of western harmony, featuring powerful sound and tension-creating qualities. A great place for new guitar students to start learning the instrument, they can often be found in songs such as Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.

A dominant 7 chord comprises three notes – a major third, perfect fifth and minor seventh above its root – all combined into a chord that creates tension in music. Sometimes this seventh can even be flattened (such as with C7s and dominants), to add even greater tension to this harmonic progression.

To form a dominant seventh chord, one option is the “stacked thirds method”, in which major and minor triads are added together with an added seventh note on top. You could also count up 3 half steps from the top of an octave above root until finding Bb. To add an eighth note using anharmonic spelling (C7=C-E-G-Bb), all these methods produce similar results but will make reading chords simpler.

Secondary Dominant

Secondary dominants can be an invaluable resource for creating tension in chord progressions and modulations, or just adding interest and variety. When dealing with secondary dominant chords, remember that they should resolve just like any other V chord in diatonic harmony – by moving any leading tones upward to their target chord and shifting down any lower tritone by one step.

F7 chord is in Eb major key; however, its B is meant as an accompanying tone leading to C minor key. G chord which follows it serves as secondary dominant preparing for C major key.

Practice will make this easier; just ensure the chord enharmonically correct to meet its function; otherwise you could get unexpected results!

seventh chords explained

Seventh chords can add depth and variety to your songs. Additionally, they can create tension or release in progressions.

Seventh chords are triads with an additional note a seventh above their root note. Because of this dissonance, seventh chords produce richer and fuller harmonies than their triadic counterparts.


Major chords are an integral component of Western music theory and many genres rely on their use. At first they may seem difficult to read; however, with practice they will soon become second nature and an invaluable skill that will enhance any style of playing.

Major seventh chords can be formed by adding a 7th note to the root of a major triad, for instance C major seventh would contain notes C, E, G and B.

These chords are usually represented with the major 7th symbol (Cmaj7); however, you might come across other notations such as “M7”, which may be confused for minor chords due to its capital letter M.


Seventh chords are an intriguing blend of major and minor scales that creates an impactful, tension-filled chord found often in jazz music. When played with bass or another dominant chord, seventh chords add a powerful rhythmic element that can enhance any performance and can even help develop songwriting capabilities.

There are different kinds of seventh chords, including:


Dominant chords are an extension of seventh chords used extensively across many styles of music. You may hear this chord type used frequently in R&B, rock and jazz tracks.

These chords combine major and minor tones, which is ideal for creating movement within tonal music. Plus, they resolve back to the tonic in an effective fashion.

A dominant seventh chord can be identified with Roman numeral V representing its dominant scale degree and followed by 7 for its seventh chord status.

A dominant seventh chord comprises four notes from the major scale – G, B, D and F – all taken from its root position on the page. It can be played in its first, second or third inversions.


A half-diminished chord is defined as an interval with a flattened minor 7th between its fifth and third notes, commonly found in classical music but less commonly heard in popular genres like pop.

Chords like these can be used at numerous points throughout a piece. They can add color or highlight certain parts of a song.

This chord, often known as a leading-tone diminished seventh, contains three strong tendency tones that lead to pitches of the tonic triad. The root (b66) resolves into a cadential 6/4 chord while its remaining tones step inward stepwise to 11 and 33 respectively.

These chords can add tension and intrigue while maintaining melodic integrity in an I – V – vi – IV progression.


When music calls for a diminished chord, it usually refers to a whole-diminished seventh chord with both its degree (dim7) and inversion symbols being indicated – although deg7 symbols tend to be used more commonly within jazz music theory and theory studies.

A diminished triad is composed of three notes stacked atop each other: a minor third, minor fifth, and minor seventh. Since it’s symmetrical chord structure allows any note to act as its root note for this diminished chord triad.

Half-diminished seventh chords can be created much like diminished triads. To form a C half-diminished seventh chord, start on C (the root note) and flatten it one half step, first to B and then D & F before continuing the process again to A.

seventh chords explained

Seventh chords can transform the feel and texture of piano music across virtually all genres, making them essential tools for expanding harmonic range.

Similar to triads, seventh chords consist of four notes (root, 3rd, 5th and 7th). Each tone conveys emotion and tells its own unique tale.


Seventh chords provide another complex type of chord after triads and offer many opportunities for expression. Like triads, seventh chords contain four notes – root, third and fifth of the scale with an added note known as seventh interval – but these chords offer something extra: they add something special by way of seventh interval.

Seventh chords can have numerous characteristics that distinguish their unique sound from one another, making for a versatile instrument with unique qualities and characteristics. Let’s examine one such chord – commonly written as Cmaj7 or major seventh.

The major seventh is created by adding an interval of a major seventh above the root of a chord, giving it a happy, light feel that’s often used in popular music. Like other major chords, its identification can be seen through its symmetrical pattern in closed spacing (without duplet), as seen in measure 2 of this example: major triad at bottom, added major seventh on top.


Seventh chords differ from triads in that their names are determined by the interval relationship of each note to their root, so for a C major seventh chord the fourth note would be B natural instead of G; going up one semitone from there gives E flat as an option; this interval between these two notes is known as a minor third.

A seventh chord can be defined as a triad with an extra note added that creates tension that resolves to the tonic in most musical contexts. Adding this additional note adds richness to music while opening up new genres for any musician to explore.

Just like triads, seventh chords are classified according to their quality. This can be accomplished by evaluating both their triad quality and seventh interval’s relationship to the root – this allows you to categorize each chord by its quality and use it effectively in progressions. There are six quality types of seventh chords (which we will cover further in Chord Quality and Inversion section). C minor seventh chord will serve as an illustration of this process.


The dominant seventh chord is an intense and dynamic chord that features three intervals above its root: major third interval, perfect fifth interval and diminished seventh interval. This type of chord forms part of Western harmony and creates tension which must then be resolved. It often serves to establish dramatic moments.

Beginning musicians may find this chord to be daunting at first, as its dissonant notes may be intimidating. Once learned however, using these chords becomes simple – in fact it is the most widely-used type of seventh chord in rock and blues music!

This type of seventh chord is known as a dominant because it serves both as the dominant triad and dominant seventh. Due to this function, dominant seventh chords usually do not use standard key signatures as this could upset scale balance; hence they are typically abbreviated “D7”. They may also be known by another name such as flat seven; this term has specific significance in classical music theory.


Half-diminished chords are composed of intervals in a specific pattern. Additionally, these chords may also be known as sharpened subdominant diminished triads with minor seventh chords (io7 chords in music theory).

When playing these chords, it is essential that you are familiar with their typical appearances in chord progressions. Most commonly they serve as dominant function chords leading up to either the tonic or major tonic chord.

This chord differs slightly from its counterpart by having only one note reduced in pitch, though it still draws upon a diminished triad with minor seventh flat five chord.

Therefore, this chord is usually written as either an m7(b5) or Cm7b5 in both treble and bass clef notation. Furthermore, its versatility also makes it a good choice when used as part of a minor ii-V-I sequence.