Seventh Chords – The Beauty Queens of the Guitar

Seventh chords can add depth and texture to your chord progressions, often being called “the beauty queens of the guitar”.

To create a seventh chord, take any triad and add one note that forms a seventh interval with its root note – this will produce an exquisite sounding chord!

Major Seventh

Typically speaking, seventh chords can be defined as triads plus notes forming an interval of seven above their root note. Therefore, seventh chords form their foundation using the 1st, 3rd, and perfect 5th of the major scale as its foundation; most textbooks refer to these chords by their type (major/major seventh or dominant/diminished seventh).

Addition of the seventh note to any basic chord results in a dominant 7, dominant 9, or dominant 7add11 chord, depending on its scale degree. These chords can then be extended with additional 9th, 11th or 13th notes for greater intensity.

The initial two types of seventh chords tend to be slightly dissonant than major and minor triads, lending them a jazzier sound and making them popular in blues and jazz music. They can also add tension-filled effect in country and rock songs.

Minor Seventh

Minor seventh chords consist of root, flatted third and flattened fifth notes (1b3 5b7) from the major scale to create tension-filled chord progressions and provide resolution through resolution of tension-based feelings.

Half diminished seventh chords (also referred to as m7b5) are an excellent tension-based 7th chord that can be found across many genres of music. They’re made by taking a diminished triad and adding one note a minor seventh (10 semitones) above its root note, creating a powerful tension-based chord which can be played across many styles of music.

As well as standard maj7, minor7, dom7 and m7b5 chords there are several drop 2 voicings of each chord type that can give your chords more punch while helping avoid treading on bass players too much! See the chart below for some examples; moveable m7 chord shapes are included so you can use these chords on the low E string, A string and D string for example.

Dominant Seventh

Once you’re familiar with major seventh chords, it’s time to explore dominant sevenths. This chord adds a seventh interval above major third and perfect fifth to create a more prominent sound for its chord. As discussed in our lesson on intervals, this type of dominant seventh occurs naturally across major and minor scales.

Root, major third and major 7th notes remain constant while the 5th can be altered up or down (known in lead sheet terminology as +9 or -9) depending on what key the song is being performed in. Furthermore, it’s possible to spell an #5 followed by an #4 as 10 for easier reading purposes.

This chord is ideal for creating tension in music and can work well with both diminished and minor seventh chords. You’ve likely heard this chord featured prominently in many blues songs – most notably Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” and John Lee Hooker’s “That’s All Right”. Give these chords a try, and soon enough you may find yourself moving your hips along to their rhythm!

Sustained Seventh

Suspended seventh chords can be further expanded by adding a fourth note above the fifth, creating what’s known as a suspended seventh (also written sus4) chord. Like dominant seventh chords but without their flat seventh note, suspended seventh chords serve as cadence points to the tonic for added intensity and function as cadence points in cadences and progressions.

Jazz musicians often employ this chord to add tension and drama to a progression – Ella Fitzgerald’s song “Summertime” being an outstanding example.

While there are various seventh chords that occur frequently in Western art music, five stand out as being most often encountered: major seventh, minor seventh, dominant seventh, diminished seventh and augmented seventh chords. Each has their own sound due to different intervals they contain and thus, approaches and resolution rules differ accordingly.