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7th Chords

Major 7th

You can look at a major 7 chord in a few different ways.

- The formula of a major 7 chord with use of the Interval Chart is 1, M3, P5, M7.

- To construct a major 7 chord we stack up a major third followed by a minor third followed by a major third starting on the root.

- A major 7 chord consists of the major triad with added major 7th

- A major 7 chord incorporates 2 triads (also called Lower Structure Triads).
A major triad starting on the root and a minor triad starting on the third.

All of the above observations will be important at some point. For now we focus on the interval formula for major 7 which is again 1, M3, P5, M7.

The next step is to memorize all 12 major 7 chords and their notes. If you learned all major triads very well you have to think more about adding the major 7th to the existing major triad. As a tip I would first learn all maj7 chords that have no flats or sharps in the name of the root and then change them as needed.
example: Gmaj7 = G, B, D, F# Gbmaj7 = Gb, Bb, Db, F

Here is a table that I encourage you to learn by heart. Also make up your own exercises by rearranging the maj7 chords in different orders. Repeat them over and over again until you feel comfortable in spelling out all maj7 chords.

			1	M3	P5	M7
Cmaj7 C E G B
Gmaj7 G B D F#
Dmaj7 D F# A C#
Amaj7 A C# E G#
Emaj7 E G# B D#
Bmaj7 B D# F# A#
Gbmaj7 Gb Bb Dd F
Dbmaj7 Db F Ab C
Abmaj7 Ab C Eb G
Ebmaj7 Eb G Bb D
Bbmaj7 Bb D F A
Fmaj7 F A C E

Inversions and Chord Symbols

As introduced with triads we can invert a maj7 chord without loosing its sound as a maj7 chord. The only difference is that we have one more inversion to deal with.

Cmaj7 Inversions

Now we run into a problem with the 1st Inversion. If you take a look at the top two voices you will see that their interval relationship is a minor second. There is a very important arranging rule that you should always bear in mind:

! Never have an interval of a minor second between the top two voices.

The reason is the dissonance of a minor second. The c should be the melody note on top of the voicing, but because of the minor second interval the c does not stick out anymore or to say it how it is: It sounds like a "mistake".(This "mistake" can sometimes be on purpose, meaning that it is the composer's intention to create a chord with a buzz. It also can be a nice effect when arpeggiating the chord.) Minor seconds between the other voices are fine. And because we are talking about rules here's another one (we will need it later on):

! Never have an interval of a minor ninth between any of the voices.

Great. What do we do now? Just never use a maj7 1st Inversion? The solution to this problem is that we change the note b to an a. As a result we change the Cmaj7 chord to a C6 chord.

The official inversions for Cmaj7 are:

Note that the above chords are also called "closed" voicings. There is no "gap" between the individual voices (You will see the difference to "open" voicings in the next chapter).

Let's get this straight:
  • There is no Cmaj7 chord with the note c in the top voice

  • Don't trust sheet music. If the chord symbol says Cmaj7 and the melody note is a c the chord symbol is wrong. It should say C6.

  • Don't play a Cmaj7 chord when e.g. your singer sings the note c. Use a C6 chord.

In terms of chord symbols for major 7 there is a huge variety out there. The one I am using is maj7. Here is a list of symbols that are in use (I'm sure it's not complete).

: mostly used in Europe. Notice the dash in the 7. The triangle has the disadvantage that if written by hand it could look like a "o" what means diminished.

: This one could cause some confusion. I saw it in older Show tunes and Musical scores. In this case the European 7 means major 7. But be careful. In Europe this symbol means a C dominant 7 chord (we will talk about this one soon) and not major7.

You see that it can be very helpful to know in what part of the world the sheet music was published.

Inversions of maj7 chords are written in the same way as triads: the actual maj7 chord, then a slash followed by the bass note.

Note: You don't have to worry about inversions when you play with an instrument that plays the root for you. A bass player will lay down the bass note of the inversion and you take care of the actual chord.

Voicing Techniques >>