The Crusade. Part 6: Diatonic Seventh Chords

Oh wow. This sounds scintillating. Almost as fun as a day at the roller coasters with sea sick in-laws.

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Oh wow. This sounds scintillating. Almost as fun as a day at the roller coasters with sea sick in-laws.

Sorry, I must have drank too much sarcastic tea this morning.

Hey, pay attention! Dig this! Do you understand the principles presented in the last lesson? Do you understand how to build triads (three note chords) from a scale, soldier? Are you ready to risk brain rot, serious headaches, and not watching reruns on TV, punk? Are You?

(That tea must have had Drill Sergeant brew in it, too.)

We'll be learning about four note chords built from a scale. But why so many notes, Santie Claus, why? asked Little Cindy Lou Who.

Ah, the seventh chord. That slightly sophisticated cousin of the humble Major and minor chord, it's found in styles ranging from Jazz to Rock. Often as misunderstood as it is seen on chord charts, this four note assembly of notes is a great way to add some pizazz to your playing, and depth to your knowledge of theory. Read on, brave crusaders!

What we'll be checking out in Part vi is how to harmonize the major scale in seventh chords.

In plain English, this means: Building four note chords from the major scale, just like we did with triads (three note chords) in the last lesson.

A C Major 7 Chord has the following tones:

C E G B

If we look at the C major scale:

We see that C is the 1st note of the scale, E is the 3rd, G is the 5th. (Nothing new so far.)

B is the 7th scale tone above C.

Hence, if we build a chord using the notes C E G B, since B is seven scale tones above the root, C, we call it a C Major 7 chord.

Next, let's look at what seventh chords live in a major scale (in other words, what chords that can be built from the scale tones.) A resident seventh chord would be said to be a diatonic chord, diatonic meaning relating to the scale (A very oversimplified definition, but it gets the job done.)

The Formulas

There's four types of seventh chords that can be derived from the Major scale, and it's related modes.

Major 7: minor 7: Dominant 7: minor 7 (b5): {sometimes called a half diminished chord.}

Here's how the intervals fall, folks.

(For those just joining us, M3 means Major 3rd, and m3 signifies minor 3rd. See The Crusade - Part iii for more details.)

M3 + m3 + M3 = Major 7

m3 + M3 + m3 = minor 7

M3 + m3 + m 3 = Dominant 7 (often just notated 7. If we play a G dominant 7 chord, we would write G7.)

m3 + m3 + M3 = minor 5 (b5)

M3 + M3 + M3 (Augmented triads) and m3 + m3 + m3 (fully diminished 7th) exist, but are not found in the confines of the Major scale and it's related modes. Of course, it goes without saying to learn about these chords, but for the purpose of this article, we'll skip these formulas for now.

How The Chips Fall (Memorize This Pattern!)

Using the same logic presented in The Crusade - Part V to build chords, we end up with this.

The I and IV chords of any major scale are always Major 7 chords.

The ii, iii, and vi chords of any major scale are always minor 7 chords.

The V chord of any major scale is always a Dominant 7th chord.

The vii chord of any major scale is always a minor7(b5) chord.

Runnin' The Numbers

For the C Major scale, we would end up with:

C Major 7

D minor 7

E minor 7

F Major 7

G7

A minor 7

B minor 7 (b5) {read B minor seven, flat five.}

This Major-minor-minor-Major-Dominant-minor-minor 7 (b5) sequence is always the same for any Major scale, no matter what fret, note, or planet you start it on.

Why

Let's take a closer look at just how we end up with these chords.

Our scale:

Starting on C, we know that the I chord is a Major 7 chord. We'll start by taking every other note until we end up with four notes (remember, a 7th chord has four notes, a triad has three.)

We get: C E G B

Our formula for a Major 7 chord is;

M3 + m3 + M3.

C to E is a Major 3rd.

E to G is a minor 3rd.

G to B is a Major 3rd.

La dee da, it fits our formula for a Major 7th chord perfectly.

We do the same for the remaining six chords. I outlined this process in a detailed manner in The Crusade - Part V, so if any of this isn't clicking, or you're unsure of how the next chords would be built, feel free to refer back to that article for reference.

Conclusion

  • A seventh chord is a four note chord containing a note we start on (the root), a note a 3rd above that, a note a 5th above the root, and finally, a note a 7th above the root. (By the way, you might see a pattern here. How about a ninth chord? That would contain a five notes, the highest note being nine scale tones above the root.)

  • There's four types of seventh chords that can be built from the major scale and it's related modes: They are: Major 7, minor 7, Dominant 7, and minor 7 (b5). The minor7(b5) is sometimes called a half diminished seventh chord. (Where did the fully diminished 7th chord go? That's our m3 + m3 +m3 formula. However, this chord doesn't live in the major scale, and would be out of key with the scale.)

  • Seventh chords, containing four notes, are slightly more subtle and complex sounding than triads (three note chords.)

    Am I Wasting My Time?

    So you know how to build seventh chords from a major scale. Now what? In the next installment, we'll be checking out how to figure out the key of a song by looking at it's chords.

    The concepts presented in this article are necessary steps to understand how to analyze a chord progression. Stay tuned, it's gonna be fun, and you'll really start using this stuff - I promise!

    Keep on rockin, Happy Holidays, and I'll see you next time.

    Don't forget to check out my blog.

    Copyright 2008 Josh Urban - All Rights Reserved

    Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

  • 40 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Starforsaken
      \m/3741 wrote: I love these theory lessions, but.. one thing I cannot understand, for triads you showed how to play them on guitar in the intervall section, like if we have a Cmaj it would be C,E,G which leaves: 8th fret on 6th string, 7th fret on 5th string and finally 5th fret on 4th string. okay I can reach them.. but if you increase it to a Cmaj7 which is C,E,G,B. the strings for the 3 first notes are easy, but how the heck am I gunna reach the B note eh? it lays on 3rd fret 3rd string :S serious stretching there, or is there an easier way to play the chord? I would really like to have an answer, on piano there's no match to play it though..
      Move your notes up a string. For C use 3rd fret 5th string, E will be on the 2nd fret 4th string, and G is simply the open 3rd string. Also the frist fret on the 2nd string is C; you can then play the last string open for an additional E. So... e 0 E B 1 C G 0 G D 2 E A 3 C E X - For the major 7th version, add the B note by opening up the 2nd string. Thus... e 0 E B 0 B G 0 G D 2 E A 3 C E X -
      iruka2998
      wish i read this when i started my theory, woulda learned faster. good column man
      jpgilbert701
      Im still having touble when it comes to intervals and building 7th chords. Is this right? A maj is A C# E and A maj7 would be A C# E G#? and what is the difference between like G maj7 and G7?
      Starforsaken
      A C# E G# is indeed A maj7. G maj7 would be: G B D F# G7 (Dominant): G B D F Note the lowered 7th
      \m/3741
      I love these theory lessions, but.. one thing I cannot understand, for triads you showed how to play them on guitar in the intervall section, like if we have a Cmaj it would be C,E,G which leaves: 8th fret on 6th string, 7th fret on 5th string and finally 5th fret on 4th string. okay I can reach them.. but if you increase it to a Cmaj7 which is C,E,G,B. the strings for the 3 first notes are easy, but how the heck am I gunna reach the B note eh? it lays on 3rd fret 3rd string :S serious stretching there, or is there an easier way to play the chord? I would really like to have an answer, on piano there's no match to play it though..
      mgrowe
      Josh Cool stuff mate, I used to make it up as I went but the theory opens up a whole new way of doing things and speeds up the learning process Well Done mate
      grille
      grille wrote: that was one of you none good ones i belive
      no it wasent! ( sry) xD
      thefoldarsoldar
      " m3 + m3 + M3 = minor 5 (b5)" should this part of the column (listing the 4 7th chords) read "m3+m3+M3 = minor 7 (b5)" ??
      lindsayward
      Doing well. If you get a chance to edit this, then you could correct the typo under "The Formulas" where it says: m3 + m3 + M3 = minor 5 (b5) I believe this should be m3 + m3 + M3 = minor 7 (b5)
      bass-man9712
      only one question, what would the chord progression you just made with the 7th's be called? would it be a major 7th prgression, seeing as its from the major scale but all chords are 7th's... :S
      bass-man9712
      also, could you throw these chords intoa regular major progression?.. okay 2 questions >.
      maybe_I_am
      cool man. Though I already know this stuff, you explained really well so someone who doesn't know it can understand. Keep it up.
      mrbiscuits315
      Scorge wrote: sometimes i really wonder if someone really needs to be taught what a diatonic 7th chord is. i think the best way come up with a cool chord is to pick a bunch of notes in a scale(or no scale whatsoever) that you can finger and see if it sounds cool. i like to come up with my own chords because it's kind of adventurous and, (if you find something that sounds awesome) it's like finding an uncharted island. something noone's ever found before. there's a huge satisfaction there that should really be explored. this is especially true in different tunings.
      Im sure the chord you "disocovered" has some name to it. And this stuff is important considering how often 7th chords are used, they are the most common chord next power chords or triads. Sooo unless you wanna be a tab monkey for the rest of your life then this is very important.
      MustangMan311
      I'm a bassist, so I don't really use chord construction as strongly as a guitarist, but these lessons are extremely good, and I love reading them. Can't wait for the next one!
      JoshUrban
      MustangMan311 wrote: I'm a bassist, so I don't really use chord construction as strongly as a guitarist, but these lessons are extremely good, and I love reading them. Can't wait for the next one!
      MustangMan, Anything that helps you understand the warped world of guitarists will benefit you when you've gotta deal with the crazy musicians they are! But on a serious NOTE (pun intended!) you could certainly use these for building arpeggios in your bass lines, and developing a nice walking line. I know a jazz bass player who has such an incredible command and understanding of chords that it puts most guitarists to shame. I wonder how he does it! Rock on!
      GUITARNOVICE420
      .....it looks well thought out.....but i dont understand the words that are coming out of your mouth
      MustangMan311
      JoshUrban wrote: MustangMan311 wrote: I'm a bassist, so I don't really use chord construction as strongly as a guitarist, but these lessons are extremely good, and I love reading them. Can't wait for the next one! MustangMan, Anything that helps you understand the warped world of guitarists will benefit you when you've gotta deal with the crazy musicians they are! But on a serious NOTE (pun intended!) you could certainly use these for building arpeggios in your bass lines, and developing a nice walking line. I know a jazz bass player who has such an incredible command and understanding of chords that it puts most guitarists to shame. I wonder how he does it! Rock on!
      Oh, I know, I just don't use them as much! Keep up the great work, man. These lessons are fantastic and I know they help some of the less theory oriented members of UG.
      captainjackass
      Good lesson! I always wondered what the point of using M3, m3 stuff over the circle of fiths was until now. Still confused about the different 7s, and how they would be any different from each other, but Ill mess around with em
      Scorge
      sometimes i really wonder if someone really needs to be taught what a diatonic 7th chord is. i think the best way come up with a cool chord is to pick a bunch of notes in a scale(or no scale whatsoever) that you can finger and see if it sounds cool. i like to come up with my own chords because it's kind of adventurous and, (if you find something that sounds awesome) it's like finding an uncharted island. something noone's ever found before. there's a huge satisfaction there that should really be explored. this is especially true in different tunings.
      nickwentinsane
      Scorge wrote: sometimes i really wonder if someone really needs to be taught what a diatonic 7th chord is. i think the best way come up with a cool chord is to pick a bunch of notes in a scale(or no scale whatsoever) that you can finger and see if it sounds cool. i like to come up with my own chords because it's kind of adventurous and, (if you find something that sounds awesome) it's like finding an uncharted island. something noone's ever found before. there's a huge satisfaction there that should really be explored. this is especially true in different tunings.
      While I can certainly appreciate your oppinion, and in no one mean to nock what your saying...stuff like this really helps me. See I've olny been playing for about a year, and the olny thing that has helped me advance as far as I have within a year is theory. Certainly some shit just sounds good and needs no explanation for why, but this helps so much in being able to write creatively, without hitting rode blocks and wondering where in the hell the awesome sounding chord is going to go next. Without knowing where to resolve something a dissonant chord, or an over joyous sounding augmented sound goofy, knaw mean?
      GuitarFreak1387
      good job. straight and to the point without all the confuseing bullshit. i already knew the theory behind this and your past lessons, but i am looking forword to your next one as that i have problems with song keys.
      food1010
      JoshUrban wrote: MustangMan311 wrote: I'm a bassist, so I don't really use chord construction as strongly as a guitarist, but these lessons are extremely good, and I love reading them. Can't wait for the next one! MustangMan, Anything that helps you understand the warped world of guitarists will benefit you when you've gotta deal with the crazy musicians they are! But on a serious NOTE (pun intended!) you could certainly use these for building arpeggios in your bass lines, and developing a nice walking line. I know a jazz bass player who has such an incredible command and understanding of chords that it puts most guitarists to shame. I wonder how he does it! Rock on!
      Yeah understanding of chords is a great aid to bass playing. At least it has been for me.
      led,rainsong
      nice this is really helping me out with my music theory this makes me wanna major in music theory in college
      StenTheAwesome
      These are some real great lessons, I love how you explain everything. Do you think there is a chance you could do lessons on modes (and also onother scales like melodic minor?) and how to really use them so they don't sound like just a major scale? Also, I know modes are used to add a different flavor and kind of really depend on the rhythm in order to not sound like a major, but could you write a lesson on composing stuff that kind of best suits a particular mode like a Lydian composition or something?)Thanks and keep em' coming!
      difitzio
      Josh you are doing a great job man It sure is swell that your giving us this stuff for free.... making me discover so much more and be so much more creative with my playing Keep em coming bru
      led,rainsong
      hold on so i just confused myself so a minor 7 (b5) has a flat 3,5 and 7!?!?! wont that make it kinda like FULL diminshed chord because the third and fifth are flat? also if a minor 7 (b5) has a flat 3 5 and 7 and is also called a half diminshed 7 chord what is a full diminished 7 chord?
      tubab0y
      It's not full diminished, full diminished chords have a double-flat seventh. In order to get a diminished, just stack minor third intervals. Bb (m3) Db (m3) E (m3) G So there are really only three diminished scales, as they repeat infinitely, just stacking minor thirds.
      led,rainsong
      i see so a full diminished has a double flat 7th interesting... it's fun making chords, i try explaining this to my firends but they refuse to listen, they'd rather just look in a book for the chord shape
      Magnusonfire
      Call me stupid or whatever..but I dont quite understand..I understand that the 7th note above C in the scale is a B, but when you are going to find the 7th in the DM7 chord, is that a C# then? And the 7th in a E minor chord, is that a D# and so on? Please help!