Other seventh chords include major sevenths, minor sevenths, half-diminished sevenths and fully diminished sevenths. These chords can add flavor to triadic chord progressions. We can add even more flavor with extended chords, which include ninth, 11th and 13th chords.
Dominant seventh chords are the most prominent type of seventh chord, but there are also four other main types that we will discuss here. If you’re interested in using sevenths to give your chord progressions a bit more color, read on.
Other Seventh Chords
Besides dominant seventh chords, there are four other types of seventh chords for us to think about.
1. Major sevenths, also known as M7 or maj7. Major triad + major seventh.
2. Minor sevenths, also known as m7, min7 or -7. Minor triad + minor seventh.
3. Half-diminished sevenths, also known as ø7. Diminished triad plus a minor seventh.
(Pop song charts often use the abbreviation “m7b5,” or “minor seventh flat five,” for the half-diminished seventh chord. I prefer not to, since the chord simply is not minor. It is a type of diminished chord, and diminished chords and minor chords are separate concepts. Be warned, however, that b5’s are frequently used to indicate diminished triads, including in some variants of the extended chords we will discuss below.)
4. Fully diminished sevenths, also known as o7. Diminished triad plus a diminished seventh.
In all these cases, we’re simply creating triads we discussed in Chapter 3 (major, minor and diminished) and adding one note to each. So, for example, to make an AM7 chord, we’ll simply take the A major triad (A, C#, E) and then add a major seventh above the root (G#). An AM7 chord, then, is A, C#, E and G#.
Let’s try making a few of these chords.
Bmaj7: B major triad plus a major seventh above B. B, D#, F#, A#.
Gm7: G minor triad plus a minor seventh. G, Bb, D, F.
Eø7: E diminished triad plus a minor seventh. E, G, Bb, D. (D# would be a major seventh, D would be a minor seventh, and Db would be a diminished seventh.)
C#o7: C# diminished plus a diminished seventh. C#, E, G, Bb. Most chords we make will not contain both sharps and flats, but fully diminished seventh chords are sometimes exceptions to that rule.
|Quick Quiz 5.1
Name the notes of the following seventh chords.
If you play guitar, you might already be aware of the finger patterns that produce these chords. Next time you find yourself playing one, stop and think about what notes you’re playing. How these chords sound depends heavily on their context, but generally, major seventh and minor seventh chords sound jazzy, while both diminished chords have a silent-movie-soundtrack feel, as if Charlie Chaplin were falling down a flight of stairs.
The major seventh chord tends to have a floaty, dreamy quality. You can hear it clearly at the beginning of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me,” which has an unusual progression that features both the major seventh chord and the dominant seventh:
Eb / / / | Ebmaj7 / / / | Eb7 / / / | Ebmaj7 / / /
The opening progression of Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” contains both a D major chord and a DMaj7 chord, nicely demonstrating the difference between the sounds of the two chord types.
D / / / | Dmaj7 / / / | Bm / / / | Bb / C / |
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” begins with a major seventh chord (I with a major seventh in the key of E), followed by a minor seventh chord (vi7). Both contribute to the song’s relaxed feeling (contrasting somewhat with its lyrics).
Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying
All of these songs use seventh chords to add color and create dreamier or jazzier sounds. My own songs rarely use seventh chords for those reasons, but I still occasionally use maj7 and min7 chords. Sometimes, they arise as a way of connecting one chord to another. For example, here’s a progression I’m currently using in a song.
Essentially, the progression here is a fairly simple I-IV-vi-ii-V in the key of G. Notice, however, that the note G – the one on the third fret of the high E string, if you’re a guitarist – is sustained throughout. The Am7 chord (A, C, E, G) thus arises as the combination of an A minor chord (A, C, E) plus a G that is sustained throughout the progression. The Am7 thus uses the seventh — G — to connect with the rest of the chords.
Half-diminished and fully diminished seventh chords are frequently used to generate tension, or to transition between one chord and the next. They’re frequently very harmonically ambiguous, particularly the fully diminished seventh, which is simply a stack of minor thirds.
The verse of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” uses both a fully diminished chord and a half-diminished chord.
Here, the D#o7 creates a sense of tension before ascending by half step back to E. The A#ø7 creates a chromatic path from the B in the second E/B chord down to A# and then down to A.
(The chords with the slashes are inversions, which means notes other than the roots are in the bass; we’ll discuss those in the next chapter.)
Other Seventh Chords Within Keys
Now, let’s look at how we might apply these seventh chords to particular keys. Let’s make seventh chords for each of our scale degrees in a major key.
All we’re doing here is taking the palette of triads in major keys we used in Chapter 5 and adding sevenths to each. We’re already familiar with V7, of course, but the rest of these are new. I7 and IV7 are major seventh chords.* ii7, iii7 and vi7 are minor seventh chords. vii is a half-diminished seventh chord.
* In pop music, the labels “I7” and “IV7” are sometimes used to indicate major minor seventh chords, since “7” in pop music frequently simply means a major minor seventh chord. When “I7” or “IV7” appear in classical music, they describe major chords with major sevenths, since those are the notes that appear in the key – that is, a I7 in C major will be C, E, G, B and not C, E, G, Bb, since B is in the key of C and Bb is not. This is admittedly confusing.
On this site, we will use “7” to mean a major minor seventh chord when applied to a note name (that is, C7 means C major minor seventh, or C, E, G, Bb). When applied to a Roman numeral, “7” will mean whatever seventh appears naturally within a key (so I7 in C major means C major seventh, or C, E, G, B).
We can fairly easily determine what our various seventh chords should be in any major key. All we need to do is apply the notes from the key signature and skip notes of every other letter. For example, the key of E major has four sharps (F#, C#, G# and D#). So, to find our ii7 chord, we’ll start with the second scale degree (F#) and add notes from E major to every other letter, so our ii7 will be F#, A, C# and E. Our vi7 will be C#m7: C#, E, G# and B.
|Quick Quiz 5.2
Name the following chords.
I7 in F major
You might think of the seventh of a chord as an addition to a triad. We place three notes on consecutive lines or spaces, like so …
… and then we add an extra note in the next line or space, whichever one we’re using.
We can continue to add notes in higher lines or spaces, producing what are called extended chords. Here are just a few of the many possibilities.
We use the names “9,” “11” and “13” to refer to the highest note above the root in the chords as they’re stacked here. So, for example, in the C9 chord, D is a ninth (that is, an octave plus a second) above the root of C. (It may help you to think about numbers like 9, 11, or 13 by mentally subtracting seven from each of them – an 11th is just a fourth but with the higher note moved up an octave.)
As the examples above suggest, we can turn a variety of seventh chord types into extended chords.
We can also use alterations, in which we raise or lower certain extended notes.
As you might expect, these chords can become tremendously complex. We could spend the remainder of this site on what sorts of possibilities exist and how you might use them. An in-depth discussion seems unnecessary when dealing with pop or rock music, however, since they arise only sparingly. They’re used much more commonly in jazz.
Here, though, are some basic rules for using extended chords.
- You don’t need to use every note in an extended chord. In particular, you can often omit the fifth, and you can often omit other notes as well (although the root and the highest extended note should be included).
- Extended chords can be particularly effective in chords built on V (the scale degree in which they were used most frequently in classical music), although they can work on other scale degrees as well.
- Before using an extended chord, reality-check it to make sure it sounds good. Some chords (such as an 11 chord based around a major triad) might produce half-step relationships that sound rather ugly, and in practice, some of these relationships are typically avoided. Of course, the dissonance of an extended chord might be part of the point of using it in the first place, and the voicing and harmonic context of a chord can make a big difference in how it’s perceived.
In Pink Floyd’s “Breathe (In The Air),” altered extended chords, as well as a number of seventh chords, help create a jazzy, psychedelic mood. Here’s the chord progression starting from the beginning of the song.
Note the way the D7(#9) and D7(b9) sound. These chords are quite counterintuitive. The D7(#9) features D, F#, A, C, and E#, while the D7(b9) includes D, F#, A, C and Eb. Both chords contain half-step relationships (E# to F# and D to Eb) that should clash with one another, but both chords sound fine as long as those notes are separated by an octave. Here are two voicings of these chords as a guitarist might play them. (These voicings do not use the fifth, A, in either chord, but are no worse the wear for its absence.)
These chords arguably exist less for the dissonances they create than for the melodic motion within them. The two most foreign-seeming notes, E# and Eb, seem to circle around E natural, and sure enough, the verse begins immediately after the E# and Eb with an E minor chord.
Depending on what you want to do, the point about melodic motion could be a fairly important one. Generally, in pop music, if you’re fussing over extended chords, you might be adding unnecessary layers of complexity. (Or you might not, particularly if what you do is closely related to jazz.) But if they arise naturally as a result of some other process or need, embrace them. An extended chord might solve a problem melodically, or it might sound good to use the same note throughout a series of chords, creating an extended chord as a result.
Next Chapter: Inversions And Bass Lines
Quick Quiz Answers
Dmaj7 = D, F#, A, C#
Em7 = E, G, B, D
Cø7 = C, Eb, Gb, Bb
G#o7 = G#, B, D, F
I7 in F major = FM7 (F, A, C, E)
ii7 in D major = Em7 (E, G, B, D)
vi7 in Bb major = Gm7 (G, Bb, D, F)
IV7 in B major = EM7 (E, G#, B, D#)