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Seventh Chords

Seventh chords are chords that include the root plus the 3rd, 5th, and 7th intervals above the root. Another way to think about it is a seventh chord is a triad plus a 7th interval.

In this lesson we’ll take a look at a few different types of seventh chords, how they’re built, and how they relate to the major and minor scales.

Types of Seventh Chords

There are many different types of seventh chords, but in this lesson we’re going to cover just four:

  • Major 7th
  • Minor 7th
  • Dominant 7th
  • Half-diminished 7th

Each of these four types of seventh chords occur naturally in major and minor scales.

Major Seventh Chord

The major 7th chord consists of the root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and major 7th intervals, which are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degrees of the major scale.

Major scale intervals
Scale Degree1234567
QualityRootMajor 2ndMajor 3rdPerfect 4thPerfect 5thMajor 6thMajor 7th

Major seventh chords occur naturally on 1st and 4th degrees of the major scale. This means that when building seventh chords from the 1st and 4th degrees of the major scale you get major 7th chords. Let’s look at some examples using the C major scale to see how this works.

If you haven’t learned how to build chords from the major scale degrees, I recommend checking out How to Build Major Scale Chords. The following examples will make much more sense if you do.

Building Major Seventh Chords

In the key of C, we have the following notes/intervals.

Scale Degree1234567
NotesCDEFGAB

Chords are built by stacking thirds to create triads. A simple way to look at it is we take every other note, starting with the root note, to build the chord for that scale degree.

Major triads occur on the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees. Minor triads occur on the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th scale degrees. A diminished triad occurs on the 7th scale degree.

Let’s take a look at the 1st and 4th degrees of the C major scale to see how we build major seventh chords. We’ll revisit the 5th degree below to see why it differs from the other major triads.

Seventh Chord from the 1st Scale Degree

The first scale degree is just the root, so we can keep our original scale notes and intervals in place. To build the seventh chord, we simply need to add the 7th interval to the major triad (root, major 3rd, perfect 5th) built from the first degree.

Scale Degree1234567
NotesCDEFGAB

This gives us the notes : C – E – G – B

If you read the lesson on building chords from the major scale, you know that major 3rds consists of 4 semitones. If we count from the 5th interval to the 7th interval, we get 4 semitones, creating a major 3rd.

  • G to A = 2 semitones (G – G# – A)
  • A to B = 2 semitones (A – A# – B)

Since we have a major 3rd between the 5th and 7th intervals, this gives us a major 7th interval above the root creating a major 7th chord (Cmaj7).

This becomes more clear when we take a look at each interval.

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
NotesCC#DD#EFF#GG#AA#B

Now let’s take a look at the 4th degree.

Seventh Chord from the 4th Degree

For the 4th degree, we reorder the intervals and notes using F as the root. Note we’re still using all of the notes from the C major scale. We’re simply reordering the notes to use F as the root note.

Intervals1234567
NotesFGABCDE

Checking again the interval between the 5th and 7th, we can see we have 4 semitones, or a major 3rd.

  • C to D = 2 semitones (C – C# – D)
  • D to E = 2 semitones (D – D# – E)

Adding this major 3rd interval to a major triad gives us a major 7th interval above the root and creates a major 7th chord (Fmaj7). The table below helps make this more clear.

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
NotesFF#GG#AA#BCC#DD#E

Major 7th Chord Shapes

Below are common chord shapes for major 7th chords. These shapes are movable and can form major 7th chords all over the fretboard.

Major 7th chords

Minor 7th Chords

The minor 7th chord consists of the root, minor 3rd, perfect 5th, and minor 7th intervals, which are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degrees of the minor scale.

Intervals of the natural minor scale
Scale Degree1234567
QualityRootMajor 2ndMinor 3rdPerfect 4thPerfect 5thMinor 6thMinor 7th

Minor 7th chords occur naturally on the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th degrees of the major scale. Let’s revisit our example using the C major scale to see how this works.

Building Minor Seventh Chords

Continuing with our example using the C major scale, let’s build our 7th chords from the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th scale degrees to see how we get minor seventh chords.

Seventh Chord from the 2nd Degree

Reordering the C major scale from the 2nd degree (D) gives us the following:

Intervals1234567
NotesDEFGABC

This gives us the notes : D – F – A – C

If we look at the interval between A and C we can see we have 3 semitones, or a minor 3rd.

  • A to B = 2 semitones
  • B to C = 1 semitone

Adding a minor 3rd to a minor triad gives us a minor 7th interval, which creates a minor 7th chord (Dm7). See the table below for all intervals.

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
NotesDD#EFF#GG#AA#BCC#

Seventh Chords from the 3rd and 6th Degrees

If we do the same with the 3rd and 6th degrees, we can also see we get minor 7th chords (Em7 and Am7).

Intervals1234567
3rd DegreeEFGABCD
6th DegreeABCDEFG
  • 3rd Degree
    • E – G – B – D
    • B to C = 1 semitone (B – C)
    • C to D = 2 semitones (C – C# – D)
    • 3 semitones = minor 3rd
  • 6th Degree
    • A – C – E – G
    • E to F = 1 semitone (E – F)
    • F to G = 2 semitones (F – F# – G)
    • 3 semitones = minor 3rd

The table below outlines the detailed intervals.

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
3rd DegreeEFF#GG#AA#BCC#DD#
6th DegreeAA#BCC#DD#EFF#GG#

Minor 7th Chord Shapes

Below are common chord shapes for minor 7th chords. Again, these shapes are movable.

Common minor 7th chord shapes diagram

Dominant 7th Chords

Dominant 7th chords combine a major triad (root, major 3rd, perfect 5th) with a minor 7th interval. Dominant 7th chords occur on the 5th degree of the major scale.

Scale Degree1234567
QualityRootMajor 2ndMajor 3rdPerfect 4thPerfect 5thMajor 6thMinor 7th

Building Dominant Seventh Chords

Now let’s look at building the dominant seventh chord. As noted above, building a chord on the 5th degree of the major scale gives us a major triad just like we get on the 1st and 4th degrees. However, when we add the 7th interval, we get something different. Let’s take a look.

Seventh Chords from the 5th Degree

In the key of C, we get the following when building the 7th chord from the 5th degree.

Intervals1234567
NotesGABCDEF

This gives us the following notes: G – B – D – F

Now let’s look at the 7th interval.

  • D to E = 2 semitones (D – D# – E)
  • E to F = 1 semitone (E – F)

Unlike the major seventh chords built from the 1st and 4th degrees, here we have a major triad with a minor 3rd added, giving us a minor 7th interval . This gives us the dominant seventh chord (G7 or Gdom7).

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
NotesGG#AA#BCC#DD#EFF#

Dominant 7th Chord Shapes

Below are common chord shapes for dominant 7th chords.

Dominant 7th chord shapes diagram

Half-diminished 7th Chord

The half-diminished 7th chord is built from a minor 7th interval being added to a diminished triad. The diminished triad consists of the root, minor 3rd, and diminished 5th.

Scale Degree1234567
QualityRootMajor 2ndMinor 3rdPerfect 4thDiminished 5thMinor 6thMinor 7th

Building Half-diminished Seventh Chords

The half-diminished 7th chord occurs on the 7th degree of the major scale. Let’s use the 7th degree of the C major scale to see what we get.

Seventh Chords from the 7th Scale Degree

Going from the 7th degree of the C major scale we get the following:

Intervals1234567
NotesBCDEFGA

This gives us the notes: B – D – F – A

  • F to G = 2 semitones (F – F# – G)
  • G to A = 2 semitones (G – G# – A)
  • 4 semitones

Adding a major 3rd interval to a diminished triad gives us a minor 7th interval above the root. The table below details the intervals of the half-diminished seventh chord.

IntervalsRoot♭2▵2♭3▵3p4A4/d5p5♭6▵6♭7▵7
NotesBCC#DD#EFF#GG#AA#

Half-diminished 7th Chord Shapes

Below are the common shapes for the half-diminished 7th chord.

Half diminished 7th chord shapes diagram

Wrap up

In this lesson we learned major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, and half-diminished 7th chords. These four seventh chord types occur naturally in the major and minor scales. These chords can be used in place of their major, minor and diminished counterparts to create a more dissonant sound and movement within a chord progression. Practice using these chords as you would any other and see how they can change the feel of a chord progression.

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Cheat Sheet: Seventh Chords

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