Seventh Chords – Learn the Harmony of Jazz and Classical Music

seventh chordsWhen it comes to piano players, the seventh chords are unlucky in love. Most piano players learn the triads – the foundation of a chord — but fewer attempt mastery of the seventh chords.  This oversight is like learning to sing a great aria but not showing up for opening night. Once you learn the triads, the seventh chord is only one note away. If you want to play some funky jazz pieces of Oscar Petersen or soaring arias of Puccini, you need to court the seventh chords.

To form a seventh chord, we make the triad chord and apply a seventh interval. So before learning the seventh chords, you need to know the triads. You may want to brush up with some easy piano basics. Triads have three notes, or pitches, that span a fifth interval. Seventh chords have four notes that span a seventh interval. Once you know the triads, you only have to locate one more note, one third above the fifth interval, to complete a seventh chord.

Playing Seventh Chords

The key to finding the seventh chord is the same as finding a triadic chord – find the root note and then complete the intervals. To create a major third note, we find the root note, slide over a major third to the third interval, and then slide over another third to complete a fifth interval.  The seventh chord adds a forth note to the triad to complete a seventh interval.

How do You Find Major Seventh Chords?

A major 7th note is played by simultaneously playing the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes. To differentiate a major seventh from a minor seventh, we modify the third and seventh intervals. The major seventh interval is five whole steps and a half step. If we were to count out a seventh chord, though, we would play very slowly. The key to playing a seventh chord is to use octaves as guides. For the G major 7 chord, for example, locate the G with your left hand. Then, locate the G in the octave to the right with your right hand. The octave is six whole steps. The major seventh chord is five and a half steps. Find your root chord, find the same note in the next octave, and slide back a half step.

A good practice exercise for the seventh chords is to find the root of all the major notes and locate the full octave, starting with the root note. Each octave is about a hand span apart.

The Major 7th Chords (maj7)

Cmaj7 = C – E – G – B
Dmaj7 = D – F# – A – C#
Emaj7 = E – G# – B – D#
Fmaj7 = F – A – C – E
Gmaj7 = G – B – D – F#
Amaj7 = A – C# – E – G#
Bmaj7 = B – D# – F# – A#
C#maj7 = C# – E# (F) – G# – B# (C)
Dbmaj7 = Db – F – Ab – C
Ebmaj7 = Eb – G – Bb – D
F#maj7 = F# – A# – C# – E# (F)
Gbmaj7 = Gb – Bb – Db – F
Abmaj7 = Ab – C – Eb – G
Bbmaj7 = Bb – D – F – A

How do You Find Minor Seventh Chords?

A minor 7th chord is played by simultaneously playing the root, 3rd (minus a half step), 5th and 7th (minus a half step) notes. In other words, you want to flatten the 3rd and 7th notes. Locate the G minor 7 chord (the minor triad and perfect fifth). Add a minor seventh. Using octaves as your guide, find the G root and G of the 7th interval and slide the right hand back a half step in the 3rd and 7th position.

The Minor 7th Chords (min7)

Cm7 = C – Eb – G – Bb
Dm7 = D – F – A – C
Em7 = E – G – B – D
Fm7 = F – Ab – C – Eb
Gm7 = G – Bb – D – F
Am7 = A – C – E – G
Bm7 = B – D – F# – A
C#m7 = C# – E – G# – B
Dbm7 = Db – E – Ab – B
Ebm7 = Eb – Gb – Bb – Db
F#m7 = F# – A – C# – E
Gbm7 = Gb – A – Db – E
Abm7 = Ab – B – Eb – Gb
Bbm7 = Bb – Db – F – Ab

What is a Diminished Seventh Chord?

The diminished seventh is the minor seventh lowered by one half step. This tricky chord is not always technically feasible, so it has its own rules. It is rarely used but you should still be familiar with it.

What is an Augmented (Dominant) Seventh Chord?

An augmented seventh chord is a root, major 3rd, augmented 5th, and minor 7th. Like the diminished chord, it has a few rules of its own.  If you enroll in Just Chords Piano, you will learn the complete theory of seventh chords – including that of the less popular diminished and augmented seventh chords – and have lots of opportunities to master the chords through practice exercises.

Learning the structure of the seventh chords can be accomplished in less than half an hour, or if you are a really quick study, the time it takes you to read this article. Learning to play the seventh chords will take much longer. Piano players take one, two, or even three years to master the seventh chords.

To practice the seventh chords, use a metronome to pace and later challenge yourself. If you are not familiar with the metronome, review a few tips on dexterity and using a metronome. While you no doubt were well versed in finger, body and bench position – and repeatedly reminded – in your first year of piano, the seventh chords are not for a slouch. Having top form that provides support for your arms and hands will allow you to focus on the technique.

After some training in theory, it is time to play. With the online music course Learn to Play the Piano Using Pop, R&B and Gospel Chords, you can learn how the triads and seventh chords form the harmony in different genres of music. Seventh chords provide the basic harmony in jazz. For a classical immersion experience, learn to Improvise Puccini’s “E Lucevan le Stelle” on Piano. Puccini can expose you to some of those rare diminishing seventh chords.