Guitar Lesson – Music Theory Part 6.7 – soft, jazzy, and bluesy

All 7 and we’ll watch them fall…

In a previous post, we talked about major and minor scales and how they share some notes while other notes are different.  7 is one of the ones that are different.  So when adding 7 onto a triad, you can either add the major 7 (“maj7”) or the minor 7 (just “7”).

You can add the 7 onto a major or minor chord.  So using the root note of A, we can have the following chords:
A7       – A C# E G
Amaj7    – A C# E G#
Am7      – A C  E G

I have not personally heard of the major 7 added to the minor chord (Am maj7??).

The changes between these chords are small but their uses and sound are very different.  Below, I’ll try to give a few examples of how you might them being used…

7 Chord
The 7 chord tends to feel unresolved.  This is a very common chord in blues.  For instance, in this common blues progression, you can substitute all the chords with the corresponding 7 chord:

|A    |D    |A    |A   |
|D    |D    |A    |A   |
|E    |D    |A    |E   |

So using 7’s, this would be:

|A7   |D7   |A7   |A7   |
|D7   |D7   |A7   |A7   |
|E7   |D7   |A7   |E7   |

Or using the number system:

|I7   |IV7  |I7   |I7   |
|IV7  |IV7  |I7   |I7   |
|V7   |IV7  |I7   |V7   |

Often the 7 chord is used to “propel” the music toward its relative 4th.  For instance, A7 (I) will want to be followed by D (IV).  Here’s an example:

|A    |A7   |D    |Dm   |   

But you can also look at the relationship backwards which is D (I) and A7 (V7).  Here’s an example:

|D    |A    |A7   |D    |

These are fairly common in folk, hymns, and rock.  Here’s a some-what folk-y example: 

|D    |A    |A7   |D D7 |
|G    |A    |D    |D7   | 
|G    |E7   |A    |A7   |  (back to top)

In this example, the A7 (V7) on the 1st line is used to lead us back to the D (I).  The D7 (I7) on the 1st line leads us to the G (IV) on the 2nd line.  The D7 is used again on the 2nd line to lead us to the G.  Then E7 (II7) is used to lead to the A (V) and the last A7 (V7) is used to lead us back to D (I).

Major 7 Chord
The major 7 chord tends to be softer sounding.  Often, this chord is used as a substitute for the IV chord in a progression.  For instance:

|C     |F    |  (repeat)
|C     |Fmaj7|  (repeat)

When we look at the notes that make up these chord it becomes more apparent why this “works”:

C      – C E G

Fmaj7  – F A C E

<— T = thumb

Another very popular variation on this is to use the maj7 chord for both:

|Cmaj7  |Fmaj7  |  (repeat)
Cmaj7  – C E G B
Fmaj7  – F A C E

In essence, we’ve give the F (IV) some characteristic of the C (I) by using the E (the 3-note) in both chords.  You can take this a step further by adding the 6-chord (vi).  In this case, this would be Am:

|C   |Fmaj7 |Am   |Fmaj7 |   (repeat)

Cmaj7  – C E G B
Fmaj7  – F A C E
Am     – A C E

Another way to look at this is that the E note (the 3-note) is used as a pedal note.

Minor 7 Chord
This is probably my favorite (definitely top 3). I love using this chord. Here, the 7 is the minor 7 relative to the root note. And it helps to soften the chord.

Am7     – A C E G

Recall that the minor 7 is a whole step from the root note. When this is used with the 2-chord (ii7), then the “7” is the same as the root note of the 1-chord (I). For example:

|Am7   |G     | (repeat)

Am7     – A C E G
G       – G B D

So what if we substituted the 6-chord with its 7 (vi7)?

G (I)      – G B D
Em7 (vi7)  – E G B D

<— standard shape

Now, let’s add this to another example we looked at before: (

|G    |Cadd9 |Em7  |Cadd9 | (repeat)

But instead of using the standard shape shown above.  Try this one instead:


About ckyoungmusic

Guitarist ♪ Songwriter ♪ Instructor ♪ Nice Guy ♪ Music for the Soul | Rock | Country | Blues | Pop | Folk | Funk

Posted on October 3, 2009, in Guitar Lessons, Music Theory. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


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