7 ways to play a C 7 chord on guitar

The C 7 chord (C dominant 7) is a less commonly known chord when first learning to play guitar. You can play it as an open shape but there are many other ways you can play this chord throughout the fretboard.

We’ll first go over some basic chord theory and then cover 7 ways to play a C 7 guitar chord which you can start to incorporate into your playing.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

C 7 chord theory intro

The 7 next to the chord refers to a dominant chord that is built upon the chord tones 1, 3, 5, and b7. This is essentially a Major triad chord with the additional b7 chord tone. Dominant chords are often used as the 5 chord in a chord progression before resolving to the 1 chord of a key center.

For example, the C 7 chord has the chord tones C, E, G, and Bb. This is essentially a C Major chord with an added b7 chord tone.

Here is the dominant 7 chord formula below.

C 7 chord formula

In contrast, minor 7 chords contain the chord tones 1, b3, 5, and b7. For example, a C minor 7 chord would contain the chord tones C, Eb, G, and Bb.

Now that you know what notes belong to the chord structure, let’s look at how to read the chord charts.

How to read the chord charts

For the charts below:

  • The top horizontal line of the chord chart represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string.
  • The vertical lines separate each fret. 
  • The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand. 
  • The letters on the right of the charts tell you what notes you are playing on each string.
  • Circles on the left represent open strings.
  • Red X means to avoid that string.

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

C 7 open chord

The first way I recommend learning a C 7 chord is using the following shape which is similar to the open C Major chord except you add your pinky to the 3rd string, 3rd fret like this:

C 7 open chord

C 7 barre chord on the 5th string

This is a more advanced chord because it requires you to barre from the 5th string to the 1st string. If some notes sound muted or unclear, first try playing from the 5th string to the 2nd fret. Then as you develop more strength in your fingers, you can try adding the 1st string as well.

C 7 barre chord on the 5th string

This shape comes from the open A 7 chord except you rearrange your fingers when barring this chord.

If needed, check out these 5 tips to get better at playing barre chords on guitar.

C 7 shell chord on the 6th string

Another way to play a B7 chord is using the following shell chord shape. A shell chord is a simplified shape that outlines the important notes in a chord which are the 3rd and 7th. 

C 7 shell chord on the 6th string

C 7 chord barre chord on the 6th string

This shape comes from the open E 7 chord shape, except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 8th fret with your 1st finger.

C 7 chord barre chord on the 6th string

Again, if this chord is not ringing out clearly, first try getting the notes from the 6th string to the 3rd string since they make up the majority of the chord structure. Then review and come back to try playing through all the strings without buzzing or muffled notes.

Easily look up guitar chords with the Essential Guitar Chords Chart!

This chart covers how to play:

  • Major chords
  • Minor chords
  • Major 7 chords
  • Minor 7 chords
  • Dominant chords
  • Half diminished chords
  • Diminished chords
  • Chords starting on all (12) root notes
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C 7 barre chord with added pinky

A variation for the previous C 7 chord is to add your pinky finger to the 2nd string, 11th fret. Compare this to the previous chord and see which sound you prefer.

C 7 barre chord with added pinky

C 7 drop 2 chord – 4th string

This shape uses a drop 2 chord voicing, which is a method of reorganizing chord tones by dropping the 2nd highest chord tone an octave below. In this case, the root note is moved down to the 4th string. 

C 7 drop 2 chord - 4th string

This shape comes from the open D 7 chord shape except you have to rearrange your fingers when adding the 1st finger.

C 7 drop 2 chord – 2nd inversion

Using the drop 2 chord concept, this would be a C7 chord in 2nd inversion because the 5th is in the bass note.

C 7 drop 2 chord – 2nd inversion

Wrapping up

Most of these chords were in root position, meaning the root note is in the bass. However, you have even more variations if you use different chord inversions. This is when you play a chord with notes other than the root in the bass.

It’s good to know many possibilities of playing the same chord because you have more flexibility to move around the fretboard. Also, you can use different chord variations when you need a specific note at the top to help define a melody that you are playing over.

I hope this helped you understand how to play a B 7 guitar chord or learn new ways of playing it. You can also try shifting the shapes that have all fretted notes to play other dominant chords on the same string.

If you’re interested in improvisation, you can learn how to play Dominant 7 arpeggios on guitar.

For other guitar improvisation ideas, check out these 7 jazz and blues licks over a dominant 7 chord.

To learn other related chords, see how to play a C Major 7, C minor 7 chord or C 9 chord.

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All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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