As you advance on your guitar learning journey, you will eventually come across more complex chords that are often used in jazz, r&b and blues. These kind of chords are fun to learn because they bring depth and color to your playing.
There are many chords that are used in styles that contain richer harmony but for this post we will specifically focus on 7th chords. The essential 7th chords you should learn are the Major 7th, Dominant 7th, minor 7th and minor 7 flat 5 chords. In this post, we’ll cover how to play the 7th chord guitar shapes on the 6th, 5th and 4th string.
Let’s first go over some basic music theory on 7th chords, then go over the chord charts and finally look at some musical examples on how to apply them. Let’s get started!
What is a 7th chord?
A 7th chord refers to the chord tones that belong to a chord, which in their basic form would include the root note, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degree. In contrast to triad chords which contain three notes, 7th chords include the 7th degree to add more flavor and depth to the sound of a chord.
When changing some of the chord tones by a half step, you can form different 7th chords. Let’s go over some music theory to have a better understanding of the 7th chords you are learning to play.
Major 7 chord formula
Again, the numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7 refer to the chord tones in each chord. You will also see the distance between each of the chord tones in steps. A half step equals the distance from one fret to the next on a same string and a whole step equals the distance of two frets apart on a same string.
Here is the first chord structure:
These chord tones for C Major 7 would be C, E, G, and B.
These chord tones for E Major 7 would be E, G#, B, and D#.
As a side note, another chord that is closely related to the Major 7 is the Major 6 chord which has the chord tones 1, 3, 5, and 6. See this other post on how to play Major 6 chords on guitar.
Dominant 7 chord formula
This next structure simply lowers the 7th degree a half step below. The little ‘b’ represents that a note is flattened or lowered by a half step.
Dominant chords are written by simply adding a 7 next to the root note such as G 7, B 7, or Ab 7.
The chord tones for C 7 would be C, E, G, and Bb.
The chord tones for Ab 7 would be Ab, C, Eb, and Gb.
Minor 7 chord formula
This next structure now lowers the 3rd and 7th degrees a half step below.
The chord tones for C minor 7 would be C, Eb, G, and Bb.
The chord tones for E minor 7 would be E, G, B, and D.
Minor 7 flat chord formula (also known as half diminished chords)
Half diminished chords are technically minor 7th chords with the 5th degree lowered a half step. As you can see below, every chord tone except for the root note is lowered by a half step.
The chord tones for C minor 7 b5 would be C, Eb, Gb, and Bb.
The chord tones for F minor 7 b5 would be F, Ab, B, and Eb.
7th chords starting on the 6th string
These chords are movable shapes that you can use on different starting points on the 6th string. For example, using Bb as a root note, these chords would look exactly the same but making sure the lowest note is pressed on the 6th string, 6th fret.
7th chords starting on the 5th string
Again, these chords apply across the 5th string as movable shapes. For example, these chords would look exactly the same using Eb as the root note but making sure the lowest note pressed is on the 5th string, 6th fret.
7th chords starting on the 4th string
These chords also apply across the 4th string as movable shapes. For example, these chords would look exactly the same using G as the root note but making sure the lowest note pressed is on the 4th string, 5th fret.
Chords progression examples using 7th chords
Feel free to use whatever rhythm or strumming pattern you like for these chord progressions. The main point is to hear what these 7th chords sound like together in a sequence. You will see an audio example for each of these four progressions.
7th chord progression 1
7th chord progression 2
7th chord progression 3
7th chord progression 4
Bonus: Fully diminished 7th chords
There is another 7th chord that we didn’t cover yet which is called a diminished 7th chord, also known as a fully diminished 7th chord which has the chord tones 1, b3, b5 and double flatted 7th (same as the 6th degree).
The formula looks like this:
Fully diminished chords have quite a unique sound and function in music which is why I wrote an entirely separate post on how to play diminished chords on the guitar. This post includes charts and audio examples to better help you understand these chords.
As you review these chords, you will get more and more comfortable using them in chord progressions. Knowing these four essential 7th chords will be a great foundation to then learn chords with extended tensions as you progress even further.
Have fun experimenting with these chords and also hear how these chords compare to using triad chords. By learning these 7th chords, you are also expanding your palette of sounds that you can use to create your own music.
If you want to learn more about richer harmony, check out this post on how to play jazz guitar chords.
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All the best,
Original photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash