How to Play Minor and Major Seventh Guitar Chords

major and minor seventh guitar chords 300x210

How to Play Minor and Major Seventh Guitar Chords

How to Play Minor and Major Seventh Guitar Chords

At their core, major and minor chords are built from triads which consist of root, third and fifth (1 3 5) intervals. These intervals are derived from the major scale and named according to their scale degree. Other notes, or extensions, from the major scale can be added to chords such as seconds, fourths, sixths and sevenths (2 4 6 7). Adding extensions creates more complex chords with richer sounds. This free guitar lesson will give you a quick introduction to this topic and how to apply this music theory principal to the fretboard and popular songs.

Major Scale Patterns and Chord Progressions
Before you begin to study extensions you should first learn how to build major and minor chords (triads) from the major scale. This would include guitar chord progressions and playing by numbers. You might even need to take a further step back and learn major scale patterns. Remember, each guitar music theory topic builds on the one before it. Major scale patterns and building chords are two topics that are foundational to understanding and applying chord extensions.

Chord Building Theory
If you’ve already been through the process of building chords for the entire major scale, then you’re ready to start adding chord extensions. All you have to do is repeat the whole process, but this time add an additional interval to the triad. For example, a seventh interval ( or 7). Starting on a G note in the key of G, 1 3 5 7 are G B D F#. The F# note is a major seven interval and is just one note shy of an octave. Any time you add an F# to a G major chord you create a G major seven chord (or Gmaj7). This can be done with any G major chord shape in any position, and any F# note regardless of the octave. You’ll have to rearrange your fingers in order to accommodate this extra note.

Next, add a seventh interval to the ii chord in the key of G, A minor. To do this, count the notes of the G major scale STARTING ON A. If you do this correctly the seventh note away from A is G. This interval is called a flat seven because it’s one fret less than a major seven (or two frets shy of an octave). When you add a G note to an Am chord you create an A minor seven chord (or Am7). This can be done with any Am chord shape in any position, and any G note regardless of the octave. You’ll have to rearrange your fingers in order to accommodate this extra note.

major and minor seventh guitar chords 300x210

These neck diagrams illustrate ways to form G major 7th and A minor 7th guitar chords. The numbers here represent fingerings. In the Gmaj7 example, the major 7th, F#, is under your first finger on the first string. You use the same chord shape in Steve Miller Band’s “Serenade.” In the Am7 example, the minor 7th, G, is the open 3rd string. You use the same chord shape in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

Now that you have identified the seventh interval for the first two chords in the key of G you can continue the process with the rest of the scale. If you do this correctly the following sequence should emerge:

Harmonized Major Scale With Sevenths
I Gmaj7
ii Am7
iii Bm7
IV Cmaj7
V D7 (which means “dominant” seven)
vi Em7
vii F#m7b5 (whoa, that’s a mouthful!)

Dominant Seven Chords
The V chord, D7, is unique in that it’s a major chord but it has a flat seven interval like the minor chords. Because of this it has special name which is “dominant” seven. For some strange reason, it’s the dominant seventh chord that is written simply as “7.” The major seventh chord must always include “major.”

As with any music theory topic you learn about, you must apply extensions to the guitar fretboard by playing songs. The follow lists will help to get you started by naming some well-known tunes that use seventh chords.

Guitar Songs That Use Major Seven Chords (Maj7)
“Under the Bridge” Red Hot Chili Peppers (verse end)
“Fire and Rain” James Taylor (intro/verse)
“Plush” Stone Temple Pilots (verse)
“Everyday” Dave Mathews Band (intro/verse)
“Riviera Paradise” Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (verse)
“Dust in the Wind” Kansas (intro)
“Best of My Love” The Eagles (intro/verse)

Guitar Songs That Use Minor Seven Chords (m7)
“Tears in Heaven” Eric Clapton (chorus)
“Change the World” Eric Clapton (chorus)
“Let it Ride” Bachman-Turner Overdrive (intro/verse)
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” Bachman-Turner Overdrive (intro/verse)
“Oye Como Va” Santana (intro/verse)
“Long Train Running” The Doobie Brothers (intro/verse)
“Black Water” The Doobie Brothers (intro/verse)
“Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin (interlude)

Guitar Songs That Use Dominant Seven Chords (7)
“Black” Pearl Jam (intro)
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” James Brow n(intro/verse)
“Nothing Else Matters” Metallica (intro/verse)
“Cross Road Blues” Cream (intro)
“Roadhouse Blues” The Doors (verse 2)
“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” KT Tunstall (intro/verse)
“Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” Jack Johnson (intro/verse)

Guitar Songs That Use Minor Seven Flat Five Chords (m7b5)
“Change the World” Eric Clapton (chorus)
“Smooth” Santana (verse)
“I Will Survive” Gloria Gaynor (verse/chorus)

Other Songs Worth Learning
“It’s Too Late” Carole King
“Ventura Highway” America
“Let’s Stay Together” Al Green
“One” U2
“Collide” Howie Day
“Daughters” John Mayer
“Ooh Baby Baby” Linda Ronstadt
“Don’t Know why” Nora Jones

This brief article is merely an introduction to adding seventh intervals to chords. Because there are so many different ways to make major and minor chord shapes on the guitar fretboard, there are many ways to build chords with sevenths too. In fact, the whole CAGED chord system can have seventh intervals added to it. Once you get a handle on extending chords with sevenths, you can try adding seconds, fourths and sixths. From there, you can get into chords with multiple intervals added, but don’t get ahead of yourself. At least with this newfound guitar theory knowledge you can now begin to understand what those numbers next to chord names are for!


Comments ( 2 )

  • Buddy Behrens


    Thanks for these gems. I have both of your Fretboard Theory books, and they contain the best (and best organized) training materials I have found. I also like to print and save these shorter lesson materials. But something in the format causes me to lose the text on the right side of the article when I print them. Has anyone else had issues capturing all of the text when printing these short lesson articles?


    Buddy Behrens

  • The web page side bars will not print, only the body of the blog post.