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Flat Ones - A look at Major Seventh Chords
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate
Lesson by: Kirk Lorange
Out of all the various chord flavors, 'Major Sevenths' are without doubt the 'prettiest' and most optimistic sounding of all. I remember way back when I first discovered them that I just couldn't get enough of that sound. This lesson takes a good look at them.
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First of all, just what is a 'major 7th chord'? Well, as its name implies, it's major and it includes the 7. So a major chord is 1-3-5 and if we add the 7, we get 1-3-5-7. It's a simple as that: take the first, third, fifth and seventh notes of the major scale, play them together as a chord, and you're playing a major seventh chord. It's an odd chord, because that 7 is one semitone flat of the next root up, in other words if I were to write out the scale like this:
1 . 2 . 3 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 8 ... that 8 is another tonic, same note as the 1. So the 7 in a major 7th chord is a flat 1, just one semitone flat of the 8. They are dissonant chords. Historically, it took a while before maj7 chords were accepted as stand-alone chords because of that dissonance. These days, we've got used to the sound and whole songs are written around them, especially in the jazz genre. So they're odd little critters. You can read more about them here.
They can written as: Maj7, maj7, Maj7th, maj7th M7 and even the delta symbol: Δ.
In this lesson, I've strung a bunch together in a progression to let you hear them and show you various shapes you can use for them. It wound up being quite a nice little tune in its own way. It's in the key of A, but it modulates (changes key) to C in the middle. It's also in 3/4 time, a waltz.
The first bit moves between the I and IV chords (A and D) and they're both Maj7s. If you're observant, you'll see that the shape I use for each does in fact show the 'flat 1' quality I mentioned before. Compare the Amaj7 with a normal A major. That middle note that has dropped a semitone in pitch is the 1 moving down to a 7: flat one. Same goes for the D ... compare it to a normal D chord. The D note (1) has dropped down to a 7.
At bar 7 I change to a Gmaj7 chord. Once again, you'll see part of a normal G barre chord, but the G note on the thin string (the 1) has dropped a semitone to F# (7) ... another flat 1.
Same goes for the C and F chords. I'll let you track down the flat 1s.
At bars 15 and 16 I get back into the key of A via the Esus4 - E chords and then I finish on Amaj7 to Dmaj7 in different positions.
That's the theory side of it all. Fingering-wise, nothing too difficult. That Gmaj7 is a bit of a stretch, it'll do your had/fingers good to work that one up because that's a very useful shape to use when you see 'maj7' in a chord chart.
The right hand is doing a lot of 3 and 4 string plucks where I grab the strings and play them all at once. On the downbeat of bar 14 I let the notes roll off my finger tips one at a time. I strum through the E chords with the back of my finger nail ...
Nothing much else to report! If you're new to Maj7ths, have a play through all these shapes. You can just strum them if you're not into finger style. They're quite common chords. You don't often find whole progressions of them like this, but they often crop up as single chords in progressions. Don't let them throw you or scare you. Just remember to 'flat that 1' ... just don't do it to the root. It needs to be a 1 so the rest of the chord has something solid to sit on and so that the chord can be named.