Seventh Chords On Guitar – A Beginner’s Guide

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • The countless ways to play seventh chords
  • How to substitute seventh chords for other chords
  • Why you should learn these chords early on in your playing
  • How seventh chords are constructed

Your Guide To Understanding Seventh Chords On Guitar!

We don’t have to play the guitar for very long before we start running into some truly funny-looking chord symbols.

It’s strange enough already that minor chords are indicated with an “m” when the word “major” also starts with an M.

  • Okay, so major chords are the default, and there’s an “m” for minor, but immediately after getting that straightened out, we start running into chord symbols with a bunch of numbers.
  • Making matters even more confusing is the fact that there is no obvious correlation between the chord shape we’re making and the name of the chord.

It seems like there’s an awful lot to memorize.

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Before we get frustrated though, let’s take a look at the most common number affixed to chord symbols: seven.

  • Seven is the key to understanding a lot of guitar chord theory, which is basically why chords are named the way they are.
  • Once you get a feeling for seventh chords on guitar, everything else is going to start making a lot more sense.

We’re going to break down the different kinds of seventh chords on guitar in a way that you will easily be able to hear and understand.

  • We’re also going to show you how to play them at all different levels.
  • You don’t need anything but your ears and your guitar for this lesson. And some headphones, if you like.
  • You’d better get a snack while you’re at it. Okay, let’s go!

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Seventh Chords on Guitar: What’s So Special About Them?

Before delving specifically into the issue of why seventh chords exist and how they are used, if at any time in this article you become frustrated and/or annoyed, do not give up!

Music theory, whether it’s seventh chords on guitar or components of melody or anything else, is easiest to understand when you can apply it to your current musical life in some way.

Keep your guitar with you and play the example chords that you can.

  • Listen to the reference songs.
  • Take it in even if you’re not sure you ‘get it.’

We put these articles in writing for you because you will want to come back to them later as your understanding and capacity will change over time. Each time you revisit these concepts, you’ll get more out of it than the time before.

Nobody understands a hundred percent of this the first time around, trust us!

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

The One-Note Difference Between Major or Minor and Seventh Chords on Guitar

The first step in getting to know seventh chords on guitar is realizing that there is one fundamental difference between major and minor chords and seventh chords.

Major and minor chords – we’re talking E/Em, A/Am, D/Dm, and so forth – only have three notes in them, no matter how many strings you use to play them.

Those notes are generally called:

  • The root (the note the chord is named after, the foundation for the chord)
  • The third (the note that makes the chord major or minor; this is the only one that changes when you make a major chord minor)
  • The fifth (a stabilizer note that gives context to the other two notes so you can identify the chord).

Seventh chords add – guess what! A seventh! These are four-note chords that are based on the major and minor chords you already know and love.

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

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So Many Sevens, So Many Personalities

We’re going to discuss the most often-used seventh chords on guitar according to the characterization of those seventh chords.

There are two notes that change in most kinds of seventh chord: the third and the seventh. When those notes change by one fret, they change the personality of the chord.

The beauty of the seventh chord is that while the personality of the chord changes if you play a D7 instead of a D major, the identity of the chord is the same.

This personality change is often called color.

  • That’s why listening to the different kinds of seventh chords on guitar is essential to understanding why they exist.
  • You’ll be able to hear different colors of the same chord!

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Seventh Chords on Guitar: the Major Seventh (maj7)

If we’re talking about the personalities of chords, the major seventh is shimmering sunlight. It’s a gentle breeze.

The beauty queen of the seventh chords on guitar, the major seventh chord is very heavily sprinkled throughout America’s “Tin Man” – listen to the main chords in the verse.

In any seventh chord, the notes that are subject to changing are the third and the seventh. A major chord has a major third, four half-steps up from the root.

A major seventh chord has a major third and adds a major seventh, eleven half-steps up from the root.

The math is easier to think of the major seventh as one half-step down from the root.

  • Using the A chord as our example, here’s the difference between the A major chord and the Amaj7.
  • The notes in the A major chord are, bottom to top, A E A C# E.
  • The notes in the Amaj7 are A E G# C# E.

A (x02220)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

Amaj7 (x02120)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Open Major Seventh Chords on Guitar

If you are a relative beginner, using major seventh chords on guitar is a wonderfully easy way to instantly make your playing sound more sophisticated.

It’s really satisfying to replace a major chord with a major seventh chord.

  • Major seventh chords do really well as I chords or IV chords, but you can use them anywhere they sound good to you!
  • Here’s a little collection of beginner-level open major seventh chords on guitar.
  • If you look at the chord diagrams, you may even be able to see the relationship between the major chord and the major seventh chord.

Amaj7 (x02120)

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Cmaj7 (x32000)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Dmaj7 (xx0222)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Fmaj7 (xx3210)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Gmaj7 (3×0002)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

If you’re noticing the absence of a Bmaj7, Emaj7, or any sharp or flat major seventh chords, that’s because they just are not very easy to voice as open chords.

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

Moveable Major Seventh Chords on Guitar

If you are an intermediate or above level player, these slightly more twisty chord shapes will get you any major seventh chord you like.

For this shape, wherever you put your finger on the E string is the root of the chord.

Gmaj7 (3x443x)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

For this one, wherever you put your finger on the A string is the root of the chord.

Emaj7 (x79897)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

For this last example, wherever you put your finger on the D string is the root of the chord.

Pro-Tip: Experiment with your seventh chords on guitar!

Not all kinds of seventh chords seem to fit all situations, but you can really shape your individual arrangement of the songs you love to play by adding in the seventh chords that you think sound cool.

Amaj7 (xx7654)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

What-are-seventh-chords

Seventh Chords on Guitar: the Dominant Seventh (7)

Whenever you see a chord root and the number 7, you’ve got yourself a dominant seventh chord. These chords are labelled D7, C7, G7, and so on.

They only have one note that is different than the major seventh chord, but the personality could not be more different!

The dominant seventh chord’s home is in the blues for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, but this Donovan song, “Season of the Witch,” has almost nothing but dominant seventh chords in it!

  • Dominant seventh chords are also built on major chords, but the added seventh is a minor seventh.
  • The minor seventh is 10 half-steps up from the root, or one whole step down from the root. The A7 chord is A E G C# E.

A (x02220)

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A7 (x02020)

Seventh-Chords-On-Guitar

How-to-play-seventh-chords

Open Dominant Seventh Chords on Guitar

Dominant seventh chords are great tools to have in your chord toolbox for whenever you want to make something sound more bluesy, homesick, or spicy.

The dominant seventh chord works first and foremost as a V chord by leading your ear back to the I chord.

Play an A major chord followed by a D major chord, and then play an A7 chord followed by a D major chord, and you’ll get the idea.

Here are the most commonly used open dominant seventh chords on guitar.

Fun fact: Open chords are called as such because they use open strings!

A7 (x02020)

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B7 (x21202)

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C7 (x32310)

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D7 (xx0212)

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E7 (020100)

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G7 (320001)

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seventh-chords-guitar

Moveable Dominant Seventh Chords on Guitar

Here’s one amazing guitar trick involving dominant seventh chords that you can use anywhere on the E, A, D strings or on the A, D, G strings.

If you make a D7 shape on either set of strings, your second finger is the root of a dominant seventh chord shape.

It’s a simple three-string dominant seventh chord shape that you can use to get through entire songs!

Here are other commonly used dominant seventh chord shapes.

F7 (1x121x)

F7 (131211)

F7 (x 8 10 8 10 8)

F7 (x8786x)

guitar-seventh-chords

Seventh Chords on Guitar: the Minor Seventh (m7, min7, -7)

The third most common of the seventh chords on guitar is the minor seventh chord.

This is the mellowest seventh chord of all.

A minor seventh chord is built on a minor chord.

  • The root and the fifth are the same as a major chord, but the third comes down a half-step, and that’s called a minor third.
  • Add a minor seventh, that’s 10 half-steps up from the root or one whole step down from the root, depending on how much math you want to do, and you’ve got a minor seventh chord!
  • One of the world’s foremost purveyors of the minor seventh chord is Neil Young. “Cortez the Killer” uses a three-chord progression: Em7, D, and Am7.

Here’s the comparison between the A minor chord and the Am7 chord.

Am (x02210)

Am7 (x02010)

dominant-seventh-chords

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Open Minor Seventh Chords on Guitar

If you play Am and Am7 side by side, the thing you might notice is that the minor seventh chord seems to sand down some of the rough edges of the minor chord.

You can always use a minor seventh chord to replace a minor chord.

To the extent that a minor chord sounds painful, the minor seventh chord sounds a little more melancholy.

Here are the open minor seventh chords on guitar.

Am7 (x02010)

Dm7 (xx0211)

Em7 (022030)

There aren’t that many, because there just aren’t that many open minor chords.

Moveable Minor Seventh Chords on Guitar

Once you have major and minor barre chords under your belt, your vocabulary of minor seventh chords is unlimited!

It’s easy to use a minor seventh chord in place of a minor chord.

Pro-Tip: You never know what songs are lurking in your new seventh chords on guitar.

Mix and match some different kinds of seventh chords and find a new chord progression!

Here are some commonly used minor seventh chord shapes.

F#m7 (242222)

F#m7 (2×2222)

F#m7 (x 9 11 9 10 9)

F#m7 (x 9 x 9 10 9)

minor-seventh-chords

Other Seventh Chords on Guitar

There are quite a few less-common seventh chords on guitar that you can use to color your playing.

Because they sound a little bit dissonant or strange, they aren’t used as mainstay structural chords in songs, but often as passing chords – chords that take your ear from one main chord to the next.

Check out these interesting sounds!

The Minor Major Seventh Chord (m(maj7))

Well, this is a confusing name. The minor major seventh chord is what happens when you use a minor chord and stick a major seventh on it.

The best example of a minor major seventh chord is “Blue Skies.”

  • This is from Willie Nelson’s gorgeous album of standards, Stardust.
  • The minor major seventh chord is the second chord in the progression.

Em(maj7)  (021000)

The Minor Seven Flat Five Chord (m7b5)

The minor seven flat five chord, also called half-diminished, is what happens when you use a diminished chord as the base and then add a minor seventh.

A diminished chord is a minor chord that also lowers the fifth a half step. The minor seven flat five is one restless sounding chord!

  • Check out Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song”. It’s got four chords in the verse.
  • The fourth chord, right before the resolution, is a minor seven flat five chord.

Bm7b5 (x2323x)

Color Your Playing with Seventh Chords on Guitar

As you’ve seen, seventh chords are built on ordinary three-note major and minor chords.

You can take any simple two- or three-chord song you know and love, and add different colors to the chords just by replacing them with one of these seventh chords.

This is a great way to begin making your own personalized song arrangements!

Recommended resources

If you loved this free guide to playing seventh chords on guitar, you’ll love our other free chord guides below!

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