Major Seven chord

Recall from Building a context lesson that we've defined a chord as being 3 or more distinct notes, usually played at the same time. (C and D are considered distinct, but C# and Db are not, nor are octaves of the same note).

Recall that chords come in two basic parts, a letter name (C, C#, etc.) also known as a root note (tonic, 1), and a descriptive part that abbreviates the name of the chord (is a short-hand for all the intervals of each distinct note from the root note).

Recall that an interval is the distance between two notes, and that we are using numbers (with accidentals) to describe these intervals.(ex. 5 = perfect fifth, etc.) For more info on intervals see interval lesson. to convert letters to numbers and numbers to letters, see the link below (bottom of page) on transposition.

Recall, we've previously defined the following chords:
major = 1,3,5
minor (m)= 1,b3,5
diminished (o)= 1,b3,b5
power chord (5) = 1,5,8(1)
dominant seventh (7) = 1,3,5,b7
minor seventh (m7) = 1,b3,5,b7

Now we shall define the major seventh chord as:
maj7 = 1,3,5,7
Sometimes we write dominant seventh chords as maj7 or M7. (Ex. Cmaj7, DM7, etc.). Also sometimes an uppercase delta is used, and sometimes in jazz you see it written as a seven with a slash through it (limited font abilities in text-only).

Here are some open 7 chords to get you started:
Amaj7=X02120, Cmaj7=X32000,
Dmaj7=XX0222, Emaj7=021100, Gmaj7=320002.

We should note from our definition (maj7=1,3,5,7) that a major seventh chord contains a major chord (major=1,3,5) within it.
We can think of a major seventh chord as a major chord with an added major seventh note.

If we don't know how to play a maj7 chord, we could substitute a major chord with the same root note in its place. We will no longer have the full flavor of the maj7 chord, but the substitution should work.

We also note that a chord synonym for for Imaj7 is iii6. In the key of C:
Cmaj7 = C,E,G,Bb = Em/C

So you could use as a substitute for a maj7 chord, a minor chord a major third higher than the maj7 chord. (You could substitute Em for Cmaj7)

Recalling how the chromatic scale maps out on a fretboard in standard tuning ( see interval lesson). We can map out the maj7 chord on the fretboard (shown here in F).


We can cut this up into zones of one sort or another. In previous lessons, we've been looking at shapes based on octave patterns. (A-shape, E-shape, etc.). So below are the 5 shapes along with some voicings in TAB that go along with the shape. All of these are for Fmaj7. To change to to another maj7 chord, we use the same process as for other moveable chords (barre chords, etc.).

Fmaj7 "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)

0  1   2   3   4   5


Fmaj7 "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)

  3   4   5   6 


Fmaj7 "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  5   6   7   8   9


Fmaj7 "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  8   9  10  


Fmaj7 "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

 10  11   12  13


Ok. So we can make many different voicings out of a given chord (many more than shown here). Choosing for ourselves just what voicing we're going to use to interpret a chord is one part of developing our own style.


We often see maj7 chords written in songs, but there is a way to understand why they pop up where they do? Usually.

Recall, that we harmonized the major scale to get the chords (triads):
I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio (in the key of C: C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bo)
and the seventh chords:
Imaj7-ii7-iii7-IVmaj7-V7-vi7-vii7b5 (in C:

We can see here that the chords in the major scale with a major 7th chord are the 1 and 4.

Where else does the maj 7 chord turn up?
Without getting into the modes of these scale systems as well, we find maj7 chords in the natural minor, harmonic minor, and gypsy minor scales (also in their modes).

In the natural minor (minor scale, or aeolian mode), the maj7 is the bIIImaj7 and the bVImaj7(in the key of Am: bIIImaj7= (Cmaj7= C,E,G,B), bVImaj7 = Fmaj7 = (F,A,C,E), Am= (A,C,E)).

In the harmonic minor scale, the maj7 chord is the bVImaj7.

In the gypsy minor scale, the dom7 chord occurs twice, as Vmaj7 and bVImaj7.(In Am, Vmaj7 = (Emaj7=E,G#,B,D#)

So let's consider some progressions.

One of the most common progressions is I-IV, which comes out of the major scale. It's often heard in country, folk, blues, rock (as well as others). In 7th chords, this would be Imaj7-IVmaj7 (in the key of C: Cmaj7-Fmaj7).

Converting some other simple progressions with triads to corresponding 7th chords, we have the following common progressions:

Imaj7-ii7-iii7-IVmaj7 (Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7)

IVmaj7-V7-vi7 (Fmaj7-G7-Am7)

ii7-V7-Imaj7 (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7)

vi7-Imaj7 (Am7-Cmaj7)

iii7-Imaj7 (Em7-Cmaj7)

Sometimes chords are created by a voice moving through the chord. A common example is a descending note from the octave to the Maj6 interval, creating the folllowing progression.

I-Imaj7-I7-I6 (C-Cmaj7-C7-C6)
C= X32010, Cmaj7 = X32000, C7 = X32310, C6 = X32210


We can invert 4 note chords, just like 3 note chords. For our purposes, we wish to know when a particular bass note is or is not in our chord, and when we can substitute maj7 chords for other chords without having added or subtracted any distinct notes from our previous chord (what chords can be seen as different spellings of the maj7 chord?) We will use Cmaj7 as our example to be inverted and renamed.

Cmaj7= C,E,G,B (root position, 1 is in the bass)

1rst inversion, 3rd is in the bass
Cmaj7/E = E,G,B,C, what E chord is this?
E,G,B,C = 1,b3,5,b6
we could call this Emb6.

2nd inversion, 5th is in the bass
Cmaj7/G= G,B,C,E what G chord is this?
G,B,C,E = 1,3,4,6
We could call this G6(4), or G(6)add4, or G6add4(no5)

3rd inversion, 7th in the bass.
Cmaj7/B = B,C,E,G which B chord is this?
B,C,E,G = 1,b2,4,b6
you have options, such as
B-6/b9/11(no3,no5), B-6(4)susb2

So for a ib6, we could substitute bVImaj7

For I6(4), I(6)add4, I6add4(no5) we could substitute IVmaj7.

And for I6/b9/11(no3,no5), I6(4)susb2 we could substitute bIImaj7.

Some extensions and alterations often found on the maj7 chord are listed below for the intermediate/advanced student to work through and explore:

maj7 = 1,3,5,7
maj9 = 1,3,5,7,9
maj11 = 1,3,5,7,9,11
maj13 = 1,3,5,7,9,11,13
maj7sus2 = 1,2,5,7
maj7sus4 = 1,4,5,7
6/maj7 = 1,3,5,6,7
maj7/11 = 1,3,5,7,11
maj7/#11 = 1,3,5,7,#11
maj7#5 = 1,3,#5,7
maj7b5 = 1,3,b5,7
maj7#9 = 1,3,5,7,#9
maj7b9 = 1,3,5,7,b9
maj9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9
maj9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9
maj7#9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,#9
maj7#9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,#9
maj7b9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,b9
maj7b9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,b9
maj11#9 = 1,3,5,7,#9,11
maj11b9 = 1,3,5,7,b9,11
maj11#5 = 1,3,#5,7,9,11
maj11b5 = 1,3,b5,7,9,11
maj11#9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,#9,11
maj11#9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,#9,11
maj11b9#5 = 1,3,#5,7,b9,11
maj11b9b5 = 1,3,b5,7,b9,11

And the list goes on...
The 11th could be #11. We could continue go on to 13th chords. the third could be suspended, we could omit notes, etc.
We often see these things in jazz heads. If you don't know how to play one of these chords, there's a good chance you could get away with substituting a maj7 for it (of course, you'll lose part of the flavor, but in a jam...). it might be helpful to learn some maj7 shapes without 5's in them (so it doesn't clash when substituted for a dominant chord with an altered 5).

Here are some in F (Fmaj7(no5))
Fmaj7 = 1X22XX (E-shape, root on 6th string)
Fmaj7 = XX3X55 (D-shape, root on 4th string)
Fmaj7 = X8796X (C-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj7 = X8X9 10 X (A-shape, root on 5th string)
Fmaj7 = XXX10 10 12 (G-shape, root on 3rd string)
Fmaj7 = 13 12 14XXX (G-shape, root on 6th string)

Chris Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated January 1, 2003.
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