Minor seventh chords

This week's lesson is on the minor seventh chord.

Some Review

Recall from May 3rd's 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 July19's 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 chord (7) = 1,3,5,b7

Now we shall define the minor seventh chord as:
m7 = 1,b3,5,b7
Sometimes we write minor seventh chords as min7 or -7 or -. (Ex. Cm7, Dmin7, E-7, F- etc.)

Here are some open m7 chords to get you started:
Am7=X02013, Bm7=X20202, Cm7=X3131X,
Dm7=XX0211, Em7=022030, Fm7=1X1111, Gm7=3x3333.

We should note from our definition (m7=1,b3,5,b7) that a minor seventh chord contains a minor chord (minor=1,b3,5) within it.
We can think of a minor seventh chord as a minor chord with an added minor seventh note.
m7 = 1,b3,5,b7
m = 1,b3,5

If we don't know how to play a m7 chord, we could substitute a minor chord with the same root note in its place. We will no longer have the full flavor of the m7 chord, but the substitution should work.

We also note that a chord synonym for for i7 is bIII6. In the key of C:
Am7 = A,C,E,G = C/A

So you could use as a substitute for a m7 chord, a major chord a minor third higher than the m7 chord. (you could substitute C for Am7)

Recalling how the chromatic scale maps out on a fretboard in standard tuning ( see July19's lesson). We can map out the m7 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 Fm7. To change to to another m7 chord, we use the same process as for other moveable chords (barre chords, etc.).

Fm7 "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)

  1   2   3   4


Fm7 "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)

  3   4   5   6 


Fm7 "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  5   6   7   8


Fm7 "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

  8   9  10  11


Fm7 "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.


(Look into inversions (aug 23rds, aug 30ths lessons) and chord synonyms (aug 23) if these ideas are new).

Root position m7 chord = 1,b3,5,b7
Am7 = A,C,E,G. (root position has 1 in the bass)

1rst inversion has 3rd in the bass.
Am7/C = C,E,G,A. What C chord is this?
C,E,G,A = 1,3,5,6
We could call this a C6.

2nd inversion has 5th in the bass.
Am7/E = E,G,A,C. What E chord is this?
E,G,A,C = 1,b3,4,b6
We could call this Emb6(4) or Em+5add4.

3rd inversion has 7th in the bass.
Am7/G = G,A,C,E. What G chord is this?
G,A,C,E = 1,2,4,6
We might call this G13(no3,no5,no7), or G6(4)sus2.

So for I6 we could substitute vi7,
for ib6(4) or i+add4 we could substitute iv7,
and for I13(no3,no5,no7) or I6(4)sus2 we could substitute ii7.


We often see m7 (min7, -7, -) 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):
(in the key of C: C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bo)
and the seventh chords:
(in C: Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7-G7-Am7-Bm7b5)

We can see here that the minor seventh chord pops up in the major scale on the 2, 3, and 6 (ii, iii, vi), (ii7, iii7, vi7).

In the minor scale (aeolian mode of the major scale), these chords are:
(in the key of Am: Am-Bm7b5-Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7-G7).
Here the same m7 chords are seen in a different context as being i7,iv7,and v7.

Where else do m7 chords turn up in scales?

In the minor pentatonic scale, we can derive a i7 chord.

In the harmonic minor, the m7 shows up as iv7.

In the melodic minor, there is ii7.

You might use such information to find a context for a specific progression, or to use as a starting point for "outside" sounds (try playing a melodic minor scale a whole step below a m7 whether or not it fits. How does that sound?)

So let's consider some progressions.

One of the most common progressions is i-iv-v, which comes out of the minor scale. It's often heard in mediteranean musics, eastern european musics, and classical music. In m7 chords, we would have i7-iv7-v7. (in the key of Am: Am7-Dm7-Em7).

The most common progression in jazz is ii7-V7 or ii7-V7-I. So you could see this as i7-IV7 (as a dorian progression).
Dorian 7th chords: i7-ii7-bIIImaj7-IV7-v7-vi7b5-bVIImaj7.
You should note that ii7-V7 is also a progression that comes out of the melodic minor (jazz minor) scale.
Melodic minor 7th chords = imaj7-ii7-bIIImaj7+5-IV7-V7-vi7b5-vii7b5.

A common progression in classical (and also mediteranean, spanish, latin musics) is i-V, or i-V7 (also i-iv7-V7) from the harmonic minor scale (which was created to facilitate this progression , or the V7 functionality in the minor scale).
Harmonic minor 7th chords: imaj7-ii7b5-bIIImaj7#5-iv7-V7-bvimaj7-viio7
(in the key of Am: i-V7 = Am-E7, and I-iv7-V7 = Am-Dm7-E7).

We could consider progressions made up of the 1rst 3 or 4 chords from the modes ( of the major scale). In the key of C, the chords:

The major scale (ionian mode) gives Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7 (Imaj7-ii7-iii7) and Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7 (Imaj7-ii7-iii7-IVmaj7).

The Dorian mode gives Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7 (i7-ii7-bIIImaj7) and Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7-G7 (i7-ii7-bIIImaj7-IV7).

The Phrygian mode gives Em7-Fmaj7-G7 (i7-bIImaj7-bIII7) and Em7-Fmaj7-G7-Am7 (i7-bIImaj7-bIII7-iv7).

The Lydian mode gives Fmaj7-G7-Am7 (Imaj7-II7-iii7) and Fmaj7-G7-Am7-Bm7b5 (Imaj7-II7-iii7-#iv7b5).

The Mixolydian mode gives G7-Am7-Bm7b5 (I7-ii7-iii7b5) and G7-Am7-Bm7b5-Cmaj7 (I7-ii7-iii7b5-IVmaj7).

The Aeolian mode gives Am7-Bm7b5-Cmaj7 (i7-ii7b5-bIIImaj7) and Am7-Bm7b5-Cmaj7-Dm7 (i7-ii7b5-bIIImaj7-iv7).

[Major seventh chords (maj7) and half-diminished seventh chords (m7b5) will be discussed in upcoming lessons].

It will help build up our ears to play such progressions and memorize how a i7-bII-bIII progression sounds, etc. so that we recognize them when we hear them.

We can consider some minor blues progressions such as:


in Am:




in Am:


Some common smaller progression sthat you could use as a vamp:

from the Dorian mode: i7-ii7
in the key of C: Dm7-Em7

from the aeolian or phrygian mode: i7-iv7
In the key of C: Am7-Dm7 or Em7-Am7


We often use a m7 chord to modulate (switch keys).

Usually in conjunction with a 7 chord, we can modulate by creating a ii7-V7-I progression where I is the new key we're moving to.

Say we're in C and we want to go to Eb, we could do something like:
C-F-Fm-Bb-Eb, where Fm-Bb-Eb is ii7-V7-I in Eb.

We could choose to view a m7 chord as some other functionality and use that to modulate with.

for example there is the progression iii7-Imaj7 or iii7-vi7-Imaj7 (Em7-Cmaj7 or Em7-Am7-Cmaj7 in C). So you modulate by changing the functionality of the chord.

C to Bb:

C to F:

We can add extensions and alterations to the m7 chord. Here follows list below for the intermediate/advanced student to work through and explore. [note: some very easy alterations and their extensions are omited due to their common usage as being seen as functionally different. Most notable alterations omited are: dominant 7 chord = 1,3,5,b7 (m7 with altered 3rd), half-diminished 7=1,b3,b5,b7 (m7 with altered 5th), minor/major7 = 1,b3,5,7 (m7 with altered 7), and m7sus4 = 1,4,5,b7 (which could be equally seen as a dom7 chord with the 3rd suspended]

m7 = 1,b3,5,b7
m9 = 1,b3,5,b7,9
m7b9 = 1,b3,5,b7,b9
m11 = 1,b3,5,b7,9,11
m11b9 = 1,b3,5,b7,b9,11
m13 = 1,b3,5,b7,9,11,13
m11b13 = 1,b3,5,b7,9,11,b13
m11b13b9 = 1,b3,5,b7,b9,11,b13
m13b9 = 1,b3,5,b7,b9,11,13
m9#11 = 1,b3,5,b7,9,#11
m13#11 = 1,b3,5,b7,9,#11,13
mbb7 = 1,b3,5,bb7
mbb7b9 = 1,b3,5,bb7,b9
mbb7b11b9 = 1,b3,5,bb7,b9,b11
mbb7b13b11b9 = 1,b3,5,bb7,b9,b11,b13
m6/9 = 1,b3,5,6,9 = 1,b3,5,bb7,9
m6/7 = 1,b3,5,6,b7
m7/11 = 1,b3,5,b7,11
m7/#11 = 1,b3,5,b7,#11
mb6/7 = 1,b3,5,b6,b7

We note that b3(b10) and #9(#2) are enharmonic, so we generally don't see any chords such as m7#9. We also note that m+5 is an inversion of a #V chord so we don't often see such chords written either. the above chords largely come from the modal systems created by the following scales: pentatonic minor, minor (aeolian), harmonic minor, melodic minor, gypsy minor.

Here are some in F (Fm7(no5))
Fm7 = 1X11XX (E-shape, root on 6th string)
Fm7 = XX3X44 (D-shape, root on 4th string)
Fm7 = X8686X (C-shape, root on 5th string)
Fm7 = X8X89X (A-shape, root on 5th string)
Fm7 = XXX10 9 11 (G-shape, root on 3rd string)
Fm7 = 13 11 13XXX (G-shape, root on 6th string)

Next lesson on the major seven chord.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated November 29, 2001
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