Seventh chord

Seventh chord
Dominant seventh chord on C About this sound Play .

A seventh chord is a chord consisting of a triad plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord's root. When not otherwise specified, a "seventh chord" usually means a major triad with an added minor seventh (a dominant seventh chord). However, a variety of sevenths may be added to a variety of triads, resulting in many different types of seventh chords, as described below.

In its earliest usage, the seventh was introduced solely as an embellishing or nonchord tone. The seventh destabilized the triad, and allowed the composer to emphasize movement in a given direction. As time passed and the collective ears of the western world became more accustomed to dissonance, the seventh was allowed to become a part of the chord itself, and in some modern music, and jazz in particular, nearly every chord is a seventh chord. Additionally, the general acceptance of equal temperament during the 19th century reduced the dissonance of some earlier forms of sevenths.

"A ranking by frequency of the seventh chords in major would be approximately that shown."[1]
About this sound Play V7 (Dominant), About this sound ii7 (Minor), About this sound viiø7 (Half-diminished), About this sound IVM7 (Major), About this sound vi7 , About this sound IM7 , or About this sound iii7 .


Types of seventh chords

Most textbooks name these chords formally by the type of triad and type of seventh; hence, a chord consisting of a major triad and a minor seventh above the root is referred to as a major/minor seventh chord. When the triad type and seventh type are identical (i.e. they are both major, minor, or diminished), the name is shortened. For instance, a major/major seventh is generally referred to as a major seventh. This rule is not valid for augmented chords: since the augmented/augmented chord is not commonly used, the abbreviation augmented is used for augmented/minor, rather than augmented/augmented. Additionally, half-diminished stands for diminished/minor, and dominant stands for major/minor. When the type is not specified at all, the triad is assumed to be major, and the seventh is understood as a minor seventh (e.g. a "C" chord is a "C major triad", and a "C7" chord is a "C major/minor seventh chord", also known as a "C dominant seventh chord").

The most common chords are tertian, constructed using a sequence of major thirds (spanning 4 semitones) and/or minor thirds (3 semitones). Of the eight possible tertian seventh chords, seven are commonly found in western music:[2]

The following seventh chord is not tertian, as it is built using a sequence of two major thirds (4 semintones) and a diminished third (2 semitones, enharmonically equivalent to a major second):

  • Augmented seventh (formally augmented/minor seventh, also aug7, +7, etc.): root, major third, augmented fifth, minor seventh

The following seventh chord is again not tertian, as it is built using a sequence of two minor thirds (3 semitones) and an augmented third (5 semitones, enharmonically equivalent to a perfect fourth):

In tuning systems other than equal temperament there are further possible seventh chords. In just intonation, for example, there is the harmonic seventh.

Dominant seventh chord

Dominant seventh chord (V7) in C, G7.

Harmonic seventh chord

Harmonic seventh chord on C About this sound Play tempered .

The harmonic seventh chord is a dominant seventh chord formed by a major triad plus an harmonic seventh interval.

The harmonic seventh interval is a minor seventh tuned in the 7:4 pitch ratio, one of the possible "just ratios" defined for this interval in just intonation (slightly below the width of a minor seventh as tuned in equal temperament). Sometimes called a "blue note", the harmonic seventh is used by singers, through note bending on guitars, and on other instruments not restricted to equal temperament. An often heard example of the harmonic seventh chord is the last word of the modern addition to the song "Happy Birthday to You", with the lyrics, "and many more!" The harmony on the word "more" is typically sung as a harmonic seventh chord.[3]

Frequent use of the harmonic seventh chord is one of the defining characteristics of blues and barbershop harmony; barbershoppers refer to it as "the barbershop seventh." Since barbershop music tends to be sung in just intonation, the barbershop seventh chord may be accurately termed a harmonic seventh chord. The harmonic seventh chord is also widely used in "blues flavored" music. As guitars, pianos, and other equal-temperament instruments cannot play this chord, it is frequently approximated by a dominant seventh. As a result it is often called a dominant seventh chord and written with the same symbols (such as the blues progression I7 - V7 - IV7).

Major and minor seventh chords

Minor seventh chord on d, ii7 in C.
Major seventh chord on F, IV7 in C.

While the dominant seventh chord is typically built on the fifth (or dominant) degree of a major scale, the minor seventh chord is built on the second, third, or sixth degree. A minor seventh chord contains the same notes as an added sixth chord. For example, C-E♭-G-B♭ can function as both a C minor seventh and an E flat added sixth (Id chord).

Major seventh chords are usually constructed on the first or fourth degree of a scale, (in C or G major: C-E-G-B). Due to the major seventh interval between the root and seventh (C-B, an inverted minor second), this chord can sometimes sound dissonant, depending on the voicing used. For example, Bacharach and David's Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head opens with a major chord followed by a major seventh in the next measure.

The major seventh is sometimes notated as Δ 7 (a delta chord) or just a Δ (which has the same meaning).

Half-diminished seventh chord

Leading-tone seventh chord (viiø7) in C major, bø7.

A half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord built from the seventh degree of a major scale. It's considered "half-diminished" because a fully diminished seventh has a double-flatted seventh, making it enharmonically the same as a major sixth. The half-diminished seventh chord uses a minor seventh over a diminished triad.

Diminished seventh chord

A comparison of the Diminished 7th and Dominant 7th (b9) Chords

A diminished 7th chord is made of three superimposed minor 3rds (e.g. B-D-F-A), which is two tritones a minor third apart (e.g. B-F, D-A). The diminished 7th chord has been used by composers and musicians for a variety of reasons over time. Some reasons include: as a symbol of Sturm und Drang; modulation; and for characterisation. The diminished 7th chord is seen more frequently in late classical and romantic period works but is also found in Baroque and Renaissance period works, though not as frequently.

All of the elements of the Diminished 7th chord can be found in the Dominant 7th (b9) chord as seen in a comparison of the two chords.


Seventh chord inversions are as follows:

  • 7 — GBDF
  • {}^6_5 — BDFG
  • {}^4_3 — DFGB
  • {}^4_2 — FGBD

See also


  1. ^ Kostka & Payne (1995). Tonal Harmony, p.225. Third Edition. ISBN 0-07-300056-6.
  2. ^ The altered seventh chord (formally, augmented/augmented seventh chord), defined by a root, a major third, an augmented fifth, and an augmented seventh (i.e., a sequence of 3 major thirds), is a rarely used tertian seventh chord. The reason is that the augmented seventh interval is enharmonically equivalent to one entire octave (in equal temperament, 3 major thirds = 12 semitones = 1 octave) and is hence perfectly consonant with the chord root.
  3. ^ Mathieu, W.A. Harmonic Experience. Inner Traditions International; Rochester, Vermont; 1997. ISBN 0-89281-560-4, pg. 126

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • seventh chord — noun a triad with a seventh added • Hypernyms: ↑chord * * * noun : a chord comprising a fundamental musical note or tone with its third, fifth, and seventh and usually designated by adding a small 7 to the numerals for triads * * * Music. a chord …   Useful english dictionary

  • seventh chord — /sɛvənθ ˈkɔd/ (say sevuhnth kawd) noun → dominant seventh chord …   Australian English dictionary

  • seventh chord — noun Date: circa 1909 a chord comprising a fundamental tone with its third, fifth, and seventh …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • seventh chord — sev′enth chord n. mad a musical chord consisting of three thirds superimposed • Etymology: 1905–10 …   From formal English to slang

  • seventh chord — Music. a chord formed by the superposition of three thirds. [1905 10] * * * …   Universalium

  • seventh chord — англ. [сэ/вентс ко/од] септаккорд см. также seventh …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • Diminished seventh chord — on C  Play ( …   Wikipedia

  • Half-diminished seventh chord — See also: Dominant seventh flat five chord half diminished seventh chord Component intervals from root minor seventh diminished fifth (tritone) …   Wikipedia

  • Dominant seventh chord — on C: C7  Play ( …   Wikipedia

  • Major seventh chord — Dizzy Gillespie s 1956 recording of Dizzy s Business ends with a major seventh chord[1] with root on G.   …   Wikipedia

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