Music Foundations Tutorial: Using Seventh Chords For Harmonic Progression Pt.1: Major 7th (Maj7) w/ Max Wild

In this three-part Music Foundations tutorial, Musician and Dubspot Instructor Max Wild demonstrates how to use seventh chords to enrich harmonic progressions. In the first tutorial, Max explains the different types of seventh chords, and shows you how to construct the major 7th (Maj7) chord.

First of all, what is a seventh chord? Seventh chords are four-note chords that derive their name from the upper-most note, which is a seventh interval above the root (starting note of chord). Every seventh chord is constructed from a set of intervals, and knowing what these intervals are, will enable us to construct a seventh chord starting from any note. Seventh chords consist of the Root (lowest note in root position), 3rd (2nd note), 5th (3rd note), and 7th (fourth note). In the case of the Maj7 the Root and 3rd are a major third (M3) apart (4 half-steps). The 5th is a Perfect 5th above the Root (7 half-steps), and the 7th is a major 7th above the root (11 half-steps). Another way to look at this construct would be to count the intervals from one note to the next. In that case we would count a major 3rd (M3) from the root to 3rd, a minor 3rd (m3) from 3rd to 5th, and major 3rd (M3) from 5th to 7th.

Let’s talk about the sound of seventh chords. Generally seventh chords sound thicker in texture and more colorful than triads, because of the added seventh. We often associate their sound with jazz, however they can be found in all music genres, where they are used to make the harmony sound richer.  Within seventh chords, each chord has a distinct sound quality. The major 7th chord sounds mellow, calm, or unresolved. Since the major 7th chord is major (the first three notes spell a major triad) it also sounds fairly bright. In its practical application I have found the Maj7 chord to be used in soul, neo-soul, R&B, some types of hip-hop, disco, and basically any music that is going for a richer, ‘jazzier’ sound.

To demonstrate the sound of the major 7th I am going to play a chord progression in which I use only major 7th chords, however, you are of course at liberty to mix major 7th chords with all other types of chords when creating a chord progression of your own. The chord progression I use consists of CMaj7, G#Maj7, F#Maj7, and A#Maj7 chords. I have also added a bassline, melody, and beat to give some context of how to use these chords in a song. The best way to learn how to use seventh chords though is through experimentation and trying them out in different musical situations. I hope you find this approach useful and use it to create rich harmonic sequences of your own. Stay tuned for my next tutorial on minor seventh chords. – Max Wild

Here are some examples of the major 7th chord used by other artists:

Jill Scott “Golden”: Chords 3, 5 and 6 of the 8-chord sequence are BMaj7, G#Maj7, F#M7:

James Blake “The Wilhelm Scream”: First chord is CMaj7:

Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under The Bridge”: First chord of second verse is AMaj7:

MOA “My Name Is MOA”: Second chord of saxophone solo chords is EMaj7:

Dubspot Instructor Max Wild is a saxophonist and electronic music producer based in New York City. He recently launched his latest project under the moniker MOA, with a debut EP My Name Is MOA coming out in June of 2014. Listen to the title track “My Name Is MOA” above and visit MOA for more information.

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