Learn Piano - Seventh Chords!

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: seventh chords can do wonders to the sound of your playing!

The major seventh chord is basically just a triad with an added flatted seventh.

So what's so special about that?

Well, the seventh chord is what is know as a 'transition chord'. It leads on to other chords. You would never hear a piece ending on a seventh chord - it would sound very strange indeed. But as a transition chord it works wonders on the other chords leading up to and following on from it. Transition chords make music sound sexier and more interesting. They put the wow-factor into a piece.

As a pianist, you will often be using chords - particularly in the final bar of a piece where sevenths are a popular and enormously satisfactory way of leading to the final chord.

Seventh chords are pretty easy to remember. A major 7th chord is formed by playing the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and flatted 7th tones (notes) of a major scale. So for example, if I play a D major 7th, then I will be playing D, F#, A, C.

The symbols used in music notation (pop and jazz) for a major 7th are Major 7, M7 or Maj7. Whenever you see these symbols or names following a piano note (C, D, E b, etc.), this designates that a major 7th chord is to be played (e.g. Dmaj7).

All major 7th chords are constructed from these notes (1 st, 3 rd, 5 th and flatted 7 th – within the key signature), so it is fairly easy to work out for yourself how to form a major 7th from any note on the piano.

See for example, C major seventh below.

For more examples, go to http://www.looknohands.com/chordhouse/piano piano chord finder and view as many major 7th piano chords as you like. All you have to do is select the chord name (B, F#, Ab, etc.) and then select "Major 7". You can then see how the chord is formed on the virtual piano keyboard. This will open up a new window, so when you are done, simply close that page and you will be brought back here.

When you practice these major 7th chords, I recommend you construct them using the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (or 5th if you can't stretch to 4th) fingers of your right hand: thumb(1st), index finger (2nd), middle finger (3rd) and ring finger (4th). For your left hand, I recommend using the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 1st fingers - little finger (5th), fourth finger (4th), third finger (3rd) and thumb (1st).

If you find it difficult to stretch over the keys, just practice your scales a bit more and you will soon find it a lot easier. Like I said in the first lesson, your fingers will gradually become accustomed to these positions until you can cover these notes with ease.

Example one gives the major 7th chords of the keys G, F, C and D (note the example of key changes and how they appear in notation). Each seventh chord is preceded by an octave to demonstrate the seventh interval.

The piece for the lesson today is rather grimly titled ‘Funeral Procession’ because of its rather bleak air! The direction Largo is Italian for ‘very slow’. The seventh chord in this piece is played in the left hand. It is the second to last chord in the last bar.

Something else to watch out for is the tie across bars 5 to 6. This tie joins a crotchet and a minim, so you hold this note for a total of 3 crotchet beats. Write the counts underneath to help you remember.

Glossary of Terms

Largo: Slow.

Seventh: The musical interval between one note and another seven notes away from it.

Triad: A three note chord.