Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Intermediate
10:54

Learning Focus
  • Chords
Music Style
  • Fundamentals
  • Jazz Swing
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You’ve probably come across this chord if you’ve been playing music for a little while now. Personally, I think the Major 7th chord is one of the most gorgeous chords there is! Even in its most basic form, it feels like you’re being lifted into a peaceful dream 😌. That’s why we wanted to make this guide on major 7th chords for piano, so you can get the most out of them in your music!

Below you’ll find everything you need to know, including how to build each major 7th chord on the piano, create their inversions, and make major 7th chords even more beautiful with simple voicing and improv techniques. No matter what style of music you play or whether you are a beginner or advanced player, you’ll find this lesson extremely useful!

Intro to Major 7th Chords

Major 7th chords can be used on the piano with nearly any style of music! Typically though, we see them in more contemporary styles such as Jazz, Latin jazz, Pop, R&B, Neo-Soul, New Age, and 20th-century classical music, just to name a few.

In all these styles, the major 7th chord tends to stick out because it evokes a certain feeling that isn’t like most other chords. Once you learn about it, you’ll likely be able to know how to use it in any of the above styles since its sound tends to bring a very specific flavor.

Let’s break it down!

What are major 7th chords?

A major 7th chord is a 4-note chord with a bright and beautiful sound. Major 7th chords are constructed from the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th tones of a major scale. Another easy way to build a major 7th chord is to start with a major triad and add a major 7th interval above the root. (Think: 1–3–5–7). For example, C major 7 contains the notes C–E–G–B. In a major key, major 7th chords naturally occur for the Ⅰ chord and the Ⅳ chord. Examples of common chord symbols for major 7th chords include Cmaj7, CM7, CMA7 and C▵7.

Major 7th Chord Formula Piano

[Tap or click the keyboard to hear the chord.👆🖱🎹🔊]

Tip: A simple shortcut to finding the 7th of a major 7th chord on piano is to take the root, and go down a half step. That note is your major 7th! For example, on a C major 7th, a half step below the root C is B. You can simply move that note up an octave and you’ll have the correct note for the 7th.

More important than the theoretical stuff though is to get familiar with the sound and feeling of the major 7th chord! You can click on the keyboard above to hear it. Be sure to play the major 7th chord on the piano yourself as well. Try to use imagery and descriptive language regarding what emotions it makes you feel.

Comparing Major Triads & Major 7th Chords

If you’re more on the beginner side, then you’re probably much more familiar with basic 3 note chords on the piano (triads). However, if you simply add this 1 note (the major 7th) to your major chords on the piano, you’ll add tons of beauty.

Let’s use an example to prove this. Below are two versions of the same basic chord progression. One uses basic major triads and the next one adds a major 7th note on top for each chord. Listen for yourself and see what you think:

Basic Progression with Major Triads

Basic Progression with Major Triads

Basic Progression with Major 7th Chords

Basic Progression with Major Seventh Chords

If you’re like me, then you’re probably thinking the major 7th chord version sounds much nicer. All we did was add one note on top of the same chords! This is the amazing thing about music, much like in life, where 1 simple change can make all the difference.

Piano Chord Chart of All Major 7th Chords

For your reference, here is a complete Piano Chord Chart of All Major 7th Chords in every key. You’ll see the chord symbol followed by the specific notes on the piano within each major 7th chord.

C Major 7 Piano Chord DiagramC Major 7: C–E–G–B


Db Major 7 piano chord (D♭–F–A♭–C), Chord symbols: D♭maj7, D♭MA7 and D♭▵7.D♭ Major 7: D♭–F–A♭–C


D Major 7 piano chord (D–F♯–A–C♯), Chord symbols: Dmaj9, DMA7 and D▵7.D Major 7: D–F♯–A–C♯


Eb Major 7 piano chord (E♭–G–B♭–D), Chord symbols: E♭maj7, E♭MA7 and E♭▵7.E♭ Major 7: E♭–G–B♭–D


E Major 7 piano chord (E–G♯–B–D♯), Chord symbols: Emaj7, EMA7 and E▵7.E Major 7: E–G♯–B–D♯


F Major 7 piano chord (F–A–C–E), Chord symbols: Fmaj7, FMA7 and F▵7.F Major 7: F–A–C–E


Gb Major 7 piano chord (G♭–B♭–D♭–F), Chord symbols: G♭maj7, G♭MA7 and G♭▵7.G♭ Major 7: G♭–B♭–D♭–F


G Major 7 piano chord (G–B–D–F♯), Chord symbols: Gmaj7, GMA7 and G▵7.G Major 7: G–B–D–F♯


Ab Major 7 piano chord (A♭–C–E♭–G), Chord symbols: A♭maj7, A♭MA7 and A♭▵7.A♭ Major 7: A♭–C–E♭–G


A Major 7 piano chord (A–C♯–E–G♯), Chord symbols: Amaj7, AMA7 and A▵7.A Major 7: A–C♯–E–G♯


Bb Major 7 piano chord (B♭–D–F–A), Chord symbols: B♭maj7, B♭MA7 and B♭▵7.B♭ Major 7: B♭–D–F–A


B Major 7 piano chord (B–D♯–F♯–A♯), Chord symbols: Bmaj7, BMA7 and B▵7.B Major 7: B–D♯–F♯–A♯


Piano Chord Chart of All Major 7th Chords

Beyond the Basics with Major 7th Chords

Now, if you’re feeling comfortable with major 7th chords so far, then this next part of the lesson will be very exciting! We’re going to be taking the major 7th chord and finding many different ways to use and apply it on the piano. After all, in real music, we rarely just play chords in basic root position.

Let’s take a look at several interesting things we can do with a major 7th chord on the piano to make it even more interesting!

Major 7th Inversions

Once you’re comfortable with building root position major 7th chords as described earlier in the lesson, the next thing you should do is try inverting it. To invert a chord means to rearrange the notes of the chord so that other chord tones besides the root are at the bottom.

An easy way to find the next inversion of a chord is to take the bottom note and bring it an octave higher. Take a look at the example below. Starting with root position, we are going to go through each inversion of the chord until all the notes of the chord have had their place at the bottom. This gives us a total of 4 possible positions of the chord major 7th chord, 1 root position and 3 inversions:

Blocked Major 7th Inversions

Blocked Major 7th Chords

Why would we want to invert a chord like this? For one thing, each inversion produces a slightly different color to the chord. It also can be functional for the music we’re playing. For example, inversions help us when we are harmonizing a melody, smoothly voicing chords, or trying to make use of the best ranges of the piano.

Note: The inversions above use slash chord notation in the chord symbols. The note to the right of the slash specifies the lowest note (the bass) of the chord being played on the left of the slash.

Broken Major 7th Inversions

Now, you may also want to play all these inversions in a broken or arpeggiated fashion. Not only does it sound beautiful, but it’s a great exercise to help you get all the inversions under your fingers:

Broken Major 7th Chords

Note: If you’re interested in improvising or composing on the piano, practicing the above will give you language that you can use to make some great sounds!

Exploring Major 7th Shapes & Slash Chords

In this section, our goal is to see the Major 7th in some different ways. Often, we think of chords as specific groups of notes that are related to the chord’s root. However, in many ways, we can also think of chords as just shapes.

How so? Because chords are made by stacking multiple groups of 3rds together and since we are limited to 12 notes, we’ll often see many chords that share the same notes! 

Understanding this can both make our life easier in constructing chords and give us interesting sounds to play with. Let’s go over 2 different ways that this is the case:

Part Over Root

The first way to use shapes is to break apart a chord and see if you can find other chords within it. Since a Major 7th chord has 4 notes, we can play of the top 3 notes in the right hand and the root in the left hand. This voicing technique is sometimes described as “part over root” or “triad over root.” Voicing major 7th chords is this manner allows you to play the root of the chord in a lower register for a fuller sound.

You can also represent this approach with slash chords (see the chord symbols in parenthesis in the example below). For some, this may make it easier in terms of constructing all your major 7th chords on the piano.

Specifically, this means that a trick to find any major 7th chord is to play a minor triad that is a major 3rd above the root. For a C major 7th chord, that would be an E minor over a C. Let’s take a look at some more examples of this:

Major 7ths as Minor Triad Over Root

Major 7ths as Minor Triad Over Root

Can you see it now? Try using this trick on every root around the circle of 5ths and see if you can form all your major 7th chords by doing so.

Don’t forget, if you’re a PWJ Member, you can download the lesson sheet PDF and backing track from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. We also have Smart Sheet Music for this lesson available so that you can transpose it into any key to help you out (Smartsheet link appears in a blue bar at the top of the page whenever you’re logged in).

Major 7th Upper Structures

The other way we can use major 7th chords is by considering the whole chord as an upper structure to another chord. This is essentially the equivalent of saying that you’re stacking one chord on top of another. 

If that sounds complicated, don’t worry. Let’s make it very simple. If you play a full major 7th chord in your right hand and play a different root note in your left hand, you can create a whole new beautiful sound!

Let’s take a look at some examples. Below, we can take a C major 7th chord and put 3 different notes as roots in the left hand (A, F, and D). Notice how much the sound changes on each different root note and how certain colors get added:

Major 7th Shapes as Upper Structures

Major 7ths Shapes as Upper Structures

If you are more on the advanced side, we’ve also included chord symbols and chord tone analysis on each example so you can see how the same notes become different chord tones depending on what note is being played in the left hand.

Note: The fraction-like symbol in parenthesis in measure 3  which looks like “C▵7 over F” uses what we call polychordal notation. Essentially, these are expressing two different chords being played at the same time. The chord above the line is being played over the chord under the line.

Polychords/upper structures are a fantastic technique to have in your musical toolbox. If you are a composer, experimenting with this technique can easily open up new possibilities in your music!

Improvising Over Major 7th Chords

Now, let’s talk about how we can improvise some awesome music over major 7th chords on the piano. Whether you are trying to write a melody for a song that uses major 7th chords or improvising over major 7ths on a jazz tune, this section will be an invaluable resource!

To demonstrate these soloing techniques over major 7th chords on the piano, we’ll be using a specific chord progression called the Tadd Dameron turnaround. This progression comes from the last 4 chords on the head of Tadd Dameron’s famous jazz standard “Lady Bird.”

Dexter Gordon

“Lady Bird” (1965)
The Tadd Dameron Turnaround

Tadd Dameron Turnaround (Ladybird Turnaround)

Note: For any theory nerds out there 🤓, the Tadd Dameron progression is actually based on the familiar Ⅰ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ turnaround progression except that it uses an awesome technique called tritone substitution. Usually, this is done with dominant 7th chords, but if the melody fits, you can also use major 7th chords for a different color.

Technique #1: Arpeggios

The first way that you can improvise over major 7th chords on the piano is by simply arpeggiating the major 7th chords in a rhythmic fashion. The example below arpeggiates up each major 7th chord and then comes back down on the offbeats to create some interest:

Improvising Over Major 7th Chords with Arpeggios

You can also try using inverted versions of each chord as discussed in the Major 7th inversions section above.

Technique #2: Major Scales

To add some more note options to your solo, you can play the major scale of the root of each major 7th chord. For example, on C major 7th you would use a C major scale. On an Eb major 7th, you would use an Eb major scale, etc.

Try this exercise by improvising with your right hand on each major scale while you play the root position chords in your left hand:

Improvising Over Major 7th Chords with Major Scales

Technique #3: Upper Structure Polychords

Another cool way to improvise over major 7th chords on the piano is by using upper structure polychords. This means using the chord shapes found on the top 3 notes of a major 7th chord. For example on C major 7th, you would improvise on an E minor chord.

Note: We discussed this concept in detail above in the “Exploring Major 7th Shapes & Slash Chords” section in case you missed it.

Here’s a simple example of a solo that makes use of upper structure polychords over each major 7th chord:

Improvising Over Major 7th Chords with Upper Structure Polychords

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve completed today’s Quick Tip on Major 7th Chords for Piano: A Complete Guide. Hopefully, the exercises and examples in today’s lesson have given you much more understanding of major 7th chords and how to use them.

Don’t forget you can download the sheet music and backing track to play along with on this lesson below 👇. Smart sheet music is available as well that can transpose the material into any key!

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:

 

Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.

 

 

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Writer
Daine Jordan

Daine is a diverse and award-winning pianist, composer, and producer. Trained from a young age on classical piano, Daine has since ventured into nearly all avenues of music. He began to play professionally starting at age 16. Daine has composed for and performed with nearly every type of ensemble, from...

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