Adding Spice with 7th Chords

Deciding what chords you’d like to use in a song is like cooking. (Choosing chords is probably a bit simpler, there are a lot of variables in cooking. With chords, there are only a few choices and then some variations on those choices.

With Chord Flow, I mainly focus on the meat and potatoes of chords, major and minor chords. Chord Flow lays them out relationally.

Chords that are next to each other sound great together.

It can also organize the chords in a key

But, 7 chords are something I haven’t delved into much; how do they work? That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

There are three types of 7 chords I’m going to talk about.

(Dominant) 7’s.

Major 7s

And minor 7s.

(To be fair, there are diminished 7 chords as well. They’re a little rebellious, but I talk about them here).

First, what are 7 chords? That’s simple; they are regular old major or minor chords with something extra added. A little extra tension. A little extra spice.

Learning how to build them is more complex–but as guitarists, we can look up chord charts. We don’t have to build them. (Learn that later if you like). 

Playing around with 7 chords is the easiest way to start to get to know them. Try using a major 7 or a (dominant) 7 instead of a major chord in a song. Try using a minor 7 in place of a minor chord. How do they sound to you?  

You could also compare them to the major and minor chords more directly. 

Try playing an A major chord and then an AM7, for instance:

Or an A and then an A7.

Or try playing Am and then an Am7.

Do you hear differences? What does that sound like to you? 

Minor 7 Chords

Minor sevens are the easiest to deal with. Just about anywhere there is a minor chord, you can play a minor 7 chord in its place. Easy-squeezey.

We’re just getting up to bat and already hitting better than .300. (For those who aren’t fans of sportsball hitting above .300 is superb). 

(Dominant) 7 Chords

Let’s move on to (dominant) 7 chords. Here we run into a naming convention that complicates 7 chords: (dominant) 7 chords are often just called 7 chords, as in A7, D7, and G7.

All of these are (dominant) 7s. But most musicians only bother saying the dominant bit when the context demands it. That’s why I adopted the convention of calling them (dominant) 7s. The parentheses are like training wheels. Anyhoo. . .

(Dominant) 7s create a feeling of tension, almost like a musical arrow pointing to the right in Chord Flow. So a G7 chord “wants” to move to a C chord. (Or Cm)

A C7 chord “wants” to go to an F chord. (Or Fm)

You can also point a (dominant) 7 at another (dominant) 7 and create a musical chain. 

Above D7 pushes towards G7, and then G7 pushes to the C chord.

(Dominant) 7 Chords in Blues

In Blues, the convention is often to make all the chords (dominant) 7s. In this case, they sort of point to the right in Chord Flow but also sort of don’t. 

Blues doesn’t exactly follow the rules of western music theory. This is a rabbit hole that goes very deep. Adam Neely explores it a bit in his video, looking at “Hey Joe.”

Major 7 Chords

Major 7 chords have a sort of dreamy quality to them. The center chord in a key is a major 7. So is its right-hand chord. If you were to look at a key in Chord Flow, you’d end up with:

Or, if you were to align them, they’d look like this: 

So, to sum up, you could just play around with 7 chords and see what sounds good.  

And you could also use Chord Flow to help you organize chords in a key.  

All the minor chords become minor 7s. 

The chord to the left of the key center becomes a (dominant) 7. 

The two chords leftover are major 7s.  

Now you have a whole new spice rack to play with in your songwriting. 

Art by Adam G. Find out more about Adam’s art here.

New to Chord Flow? 

Here’s an intro: Chord Flow, Playing with the Basics
Here’s how it works in the Key of C: Chord Flow in the Key of C
Chord substitution with Chord Flow: ACEing Chord Flow Substitution

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