In our previous post we’ve learned how to construct 3 note chords – so called triads. We also found out that there is a specific pattern of chords in the major key, which actually applies to any Major scale. In this post we will have a closer look at what is referred to as 7th.
But before moving on to this topic we are going to have another look at chord patterns in the key. The thing is that the Minor key has a different pattern of chords compared to the Major key. If you have the time, you can take A Minor scale, construct all chords from the key, then listen to them and try to write down the chord quality next to each chord (whether it is major, minor or diminished). If you do this and do it correctly, you will get a pattern of chord qualities which is applicable to each Minor key.
But let me give you the chord pattern for Minor keys right away. If you for example take the A Minor scale and construct all chords for that scale, you will get the following:
1. A C E – Am
2. B D F - B°/Bdim
3. C E G - Cmaj
4. D F A - Dm
5. E G B - Em
6. F A C - Fmaj
7. G B D - Gmaj
So, we now have our chord pattern. And as I already mentioned, you can use this pattern (m, dim, maj, m, m, maj, maj) for any Minor key.
Let’s write both the chords for the C Major scale and the A minor scale next to each other and compare them for a minute. This will teach you something interesting. See below:
You can see in the picture that the chords and their qualities are the same (with a bit of logical thinking you would reach the same conclusion). They have the same pattern. The only thing that differs is the starting point. That’s an interesting correlation isn’t it?
So how can we use this knowledge? Well, it simply means that if you know the chord pattern for Major scales, you do not have to learn the chord pattern for Minor scales. Let’s try this out shall we?
I always recommend to use the pattern for Major scales (maj, m, m, maj, maj, m, dim) as your staring point. Now, because we know this pattern I claimed that we do not need to learn the pattern for Minor scales. If you have another look at the illustration you can see that the pattern for the Minor scale is starting on the 6th chord quality of the Major scale. In other words the pattern for Minor scales starts with m (maj, m, m, maj, maj, m, dim). And now that you have chosen where to start, you automatically know what the qualities are for each chord in any Minor scale. You do not have to listen to the chords in order to assign the correct qualities. All you have to know is the chord pattern for Major scales and that 6th quality in that pattern is the 1st quality for Minor scales. If you are still a bit unsure about this, simply study the illustration above a bit more. I am sure you will understand the correlation.
Actually, music theory is all about correlations. Let’s take a little step back. We have seen the following:
C Major is an all-white key scale. This also applies to A Minor
The specific pattern of steps/gaps between notes in one Major scale applies to all Major scales
The specific pattern of steps/gaps between notes in one Minor scale applies to all Minor scales
The pattern of chord qualities in one Major scale (maj, m, m, maj, maj, m, dim) applies to all Major scales
The pattern of chord qualities in one Minor scale (m, dim, maj, m, m, maj, maj) applies to all Minor scales
The 1st chord quality in the pattern for Minor scales is equal to the 6th chord quality in the pattern for Major scales.
Once you start understanding these correlations, music theory becomes really easy. We haven’t mentioned all correlations yet, but if you keep reading our posts, you will see music is really governed by rules. And once you understand these rules they will really help you composing great music!
Ok, now you know everything about chord patterns in the key. Let’s move on to 7th chord construction. From our previous post you know how to create triads. To create a triad, all you have to do is just skip one note each time. The same rules apply to 7th chords. All you have to do is simply add one more note to your triad. That means that the definition of a 7th chord is as follows:
“The 7th chord is a harmony of 4 notes (playing 4 notes at the same time).”
We know we can’t just play random 4 notes. To create a 7th chord, you need to follow the same procedure as you do for triads, but simply add one more note. Have a look below where I took the C Major scale, wrote down all 7th chords and added the chord symbols to it:
1. C E G B - Cmaj7
2. D F A C - Dm7
3. E G B D - Em7
4. F A C E - Fmaj7
5. G B D F - G7
6. A C E G - Am7
7. B D F A - Bm7b5
Have a listen to the sample below:
Can you hear how much more interesting and fuller 7th chords sound? If you want to play with it yourself, you can download and import the following MIDI file which contains all 7th chords of the C Major scale.
Regarding the chord symbols, you can see that the only change in the symbol for most chords is that I just added ‘7’ to the quality. However, chord number 5 and chord number 7 look totally different. Let me explain this. Chord number 5 is written without any chord quality, with just a number 7 next to it. The chord is still Major, but the interval/gap between the 1st note of the chord (G) and the 4th note of the chord (F) is 10 semitones. You can have a look at your keyboard (or look at the piano roll in your DAW) and count the semitones to see for yourself. Well, to make it easy for you, have a look at the picture below:
You might think “10 semitones interval…and so what?” Well, if you take a normal major 7th chord, the gap between the root/1st note of the chord and 4th note of the chord, will be 11 semitones. That is why chord number 5 from the Major key has a different name (if there are 4 notes in the chord). The name of this chord is: Dominant 7th chord. The symbol is just a 7 next to chord name. Also, I am sure that if you listened to all chords from the C Major key carefully, you noticed that chord number 5 has a different sound than any other chord. You could not really tell whether it is major or minor. But different it is. Again, this difference is indicated by the symbol 7 and we call the chord Dominant.
Let’s move on to chord number 7. From our previous post you already know that triad number 7 from the Major scale is called “Diminished”. But if this is a 7th chord, it is called “Half-diminished” or “Minor 7 Flat 5”. Great, now it becomes really complicated. Well, not quite. You already know that this chord differs from other chords because it has 1 semitone less in the interval between the 1st note of the chord and the 3rd note of the chord. I also mentioned that - if you want to create the first chord of the key – you simply take notes number 1, 3 and 5 from the key. And we actually need to stick to this chord “spelling” for every chord. Every chord follows the 1-3-5 spelling (for triads). We will talk more about this in my next post, but following from what I said above each 7th chord has its own 1-3-5-7 spelling. Now, chord number 7 (which used to be called “diminished” as a triad) is now called “Minor 7 Flat 5” because “flat 5”means that the interval between the 1st note the 3rd note of the chord has 1 semitone less (number 5 is linked to the chord spelling 1-3-5-7, where 5 is the 3rd note).
I think it is enough information for today. In our next post we will be composing beautiful chord progressions using the knowledge we have gained thus far. Also, I will tell you more about chord spelling. If you are inspired and curious you can try to experiment a bit with chords and perhaps already create some nice progressions yourself. Stay tuned!
Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page: www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush