In this guitar lesson we are going to learn how major 7th chords are made and a few of the more common shapes for major 7th chords. Major 7th chords have a mellow or jazzy quality to them. They can be nice to use instead of a regular major chord. It is important that you understand how regular major chords are made before you go through this lesson. If you need a review of major chords, go to the lesson on Major Guitar Chords. We will be working in the key of G major for this lesson.
There are two basic ways to think about how to make a major 7th chord. We will take a quick look at both ways. Let’s call the first way stacking thirds. Major chords are made up of a root, 3rd, and 5th. A G major chord would be spelled G, B, D. The interval between the first two notes of a major chord is a major third. The interval between the next two notes of a major chord is a minor third. To make a major chord in to a major 7th chord, all you need to do is add another major third on top of the chord. The 5th of a G major chord is a D note. A major third away from D is an F#. This F# is the note we need to build our G major 7th chord. You would spell a G major 7th chord G, B, D, F#. The formula for a major 7th chord is major third, minor third, and another major third.
The second way to think about building a major 7th chord is to just add a major 7th interval to an existing major chord. G, A, B, C, D, E, and F# are the notes in the G major scale. You already know from the last example that an F# is the note that we need to build a G major 7th chord. Start with G as 1 and count all the way up the G major scale until you get to F#. F# is the 7th note in the G major scale. The interval from G to F# is a major 7th. Be sure that you put an F# with your G chord and not an F natural. If you add an F natural to a G major chord you would have a minor 7th interval. This would make you end up with a G dominant 7th chord not a G major 7th chord. If you start on the first root note of any major scale and go to the 7th note of that scale, those two notes will be a major 7th interval. If you are using this method, you can think of the formula for a major 7th chord as root, 3rd, 5th 7th.
Now that you know how major 7th chords are made let’s learn two common major 7th chord voicings. You can move these chords anywhere on the fretboard but for our example we are playing G major 7th chords. We have supplied you with the chord diagrams so you can see exactly what is going on.
Put your 1st finger on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, 3rd finger on the 4th fret of the 4th string, 4th finger on the 4th fret of the 3rd string, and your 2nd finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. Play just those four notes. You can mute the 5th string by letting your 1st finger just lay over it a bit.
The second shape starts out by playing the 5th fret of the 4th string with your 1st finger. Now grab the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings on the 7th fret with your 3rd finger. You will have to use a small bar to play all three strings with one finger.
There is one last thing that you should be aware of when you are just starting to learn about major 7th chords. If you are in a major key, G major for our example, the 1 and the 4 chords can be played as major 7th chords. So, if the G major scale is G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, you could use a G major 7th for the 1 chord and a C major 7th for the 4 chord.
Experiment with these chords and see if you like the sound of them in your music. Keep an ear out for these chords and try to identify them in music that you enjoy listening to.