Chord progressions without 7ths are like peanut butter without jelly.
Music is just dry without them.
7ths help you pull out the true flavour from a chord progression, they can add tension and release, colour the sound and – most importantly – give you that goddam jelly.
So in this post, I’ll show you how to play 7th chords on guitar so that you can play more exciting music.
TIP: Make sure that you get all the basic major and minor chords down first because these 7th shapes are entirely built off those.
What are 7th Chords?
Put simply, 7th chords are normal chords with the 7th note of the scale added. They help to give a more jazzy and bluesy feel and are used in chord progressions everywhere.
There are also three types of 7th chords:
- Dominant 7th – the jazziest chord in town
- Minor 7th – jazz and blues adore him
- Major 7th – sounds like a beach on a hot summer’s day
The Essential 7th Chords You Should Learn
Alright so you now know the types of 7th chord, but which ones do you actually need to know?
Well, these are the 7th chords that you will probably end up using the most:
Dominant 7th – E7, G7, A7, D7, C7, B7
Minor 7th – Em7, Am7, Dm7
Major 7th – Cmaj7, Amaj7, Fmaj7, Gmaj7, Dmaj7
Ouch! That’s a lot of chords…
Yup, but they are really similar to the standard major and minor chords so they’re pretty easy to learn.
Most of the time, it’s as simple as adding a note and BAM!
You get yourself a 7th chord.
How to Play Dominant 7th Chords
Alright, so now it’s time for me to actually show you how to play these jazzy fellas…
I’m just gonna assume that you know the basic major and minor chords and how to read chord diagrams by this point, if not then you can check out my post on the basic major and minor chords – which covers both – by clicking here.
Anyway, these are the most common dominant 7th chords:
Literally the exact same as an E chord but with your pinkie on there too.
You may also see this being played by people who just lift up their 3rd finger off the regular E chord shape like this:
That is also 100% correct but I think the 1st version sounds much clearer and just nicer. You learn whichever floats ya boat.
This shape feels even easier to play than a regular G chord shape so hopefully it shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.
As easy as lifting your first finger off the G string.
Using the same concept as the E7, you could also play the dominant 7th note with your pinkie like this:
A7 is higher than E7 so in both chords the dominant 7th note rings out clear. Again, both are 100% correct so choose whichever you prefer the sound of.
D7 is a bit annoying because it doesn’t really look anything like a normal D chord. It’s a relatively comfortable shape to play though anyway.
As easy as a normal C chord + pinkie.
Holy cow! What the heck is that shape!?
I know! B7 is annoying as heck.
Are you sure that that’s right? You must have made a mistake when making the diagram…
If there was an award for the most pain-in-the-ass guitar chord…
Then it’s gotta go to this one.
But ah well… you’ll get over it. It’s literally the only open position B chord you’ll ever use anyway.
Take some time getting those down. Particularly that pesky B7. Then you can begin to worry about the Minor 7ths.
How to Play Minor 7th Chords
Alright, so luckily for you there are only three minor 7th chords that you really need to know.
Pretty easy, huh?
And here they are:
You could also see this chord being played without the 3rd and 4th finger, with your 2nd finger playing the only note on the fretboard.
But I’ll be honest with ya, it sounds gross. The one above sounds like the heavens have opened in comparison.
There’s your Am7 but – using the same logic from earlier – it’s also 100% correct to play the chord like this:
Try ’em both and just learn your favourite.
Yup, it feels annoyingly different to a standard D chord.
But you’ll live, it’s basically the same as the top half of an F chord anyway.
How to Play Major 7th Chords
Remember I said earlier that these sound like a beach on a hot summer’s day?
They’re just so goddam chill sounding, they make you wanna close your eyes and sunbathe.
Just have a go at some of these and you’ll feel as cosy as a pig in a blanket:
Take your index finger off from a C chord and boom! Chill…
Just life up your index finger to stop barring the high E string and bam! Chill………
Slide your index finger back one fret and pow! CHILL…
Gmaj7 is a pain in the ass to play but I don’t care because it sounds CHILL………
Bar down the top three strings on fret two and shabam! CHILLLLL…….
Sorry, I just had way too much fun there haha.
But you get the point, many of these chords aren’t too different from the basic major chord and you’ve now got a feeling to associate with the chords to help you remember them.
Speaking of remembering chords, what’s actually the best way to practice them so that you can learn them fast?
Aha! Look no further…
How to Practice Chords for Fast Progress
Ok, you know how to play the chords but you don’t really know them yet.
So what’s the best way to get them from being the guys you nod and smile at to the guys you’d call your best mates?
One way that you can get good at these chord shapes fast is by using something I call The switch method.
I know right, WOW. I couldn’t think of any better name so The switch method it is.
Anyway, it goes a little something like this:
- Find 2 chords that you are trying to learn. E.g. E7 and A7
- Switch between them continuously for a few minutes. E7 to A7 to E7 to A7 to E7
- Have a break and do it again until these changes feel comfortable.
- Add an extra chord to the mix. E.g. C7
- Switch from E7 to C7 to A7 to E7 to C7to A7 for a few minutes
- Once this feels comfortable add another chord. E.g. G7
Once you have a set of 4 chords that you are comfortable switching between, make a new set with 2 new chords.
You then repeat the process until you have another 4 chords in the bag.
Within a couple of weeks, you’re 7th chord game will be something else…
(I wouldn’t have more than 4 chords in a set though. Otherwise, you don’t get enough reps of each new chord you add.)
And would ya look at that.
You’ve learnt new chords AND practiced switching to them at the same time.
And that’s why this method is epic, it kills two birds with one stone.
Wrapping It Up
Learning to play 7th chords on guitar is really handy for all aspects of guitar playing.
Whether learning a new song or writing one, you’re just bound to use them at some point.
As always though, don’t try to learn all of them at once because you’ll probably feel a sudden impulse to throw your guitar into the TV.