In this lesson we’re going to study the Major 7 chord quality. We’ll look at how its constructed, how to play it in different positions on the neck (in all keys), how to play it in different inversions and what extentions to add. There will also be some groove and solo studies for you to put this material to work in its proper musical setting.
So what is a Major 7 chord and where does it come from?
As with most chords the Major 7 occurs naturally in a number of diatonic scales. For our purposes we’ll look at where it occurs in the Major scale. Figure 1 shows the C Major scale.
If we play every other note starting with the first one we have the C Major 7 arpeggio, figure 2.
If we start on the fourth note of the Major scale and play every other note we have another Major 7 arpeggio. See figure 3.
Now we know that the Major scale contains two Major 7 chords which means every Major key contains two Major 7 chords.
Now that we know what the Major 7 looks and sounds like, lets look at a few more ways we can play it. Figures 4 through 8 show some different fingering possibilites for a one octave Major 7 arpeggio in C.
Lets look at a way we can practice this material in all 12 keys. Practicing the arpeggios in this way is really going to help you learn the neck in an organised way.
Figures 9 through 11 show a way we can play a two octave Major 7 arpeggio. On four string this requires a shift of position but five and six string players can play two octaves in one position. Figure 12 shows one way you could play a three octave Major 7 arpeggio on Six string.
These are not the only shapes you could or should use but they are the ones that make most sense to my hands, purely as an exercise. Of course good music doesn’t sound like technical exercises so its worth getting comfortable with the other shapes (fig. 4 – 8). This way you’ll be confident you’re making the right note choice whatever position your fretting hand is in.
I always find it more fun to play a groove than an exercise so here are 12 grooves, one for each key. I play each one once in the video but you could sit on each groove for a while. Its also a good idea to play every groove in every key. Boom! 12 grooves just became 144.
C Major 7 groove
G Major 7 groove
D Major 7 groove
A Major 7 groove
E Major 7 groove
B Major 7 groove
F# Major 7 groove
Db Major 7 Groove
Ab Major 7 groove
Eb Major 7 groove
Bb Major 7 groove
F Major 7 groove
What is an inversion?
So far we’ve played the Major 7 arpeggio in root position. This means that the root is the lowest note we play. We could also start with the third, fifth or seventh which we would call first, second or third inversion respectively. Here’s how a two octave Major 7 arpeggio looks in first (figure 13), second (figure 14) and third (figure 15) inversion on four string bass. (Key of C)
First and third inversion each have a nice one position shape but second inversion has a note that sticks out, the ninth fret which is the third. Below (figure 16) is another way to play second inversion but it’s not any easier as it involves some big hand stretches.
There are a couple of different ways you could practice this material through all 12 keys. The way I like to go is play all 12 root position arpeggios, then all 12 in first inversion, then second, then third. You could also play root position then first, second and third all in the same key before moving to the next key but the first way requires you to really know where each chord tone is on the neck so you can shift to it. For example; the starting notes of all the first inversion arpeggios (which is the third) starting in C Major and working round the circle of fourths would be E, A, D, G, C, F, Bb /A#, D#, G#, C#, F#, B. To play root position and all three inversions in all 12 keys in eighth notes at 100bpm will take you 18 minutes and 20 seconds! That’s a workout both mentally and physically so take your time at this stage and make sure you’re really comfortable with the material before you move on to the next stage.
What is an extension?
Extensions are the notes beyond the 7th; the 9th, 11th, and 13th (sometimes refered to as the 6th). If we look at figure 17 we see the C Major scale arranged as alternate notes for two octaves; root, third, fifth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth.
Although these are all the “correct” extensions for C major 7 in the key of C that doesn’t mean they all sound good or work well musically. The note that doesn’t really work is the eleventh. Of course no one can tell you what does or doesn’t sound good, only your ears can do that, but the general consensus among musicicans is that this is an “avoid note” on a Major 7 chord. So does that mean that the Major 7 arpeggio has no eleventh? Not really. Remember that there are two Major 7 arpeggios in each key so lets take a look at the other Major 7 arpeggio from the key of C which is F Major 7.
In figure 18 we have an F Major 7 arpeggio extended to the thirteenth, this is the other Major 7 from the key of C. We can see the eleventh is a half step higher than where it was relative to the root when compared to the C Major 7. This gives us a sharp eleven. Now this is a note that really works on the Major 7 chord. In fact we can use the sharp eleven on any Major 7 chord, whether its functioning as the I or the IV chord. the exception to this is when we have a sus 4 (this will be treated as a separate chord in a future lesson)
Below are some exercises to help you get to grips with the extended arpeggios. They all have the root note G this time but make sure to practice them in all 12 keys.
We’ll begin with triadic exercises. Since the Extended Major 7 is built by stacking thirds and three stacked thirds makes a triad it seems logical to begin here. Figure 19 below divides the arpeggio into triads built on each chord tone. Its presented here with two eighth notes and a quarter to give you a moment to visualise the next shape. Once you are comfortable with this exercise start playing it as triplets or sextuplets as you increase the speed.
Figure 20 below takes the same triadic material as figure 19 but alternates ascending and descending. Watch the video for the left hand fingering, if you’re doing it right it should be easy move up and down the neck very quickly.
Next up dyads (figure 21). You don’t really hear them mentioned but these little two note groups are another useful way to help get the material under your fingers.
Figure 21 above takes the dyad idea from lowest to highest. Another way to practice this would be to use just two adjacent strings at a time. See if you can play it ascending from lowest available note to highest on just the E and A strings, then repeat for A and D, then again for D and G. (five and six string players can add in the additional strings too).
Figure 22 breaks the fully extended harmony into seventh chords. I really like this way of working with the material as it feels really comfortable under the fingers but also you can bring a lot of your grooves or licks into a new context. For example you wouldn’t play a minor 7 lick or groove on a Major 7 chord however Major 7 played from the third to the ninth is a minor 7 when viewed in isolation. Now a minor 7 lick can work over a Major 7 chord and you’re starting to add more colour to your lines by adding the ninth. The groove and solo exercises later on will use this idea extensively.
In figure 22 the arpeggio is broken into four note groups making a series of 7th chords starting on each chord tone. In this exercise there are all ascending. In order to really make the most of this information go back and play them all descending then alternating ascending/descending and vice versa.