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Thread: what is the difference in a Maj7 chord and a regular 7th chord?

  1. #1
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    what is the difference in a Maj7 chord and a regular 7th chord?

    I am having trouble understanding the difference between a Maj 7th Chord and a dominant 7th chord. for example- In the key of CMaj, the I and IV positions are listed as "Maj7" but the V position is list as only a "G7", yet the notes of the chord are that of a Gmaj add the 7th... I don't get it. Can any of you musicologists out there shed some light on the difference...?
    Thank you in advance for your valuable time in the matter .
    Last edited by daystar; 04-27-2009 at 06:34 PM.

  2. #2
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    If you start with a major triad and add a major 7th - you'll get the maj7 chord.
    If you start with a major triad and add a minor 7th - you'll get the dom7 chord.

    Note that when constructing chords, intervals are to be counted using the major scale of the chord's root. So a 7th up from G would normally be thought of as the G major scales' 7th note, an F#. If you want the G major scales' minor 7th you should really call that interval out as a "minor seventh of G" rather then just the "7th of G".

    A dom7 chord is often notated as just a "7" after the chord's letter name.

    C7 = C E G Bb
    Cmaj7 = C E G B

    F7 = F A C Eb
    Fmaj7 = F A C E

    G7 = G B D F
    Gmaj7 = G B D F#

    cheers,
    Last edited by Jed; 04-27-2009 at 06:38 PM.

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    okay I get that and it makes sense...thank you. But what is befuddling me is that in the key of CMaj the V chord (G) is listed as a Dominant 7th but it does not have an F#...
    It is E G B F ... That is what's really confusing me...

  4. #4
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daystar
    okay I get that and it makes sense...thank you. But what is befuddling me is that in the key of CMaj the V chord (G) is listed as a Dominant 7th but it does not have an F#...
    It is E G B F ... That is what's really confusing me...
    Dominant means "built on the 5th", so the dominant chord in C major is a G major chord. When you add the diatonic (to C major) 7th to this chord you get a G major chord with a minor 7th. This chord (G B D F) is called G dom7 or G dominant 7 or just G7. (technically "dominant" means a 5th above (some note) rather than "built on the 5th" - but that's a longer story)

    G7 won't have an F# (because F# is the major 7th of G)
    G7 will have a G, a B, a D and an F (natural) - all diatonic to the key of C major.

    The term "dominant" is also used to identify a chord type (a chord with a major 3rd, a perfect 5th and a minor 7th) - which coincidently is the chord type of the V chord in the major keys (assuming 7th chords).

    Part of the confusion is that many different types of chords are collectively referred to a "7th chords". In this way a "7th chord" is any chord that consists of a root, some kind of 3rd (major or minor), some kind of 5th (perfect, diminished or augmented) and some kind of 7th (major, minor or diminished).

    While minor 7th chords are typically called "minor 7th chords" and major 7th chords are typically called "major 7th chords", dominant 7th chords (a major triad with a minor 7th) are often just called "7th chords". So you need to determine if someone is talking about "7th chords" in general (meaning 4 note chords) or if they are talking about "dom 7 chords" specifically.
    Last edited by Jed; 04-27-2009 at 07:10 PM.

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Nothing new, just phrased a little different. This may come in handy. Look up the formula for the Dominant 7th. The 7th degree is flatted in a dominant 7th chord. In a maj7 chord the 7th is not flatted.

    http://www.smithfowler.org/music/Chord_Formulas.htm
    ....the I and IV positions are listed as "Maj7" but the V position is list as only a "G7" ..... why?
    Well the old guys had to come up with a name or some way of telling one from the other, perhaps as the maj7's seventh is not flatted and has only "major notes" or as you see more G7 than Cmaj7 I guess the G7 was easier to write. LOL Some of these things we just have to chalk up to decisions make by those old guys. Another way to identify a maj7 chord is it will have a small triangle instead of having the "maj7" notation. Again some old guy decided this long ago.

    Dominant 7, (G7) adds tension.
    Maj7 (Cmaj7) adds color or flavor.

    Do you need color or tension? V chords could use some tension, non V chords most of the time would rather have color or flavor.

    What's the difference? One adds tension the other does not.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 04-28-2009 at 12:13 AM.

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Just to add to Jed's excellent explanation....

    A dom7 chord is labelled plain "7" because a minor 7th is the most common kind of 7th. 5 of the 7 chords in a key have minor 7ths (ii, iii, V, vi, vii).
    So the rarer major 7th is labelled with the longer symbol.

    This fits neatly with the convention of using a simple letter to indicate a major triad, and adding an "m" or "min" to indicate a minor triad (IOW one with a minor 3rd).

    IOW, 3rds are major unless you see "m" or "min";
    7ths are minor unless you see "maj".
    (And both chords assume a perfect 5th)

    One important thing to be aware of is that the terms "major" and "minor" simply mean "big" and "small" (out of 2 choices), and refer to intervals (pairs of notes) in the first instance. Those words get attached to chords via the chord's 3rd interval, because the 3rd governs its prime aural characteristic.

    major 3rd = 4 half-steps
    minor 3rd = 3 half-steps
    major 7th = 11 half-steps
    minor 7th = 10 half-steps

    2nds and 6ths can also be major or minor. 4ths and 5ths, OTOH, are usually "perfect" (referring to their strong and pure sound), but are "diminished" if reduced by a half-step, and "augmented" if enlarged by a half-step.
    Hence "dim" and "aug" triads take their names from their altered 5ths.
    In some cases, minor intervals can be "diminished" by a half-step (see dim7 below) and major intervals can be "augmented" by a half-step.

    So:

    "A7" = A-C#-E-G. A root, plus major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th (all assumed as standard - 3rd and 5th not even mentioned in symbol).
    V chord in D major or D (harmonic) minor.
    I chord in A blues; IV chord in E blues.

    "Am7" = A-C-E-G. A root, plus minor 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th. 3rd is labelled "m" to indicate divergence from standard. IOW, this is an "A minor chord, with a 7th."
    ii chord in G major, iii chord in F major, vi chord in C major.
    iv chord in E minor. (Not usually a i chord in A minor.)

    "Amaj7 = A-C#-E-G#. A root, plus major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th. "maj" refers to the 7th, not the 3rd (assumed to be major as normal).
    I chord in A major, IV chord in E major. In comparison with the above, this is an "A chord, with a major 7th".
    III chord in F# minor, bVI chord in C# minor.

    "Am(maj7)" = A-C-E-G#. A root, plus minor 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th. Both 3rd and 7th are different from standard, so need to be labelled. (5th is still perfect, as standard.)
    Tonic (i) chord in A minor (implies melodic minor in jazz).

    "Am7b5" = A-C-Eb-G. A root, minor 3rd, diminished 5th, minor 7th. In this case the 7th is standard (plain "7"), but 3rd and 5th are labelled as different.
    vii chord in Bb major, ii chord in G minor.
    AKA "half-diminished" - compare with next chord...)

    "Adim7" = A-C-Eb-Gb. A root, minor 3rd, diminished 5th, diminished 7th. You can view this symbol in a couple of ways:
    1. "dim7" simply refers to the diminished 7th interval (a half-step lower than the standard minor 7th) - and you assume the triad is also diminished; or
    2. "dim7" means every interval is a half-step lower than in the "standard" A7 chord.
    vii chord in Bb harmonic minor.

    If you prefer to see it laid out graphically:
    Code:
               HALF-STEPS: |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 
    TRIADS
        major (no symbol): 1  .  .  . M3  .  . p5  .  .  .  . (1)
                        m: 1  .  . m3  .  .  . p5  .  .  .  . (1)
                      dim: 1  .  . m3  .  . d5  .  .  .  .  . (1)
                      aug: 1  .  .  . M3  .  .  . a5  .  .  . (1)
    SEVENTHS         
                     maj7: 1  .  .  . M3  .  . p5  .  .  . M7 (1)
                   (dom)7: 1  .  .  . M3  .  . p5  .  . m7  . (1)
                       m7: 1  .  .  m3 .  .  . p5  .  . m7 .  (1)
                  m(maj7): 1  .  .  m3 .  .  . p5  .  .  . M7 (1)
                     m7b5: 1  .  .  m3 .  . d5  .  .  . m7  . (1)
                     dim7: 1  .  .  m3 .  . d5  .  . d7  .  . (1)
    
    M = major
    m = minor
    p = perfect
    d = diminished
    a = augmented
    red = non-standard intervals referred to in symbol
    Those are the 6 basic 7th chord types in jazz.
    There is a sub-category of "altered" dom7s, which can have a b5 or #5, along with major 3 and minor 7.
    It's also possible for maj7 chords to have an augmented 5th (maj7#5), but these are quite rare. (They occur naturally on the III degree of harmonic and melodic minor, but III chords in minor keys tend to be ordinary maj7s.)

    IOW, chord symbol language is a very neat shorthand, to get across the notes required in as economic a way as possible. We take some intervals for granted (major 3, perfect 5, minor 7) - and only indicate any divergence from that. You can imagine the clumsy symbols if every interval in a chord had to be labelled in the symbol!


    BTW, "dominant" refers to the medieval modal practice whereby one note of the mode (generally the 5th) would literally dominate a melody: the most commonly used or held note, or the note others would revolve around. It was also called the "reciting tone", and you get a hint of this in some modern church chants which retain ancient practices. The "finalis" (known as the "tonic" in modern music) would be - again literally - the final note of the piece, that it resolved to.

    As Jed says, a "dominant 7th" chord is simply a 7th chord built on the dominant (V) degree of a scale - in this case the major scale (or harmonic minor).
    But this chord type (major 3rd/minor 7th) is frequently used in other ways - eg in blues on I and IV chords - that it's come to refer to that chord type whatever scale degree its root is on.

  7. #7
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    WOW!!! Thank you so much Jed, Malcolm, and JonR for the thoughtful and enlightening posts! The time and detail you guys put into answering my question is much appreciated- especially you JonR- really great stuff and the chart was a nice touch!!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jed View Post
    Dominant means "built on the 5th"
    Hey Jed, et al. I've just joined the forum to thank you for this. I know the thread is five years old, but your explanation was so enlightening - it has cleared up a whole area of mystery for me, and lead to lots more research. It's definitely time for this lazy play-by-ear type to brush up on his theory ;-)
    Last edited by SirGawain; 04-06-2014 at 09:16 PM.

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