Many guitarists learn a few major, minor and dominant 7th chords and consider their "chord learning" stage to be over – don't be one of them!
On this page, we're going to look at learning some slightly more advanced guitar chords.
This page is part of our How To Get Better At Guitar series. If you want to get improve your guitar playing, it's time to resume your chord studies!
If you want to brush up on your open chords, check out this page: Guitar Open Chords
Learning More Advanced Guitar Chords
By 'more advanced' we mean chords that go slightly beyond the basic major, minor and seventh chords that most beginner guitarists know.
Specifically, we are going to look at major, minor and diminished sevenths.
We've covered several of these kinds of chords in previous articles, and in our Guitar Chord Of The Week series. However, in this lesson we'll look at them all together, so you can compare each type of chord.
These are chords that go beyond the basic sounds, and introduce a more advanced, subtly different sound to progressions.
As you learn more guitar chords you'll be able to use them in your own songs. You'll also be able to read chord charts in musical scores without coming a cropper when you reach the first non-standard chord!
Major 7th Chords
The first chord to be introduced in this lesson is the major 7th. Major 7th chords are usually written 'maj7' or denoted with a triangle. They are built with one more note than basic major chords.
The extra note is the major 7th note: that is, the note a major 7th interval away from the root note of the chord.
For more information on intervals see this article.
Compare a standard C major chord with a C major 7th:
Notes in a C major chord: C, E, G
Notes in a C major 7th chord: C, E, G, B
There are many ways you can play major 7th chords on the guitar. The shapes shown below are some of the most commonly used. They are shown next to their major equivalents.
The root note each chord shape is shown in blue. Position the blue note in the diagram over the note on the fretboard that is the root note of the chord you want to play (i.e. over a C on the fretboard if you want to play a C major 7th chord).
Minor 7th Chords
Minor 7 chords (usually written 'm7', 'min7' or occasionally '-7') contain one more note than standard minor chords. This additional note is the minor 7th note.
Compare a standard C minor chord with a C minor 7th:
Notes in a C minor chord: C, E flat, G
Notes in a C minor 7th chord: C, E flat, G, B flat
Two of the most common ways of playing minor 7th chords are shown below, next to their minor equivalents.
Play all of the chords below, so you can hear the difference in sound between them.
Advanced Chord Theory
All seventh chords are built from four notes: the root, third, fifth and seventh. There are subtle differences between major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7 chords. The diagram below shows the differences between the chord types.
The minor 7 chord contains a minor third; the other two contain major thirds.
The major 7th contains a major 7th; the other two contain minor 7ths.
See below for details of the diminished chord.
You don't have to know the theory behind the chords, but it will help you to become a more rounded musician.
Diminished 7th Chords
Diminished seventh chords, while still built from 4 notes, are slightly different to the other chords we've discussed in this lesson.
Diminished seventh chords contain the root, minor 3rd, diminished 5th and diminished 7th notes.
With a root of C, these are:
C, E flat, G flat and B double flat (which is 'enharmonically equivalent, i.e. the same as, an A note).
One interesting aspect of diminished seventh chords is that every note could potentially be a root note.
This means that a C diminished 7 chord played on guitar could also be an E flat diminished 7, a G flat diminished 7 or an A diminished 7.
We've covered this type of chord recently in Guitar Command. For more information on diminished 7th chords, see this article: Diminished 7th Chord Theory.
Below are two common ways of playing diminished chords. Note that, because every note could potentially be the root note of the chord, all of the notes are blue.
Now that you've got a few more chords under your belt, practice playing them and try to build your own chord progressions using them. Once you can play the above chords clearly and smoothly, grab your chord book and learn new ways of playing them!
This page is part of our How To Get Better At Guitar series.