Major 7th Chords

I find Maj7 chords to be more difficult to use than triads or min7 chords, and I don’t seem to be entirely alone. Finding rock songs that feature the Maj7 wasn’t as easy as I expected. Here’s what I found: U2 One, Led Zeppelin The Rain Song, Paul McCartney Band on the Run, Peter Frampton Show me the Way, and John Lennon’s Imagine. In jazz, I’m pretty confident this would be a lot easier, and I’d also guess that if I’d scoured the Steely Dan catalog, I’d have come up with more good examples.

Easily placed or not, it’s a good place to start when it comes to cataloging voicings being the 4-note form of the first degree of the major scale. Below are all the voicings I find most useful for a Maj7.

Major 7th chords, useful voicings

Chord Template 1: Strings 3/4/5

Chord template for strings 3, 4, and 5 in C Major

I’ve spent a lot of time working on chords and harmony lately, and I’ve concluded that I really need a good roadmap to move up and down or across the neck to speed the up the composition process. The most obvious place to start that wasn’t the 6th-string bar chords we all know was the 5th-string-root shape that seems to come up first for dominant 7th chords or the Hendrix chord. There are a few fantastic voicings in here.

The m9’s of the second and sixth degree are a chord I’ve highlighted before, and the m7 of the seventh was frankly a surprise. It never occurred to me to drop the flattened 5th to create a less tense seventh chord of the major scale, but it seems more useful than just avoiding the seven altogether. I also really like the maj7(add9) and maj7(add13) you get in the root and fourth positions. There’s a load of color on tap in this template. I’m looking forward to connecting seamlessly it across strings and to a larger set of voicings.

Spread Triads pt. 1 (bass note on string 6)

I’ve had trouble finding good simple charts of spread triads. Rick Beato did a great video on them recently, but I had trouble finding a simple reference for spread triads in his book (which I’d highly recommend here, as it is freakishly comprehensive). I figured it was worth working out my own reference to share on Pedal On. Here are the major spread triads with their bass note on the lowest string. They aren’t all easy to play, but they sound great. I’ll work across the strings and then into minor and maybe beyond.

All Triads 3 – Strings 2/3/4

I didn’t realize just how useful learning all of these triad positions would be until they started clicking, particularly up and down between the three core shapes in a given key (root on string 2, 3, or 4). Beginning with the shape below as the I chord gives you a ton of options nearby. The ii, IV, and vi have multiple options that are easy to grab or switch between.

With a bassline or second harmony covering the low end, you can easily cycle through the upper extensions of the underlying chord (upper structure triads once you’re beyond R,3,5 if I recall correctly). Throw sus2 and sus4 in and your palette extends even further. I should probably record an audio example to demonstrate.

The best thing to me is that you can always map a diatonic mode back to a home Ionean key, so just knowing which I chord you refer back to means you can grab extensions up and down the neck. For instance, A Aeolian is just the sixth mode of C Major, so all of the triads will be the same as those in C. Even grabbing the C Maj triad just gives you an Am7 over an A bass note.

*click for full size

Modal Interchange

Here’s a link to a tool I run from my personal page. It allows you to pick a home key (Major/Ionean) and see everything I could come up with that qualifies as an interesting substitution or borrowed chord. I’m sure there will be more to add down the line, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of putting these into practice.