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.

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