Minor 7ths

If you’ve been following these last few posts, you had to figure that the next installment was going to be about minor sevenths. I’m not one to spring unwanted surprises on you so so let’s turn our attention to the venerable minor seventh chord and arpeggio.

Theoretical Framework

When we harmonized the major scale, recall that we found three minor seventh chords which was the most of any seventh chord type in the major scale. This means the minor sevenths aren’t some exotic sound you’ll only occasionally run into—they’re everywhere.

The minor seventh chord and arpeggio is made up of the root, minor third, perfect fifth and minor seventh. In the key of A, the notes would be A, C, E and G.

If you remember from earlier lessons, both the major 7 and dominant 7ths include a major third. There is such a thing as a minor triad with a major 7th. It’s called a “minor major 7th” and it’s a pretty unusual chord (though it is the ending chord from the James Bond theme.)

Shapes of Things

Let’s walk through the various scale, arpeggio and chord shapes using the CAGED system. We’ll stick with the key of A, so we’ll start at the second position with the “G” shape at the second position:

Notice that the degrees of the scale are 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6 and ♭7. In the major 7 and dominant 7 our scales included the major 6. The ♭6 is the note that comes from the natural minor scale. We’ll get into why we use the ♭6 in a later lesson. For now, just remember to “flat” the sixth in the natural minor scale.

Moving up the neck, we’ll move to the “E” shapes at the fifth position (with a quick little detour to the fourth fret):

Take a look at the arpeggio shape for this chord form. If this looks eerily similar to a minor pentatonic scale, it’s because all minor pentatonic scales are just minor sevenths with an added fourth (1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7).

Next up are the “D” shapes at the seventh position:

Nothing too magical here. Let’s keep going to the “C” chapes at the ninth position:

The final set in the cycle are the “A” shapes, which are rooted at the twelfth position:

As you work through these shapes and sounds, try to see the whole shape regardless of whether you are playing the scale, the arpeggio or the chord. Remember, they’re all really part of the same musical system, it’s just a question of which notes you leave out.

Sound Comparison

Knowing the theory and the shapes is one thing, but you also need to train your ear to recognize the sound of minor sevenths. Here are three chord shapes in the same position for the three seventh chord types we’ve explored so far (in C):

Play each one and listen the qualitative difference between each one. They’re different, aren’t they? What kind of mood does each one evoke for you? Think about the feeling and the attitude that each one conveys. Seventh chords provide enough harmonic information that one played by itself can convey a lot to the listener.

Minor sevenths can sound sophisticated and jazzy (any Steely Dan song), or they can sound aggressive and rocking. The riff from ZZ Top’s “Tush” is basically a Gm7 chord broken apart.

Remember that the minor 7th and the minor pentatonic are closely related. Anywhere you would jam away on the minor pentatonic, you probably have a minor 7 chord playing underneath.

We’ve now covered the three most common seventh chords in Western music. In the next lesson we’ll look at a handful of “exotic” seventh chords which occasionally crop up (especially in jazz or the aforementioned Steely Dan tunes). With a solid understanding of seventh chords, we can expand into some really fun extended chords. Even if you aren’t a “jazzer” you can still incorporate these sounds in a rock context.

Stay tuned for more!