The Music Theory Advantage TM
Rapid Skill Development with the Cycle of Thirds

Created by
Max Maxwell

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and their Interval Structures

A seventh chord is a triad with one extra note added to it. This extra note is a 3rd (either minor or Major) above the 5th of the triad. The letter name of the 7th (last note) in the seventh chord will match the letter name of the next note forward in the Cycle of Thirds from the 5th (third note). See the example below.

C Major Triad Chord

C     E     G

1st     Major 3rd     3rd      minor 3rd      5th

C Major Seventh Chord

C     E     G     B

1st     Major 3rd     3rd      minor 3rd    5th     Major 3rd    7th

Just as the 5th in a chord is also an interval of a 5th above the root, the 7th in a chord is also an interval of a seventh above the root of the chord. It is also the 7th letter name above the root. If C is 1st, then D is 2nd, E is 3rd, F is 4th, G is 5th, A is 6th and B is 7th.    You will learn about intervals of a 5th and 7th later in the course. For now, we will keep focusing on spelling chords with 3rds, because this increases your skill with the Cycle of Thirds. Later, after you learn how to spell all the intervals, you will learn how to spell seventh chords (and all other chords) on the basis of their standard interval notation. The letter names of the notes in the triad and seventh chords will always be the same as those generated by the Cycle of Thirds. Notice the example above, B is just another 3rd after G in the Cycle of Thirds. This is how seventh chords are built. Seventh chords start with a triad and have one extra note added a 3rd (either Major or minor) above the 5th.

Five Seventh Chord Types and Their Interval Structures

 Seventh Chord Types Interval Structures 1. Major Seventh Major - minor - Major 2. Minor Seventh minor - Major - minor 3. Major / Minor Seventh Major - minor - minor 4. Half Diminished Seventh minor - minor - Major 5. Diminished Seventh minor - minor - minor

You must memorize the above chart. If you know the triad types and their interval structures this will be easy. I will show you how.

Just like triad chords, you can imagine that seventh chord names as being determined by their 3rd based interval structures. A seventh chord will have the name of a triad build into it along with a hint about what type of 3rd is added to give us the chords 7th. The first two intervals will always form one of the triads you already know. Then just add the correct 3rd.

1. Major Seventh Chord (Major-minor-Major) - Starts with a major triad (Major-minor)  and a Major 3rd added.

2. Minor Seventh Chord (minor-Major-minor) - Starts with a minor triad (minor-major) and a minor 3rd added.

3. Major / Minor Seventh Chord (Major-minor-minor) - Starts with a Major triad (Major-minor) and a minor 3rd added. This chord is also called a Dominant Seventh. But for the purposes of remembering the chord name and interval structure use the name Major / Minor Seventh.

4. Half Diminished Seventh Chord (minor-minor-Major) - Starts with a diminished triad (minor-minor) but is only half diminished so it adds a Major 3rd. Because it is only half diminished, it does not have three minor 3rds.

5. Diminished Seventh Chord (minor-minor-minor) - Starts with a diminished triad and ends with a minor 3rd added. Imagine that the diminished seventh chord is the smallest seventh chord because it has three minor 3rds in its interval structure. Therefore, it is called a diminished 7th chord.

 Seventh Chord Types Reason for Name Interval Structure 1. Major Seventh Major Triad - Major 3rd Major - minor - Major 2. Minor Seventh Minor Triad - minor 3rd minor - Major - minor 3. Major / Minor Seventh Major Triad - minor 3rd Major - minor - minor 4. Half Diminished Seventh Dim Triad - Major 3rd minor - minor - Major 5. Diminished Seventh Dim Triad - minor 3rd minor - minor - minor

As long as you already know your triad types and their interval structures, you will easily learn the interval structures of the five seventh chord types. At first, focus on the reason for the name. For example, a major seventh chord has a major triad plus a major 3rd.

Exercise:

Practice with the chart above until you can name all five seventh chord types and recite their interval structure without the need for looking at the book. When reciting the interval structure, just recite the first two intervals of a 3rd that come from the triad in the name. Then add the appropriate 3rd to complete the interval structure. For #1, Say “Major seventh, “Major-minor-Major.” Do not proceed further until you can do this quickly for each seventh chord type.

Spelling Seventh Chords

Spelling seventh chords is the same type of process as spelling triads. Since you are already familiar with this process, I will give you only one example for seventh chords. If you still have problems spelling triads, go back and review Focal Point Five and get more practice spelling triads before reading this Focal Point.

Spell a D Half Diminished Seventh chord

1. Start with the root note, which is in the name of the chord. (D)

2. Recall the interval structure (minor-minor-Major). The first two are from the diminished triad (minor-minor) and the last 3rd is Major because it is only half diminished.

3. Spell the first interval (minor 3rd). The first interval starts with D and ends a minor 3rd above D. The next note forward in the cycle is F.  D to F is a minor 3rd with three half steps.

4. Spell the second interval (minor 3rd). The second interval starts with F and ends a minor 3rd above F. The next note forward in the cycle is A. F to A is a Major 3rd with four half steps. Lower A by one half step to get a minor 3rd. F to Ab is a minor 3rd with three half steps.

5. Spell the third interval (Major 3rd). The third interval starts with Ab and ends a Major 3rd above Ab. The next note from Ab in the cycle is Cb (remember to match the signs). Ab to Cb is a minor 3rd with three half steps. Raise Cb by one half step to get a Major 3rd. Ab to C is a Major 3rd with four half steps.

A D Half Diminished Seventh chord is spelled D  F  Ab  C.

Exercise:

Spell the following seventh chords. Remember to apply double sharps or double flats as needed. Start by writing the root. Then work out the first interval and write the 3rd. Work out the second and third intervals to fill in the 5th and 7th.  Check your answers on the seventh chord answer chart.

Root         3rd          5th          7th

1. A Major Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

2. B# Major Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

3. Cb Major Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

4. D Major Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

5. E# Major Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

6. F Major Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

7. Gb Major Seventh         _____    _____    _____    _____

8. A# Minor Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

9. Bb Minor Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

10. C Minor Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

11. Db Minor Seventh        _____    _____    _____    _____

12. E# Minor Seventh        _____    _____    _____    _____

13. F Minor Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

14. G Minor Seventh         _____    _____    _____    _____

Exercise:

Check your answers to the exercise above (back of book) before spelling the chords below. Spell the following seventh chords. There are two seventh chords that have a triple flat for a 7th note. Both are in the exercise below. Triple flats are almost never used in music, but sometimes make an appearance. Hint: If you are starting from a double flat on your 5th, and need a minor 3rd to get your seventh, but the next 3rd in the cycle is a Major 3rd, you will wind up with a triple flat. Example Gbb to Bbb is a Major 3rd, so Gbb to Bbbb is a minor 3rd. Check your answers on the seventh chord answer chart.

Root        3rd          5th          7th

1. A Major-Minor Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

2. B Major-Minor Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

3. C# Major-Minor Seventh         _____    _____    _____    _____

4. D# Major-Minor Seventh        _____    _____    _____    _____

5. E Major-Minor Seventh          _____    _____    _____    _____

6. F# Major-Minor Seventh        _____    _____    _____    _____

7. G# Major-Minor Seventh        _____    _____    _____    _____

8. Ab Half Diminished Seventh     _____    _____    _____    _____

9. B Half Diminished Seventh       _____    _____    _____    _____

10. C# Half Diminished Seventh    _____    _____    _____    _____

11. D Half Diminished Seventh      _____    _____    _____    _____

12. Eb Half Diminished Seventh    _____    _____    _____    _____

13. F Half Diminished Seventh     _____    _____    _____    _____

14. G Half Diminished Seventh     _____    _____    _____    _____

15. A Diminished Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

16. B Diminished Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

17. Cb Diminished Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

18. D Diminished Seventh            _____    _____    _____    _____

19. E# Diminished Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

20. Fb Diminished Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

21. G Diminished Seventh           _____    _____    _____    _____

WolframAlpha Practice Widget

I created this practice widget using the computational knowledge engine at WolframAlpha.To use, just think of a chord type you want to spell, then start with a root and fill in the rest of the notes. All notes must be typed in as capital letters or it does not work. Hit submit and it will tell you what chord you spelled.

IMPORTANT:

Daily and Weekly Practice

Continue your daily practice of reciting the Cycle of Thirds. Even if you have become excellent at it, continue the daily recitation for at least a minute. This will help place the Cycle of Thirds into long term storage, so you can use it effectively even after a period of not studying music.  It should become like counting to ten, stuck in your brain forever.

Continue to drill on spelling seventh chords. Being able to spell these five types of seventh chords should be a part of your lifetime musical vocabulary. Maintaining this ability may require you to do weekly practice of chord spelling for a period of a few months. Some people learn so quickly with this method that they tend to not practice enough for long term storage. The principle is that the quicker you learn something, the quicker you may forget. The goal of this course is to make everything you learn here a permanent part of your musical abilities. So continue to practice even after you complete the course. Make these abilities a permanent part of your musical experience.

For chords, practice triad and seventh chord spellings for at least five to ten minutes per week. You do not have to do a whole ten minutes all at once. Split it up through the week.

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Copyright © 2008-2011 Kenneth J. Maxwell Jr.