Why are Major 7th chords both beautiful, yet full of unresolved tension?
The reason for this blend of beauty and tension lies within the 7th interval itself. Since a major 7th chord is obviously using a major 7th interval, you do get that major sound, but also the added tension from being so close to the root note.
In fact, you get an interval of a minor 2nd between the major 7th note and the root. It is especially strong if you use the standard root position voicing of the major 7th chord, because as always in harmony, the highest pitch is the most present and clear. And this note will be a minor 2nd from the perfect octave of the root note of the major 7th chord.
How to Play a Major 7th Chord?
Let’s use the standard root position of the chord to make it easy. Here’s the chord formula for a major 7th chord.
- Root Note of the Chord
- Major 3rd from the Root
- Perfect 5th from the Root
- Major 7th from the Root
You can show this chord formula by simply using the standard abbreviations for intervals in music:
How to notate a Major 7th Chord?
The two most common ways to notate a major 7th chord are: Maj7 and M7. It is also traditional to write the “7” as superscript (meaning a small character to the upper right of the name). Let’s say you want to notate a G Major 7th Chord, here’s how it often is written:
How to use Major 7th Chords?
I like to call major 7th chords “leading chords”, because they include the major 7th interval which has the same unresolved tension that the leading tone has in a musical scale. In the case of a major 7th interval, the tension is very high, and wants to be resolved in the voice leading.
The major 7th interval has a very strong pull towards resolving to the root note (perfect octave). But you can also go the other way to for example a Major 6th chord. Or of course resolve the tension by changing to another chord in your progression.
All of these use cases have the same aspect in common. The major 7th acts as a leading chord, towards something new.
Major 7th – Piano Chord Chart
Here’s a complete chord chart on piano for all major 7th chords. Download it for free, print it out, or simply bookmark this web page for reference.