Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In the last few lessons, I introduced you to dominant seventh chords. This time, I’ll introduce you to a new seventh chord, the major seventh, known for its jazzy, sophisticated sound.
Whereas the C7 chord is a major triad with a flatted seventh, the Cmaj7 chord includes the triad plus the major seventh. So, remember that a C major triad includes the root (C), third (E) and fifth (G), as shown in Example 1, and Cmaj7 just adds the seventh (B), like in Example 2.
Example 3a shows how to make Cmaj7 from an open C chord—all you have to do is remove your first finger from the B string. Example 3b is based on the same C chord, but you add your fourth finger to string 3, fret 4. This more complex-sounding voicing is commonly played with just the notes on strings 2–5.
Take things up to third position for Example 4, with its five-string barre shapes. Example 5a shows a Cmaj7 chord derived from a six-note C chord at the eighth fret. Because of its unusual sound, this Cmaj7 voicing is seldom heard. Try it instead with just the bottom four strings, as shown in Example 5b. A traditional jazz player might play this Cmaj7 with the notes on strings 6, 4, and 3, while muting string 5 with the underside of the first finger—a nice clean voicing that can work in any style.
Example 6a shows how to get to a Cmaj7 chord on the top four strings, and there’s a brighter-sounding alternative in Example 6b. This last Cmaj7 might be a little more difficult to play, as it requires a third-finger barre on the top strings.
You should now know how a major seventh chord is constructed and how to make Cmaj7 from various C major shapes. A great tune that makes use of the Cmaj7 chord is Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote”—one of my own favorites. Next time you’ll work more on the major seventh chord, using G and Gmaj7 voicings.