Anyone listening to music will tell you that there is something not quite complete
or satisfying about the sound of a seventh chord on piano. While many other chords emit a pleasant, resolved
tone, the seventh chord carries a certain twang of its own that can startle an unsuspecting listening.
Students learning chords, too, will likely cringe at their initials uses of the seventh chord, and their eyes
will rigorously bounce between the notes and their fingers like a tennis ball rebounded between athletes, checking
and rechecking to make sure they haven’t played a wrong note somewhere.
But no, their eyes confirm their fingers are correct and their ears, despite what they hear, must get used to
The unique characteristic of a seventh chord comes from the fact that one finger plays the root note, and
another finger will play a note seven steps away – this means that the tones of these notes clash with one another
because they are so closely related, much like playing two notes right next to one another. Like rival siblings,
these two contrasting tones create a bizarre dissonance perfect for certain chord progressions.
The typical structure of a seventh chord normally includes a root triad, or I chord, with the seventh in
addition. The seventh is actually the seventh note from the root, minus a half step. So this means one might play
the notes C, E, and G, with also the Bb attached to it. Typically, these chords are represented by writing C7, E7,
F7, and so on for whichever chord requires the 7th note in it.
The unique sound of seventh chords on piano makes them ideal for a unique role. These chords convey a sound as
though they are leading towards another, more resolved chord. Rarely will musicians hang or end on a seventh chord
because no one really feels satisfied or complete during these moments.
It’s like starting a sentence but never really finishing it: the listener’s
ear tell them that more information should be coming, and they’ll lean forward anticipating the rest. Seventh
chords normally convey to listeners that the next chord will feature some type of resolution.
Not all seventh chords resolve, but when they do, they frequently resolve to the chord four steps above their
position. Seventh chords do not always resolve to the fourth, but the naturally sound of these chords makes them
Imagine playing the C7 listed above: by itself it can sound rather ghastly and incomplete, but if followed by an
F chord (F, A, C), this progression will feel much more appropriate and the listening will not need to fall over
from leaning too much to hear the rest.
Since there are twelve notes in an octave, there are twelve different seventh chords to learn for major keys. Try to correctly identify the notes inside of each seventh chord, and then also
try to correctly transition from those seventh chords to their resolved fourth chord mates. If you’re feeling
particularly adventurous, you can even experiment with different piano chord
inversions and hear the different types of endings each variation on inversions offers.
Different genres of music use the seventh chords on piano in different ways. Fortunately, the awkward twang
seventh chords greet our ears with easily becomes a familiar and welcome sound, and the exciting possibilities of
chord combinations suddenly become more understood and accessible!
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