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There is widespread agreement on how to name chords, but there are several different systems for writing chord symbols. Unfortunately, this can be a little confusing, particularly when different systems use the same symbol to refer to different chords. If you're not certain what chord is wanted, you can get useful clues both from the notes in the music and from the other chord symbols used. (For example, if the "minus" chord symbol is used, check to see if you can spot any chords that are clearly labelled as either minor or diminished.)

Examples of chord symbol variety

There is unfortunately a wide variation in the use of chord symbols. In particular, notice that some symbols, such as the "minus" sign and the triangle, can refer to different chords, depending on the assumptions of the person who wrote the symbol.

Seventh chords

If you take a basic triad and add a note that is a seventh above the root , you have a seventh chord . There are several different types of seventh chords, distinguished by both the type of triad and the type of seventh used. Here are the most common.

    Seventh chords

  • Seventh (or "dominant seventh") chord = major triad + minor seventh
  • Major Seventh chord = major triad + major seventh
  • Minor Seventh chord = minor triad + minor seventh
  • Diminished Seventh chord = diminished triad + diminished seventh (half step lower than a minor seventh)
  • Half-diminished Seventh chord = diminished triad + minor seventh

    An easy way to remember where each seventh is:

  • The major seventh is one half step below the octave .
  • The minor seventh is one half step below the major seventh.
  • The diminished seventh is one half step below the minor seventh.

Common seventh chords

Listen to the differences between the C seventh , C major seventh , C minor seventh , C diminished seventh , and C half-diminished seventh .

Write the following seventh chords. If you need staff paper, you can print this PDF file

  1. G minor seventh
  2. E (dominant) seventh
  3. B flat major seventh
  4. D diminished seventh
  5. F (dominant) seventh
  6. F sharp minor seventh
  7. G major seventh
  8. B half-diminished seventh
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Write a Ddim7, Fdim7, G#dim7, and Bdim7. Look closely at the chords you have written and see if you can notice something surprising about them. (Hint: try rewriting the chords enharmonically so that all the notes are either natural or (single) flat.

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Added notes, suspensions, and extensions

The seventh is not the only note you can add to a basic triad to get a new chord. You can continue to extend the chord by adding to the stack of thirds , or you can add any note you want. The most common additions and extensions add notes that are in the scale named by the chord.

Extending and adding notes to chords

To find out what to call a note added to a chord, count the notes of the scale named by the chord.

The first, third, and fifth (1, 3, and 5) notes of the scale are part of the basic triad. So are any other notes in other octaves that have the same name as 1, 3, or 5. In a C major chord, for example, that would be any C naturals, E naturals, and G naturals. If you want to add a note with a different name, just list its number (its scale degree ) after the name of the chord.

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Source:  OpenStax, Understanding basic music theory. OpenStax CNX. Jan 10, 2007 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10363/1.3
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