Seventh chords: "maj7" vs. just "7"

Hi folks,

When I first encountered the “Fmaj7” chord in Justin’s beginner lessons, I was a bit confused about why it has “maj” in there but other major mode chords just say “7”, like “D7”, “A7”, etc. But I never heard about “F7”, and nor did I ever hear about “Dmaj7”. So my question was, is “Fmaj7” just another way to say “F7”, or are they different chords?

Well I found out the answer, but it wasn’t obvious to me, and it took some digging to figure it out, so I’m posting an explanation in case there are other beginners out there who are as confused by this as I used to be. Maybe I can save somebody some frustration.

7 = Dominant Seventh

If you see a “7” immediately after a note name, like “C7”, “D7” or “A7”, that is shorthand for a dominant seventh chord. This chord is made up of the major triad, plus the minor seventh. The notes are 0, 4, 7 and 10 semitones up from the root note. So in a C7 chord, the major triad is C, E, G and the minor seventh is a B♭.

You might be thinking “hang on, B♭ isn’t even in the C major scale”, and you would be correct. That’s just how a dominant seventh chord works. It uses a note that is not normally part of the scale. Why is it called a “dominant” seventh"? It’s some obscure musical theory stuff that I don’t quite understand yet. Don’t worry about that right now.

You might have also noticed that the open C7 chord on guitar has C, E and B♭, but doesn’t actually have a G. What’s up with that? Well it turns out, the perfect fifth (the G in this example) is not very important in a dominant seventh, so you can just leave it out and the chord still counts as a dominant seventh, due to reasons that are once again pretty obscure. Don’t worry about that right now either.

maj7 = major seventh

If you see “maj7” after a note name, that means it’s a major seventh chord, which is much less popular than the dominant seventh. This chord is made up of the major triad, plus the major seventh. The notes are 0, 4, 7 and 11 semitones up from the root note. So a Cmaj7 would be C, E, G and B. In a major seventh, all the notes are in the major scale.

m7 = minor seventh

If you see “m7” after a note name, that means it’s a minor seventh chord, which is the minor triad plus the minor seventh. The notes are 0, 3, 7 and 10 semitones up from the root note. So a Em7 would be E, G, B and D. In a minor seventh, all the notes are in the minor scale.


Kudos for sharing this, I never put much thought to it but now that you wrote it down, I see why it can be confusing.

But just to add up to the confusion, here’s another chord in this family group.

Minor major seventh chord :sunglasses:: a minor triad with a major seventh, e.g.:
CmM7 = C - Eb (m3) - G - B (M7)


That’s interesting @glpguitar, I never came across “minor major seventh” in my reading on this. I guess that it’s pretty rare?

I like that notation “mM7”, for me it makes a lot of sense and is quite readable. Using that same logic, you could write a dominant seventh as “Mm7” :smiley:

Do you have any examples of songs that use the mM7, or ideas on when you might want to use it?

If I understand you correctly, you could play a EmM7 like this:


I find that chord has a tense, foreboding kind of sound to it. Like a … warning. It’s very unusual. I don’t really know how I would use it in a progression.

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Aka the Hitchcock chord :scream: Wikipedia lists some examples of how this chord has been used. True, you don’t use it very often.

Ah, now I am left wondering whether I found this chord tense and foreboding because of some inherent property or just because my subconscious recognised it from Psycho. I guess we’ll never know.

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From the top of my head, I remember two songs:

  • Pink Floyd - Us and Them
  • My Funny Valentine (the two most known versions are probably from Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra)

The chord has a very distinct sound, so it is quite easy to notice it. You can also try to hear it as an augmented chord over the sixth note in the bass. So CmM7 is in theory the same as Eb+/C. I might be completely wrong though, so @Richard_close2u might want to give it a quick read.

Looking through my real book (book of jazz standards in case you are not familiar with terminology), it also seems to be often used as a passing chord between different chords.

I only now see that Wikipedia has a list of songs using this chord as well. Thanks for sharing József!

Easy for you, maybe. My ear is not that finely tuned. I had a listen to “Us and Them”, wasn’t able to pick the mM7 chord by ear, had to look up a chord sheet to find it.

Haha OK sure thing :smiley: I will take your word for it.

The difference between dominant 7 and major 7 confused me at first too. I’ll share a bit of my understanding as well, using C as an example to make it more readable.

Cmaj7 (sometimes written CM7) and C7 are both major triads, i.e. they both have the root (C), third (E) and 5th (G). The only difference lies in the 7 itself, where the Cmaj7 has a natural 7 (B) and the C7 has a flat 7 (Bb). Note that in some voicing, the 5th may be omitted, but it stays the the same chord. The third generally can’t be omitted or the chord would lose its “major-ness.”

The reason the difference is confusing at first because the way it’s notated looks like CMaj7 and C7 could be the same chord. Perhaps a different notation would have been better, e.g. if C7 was standardized as Cmajb7 or Cmajdom7 or something. But while more indicative, it’s terribly unreadable. I’d wager that’s why C7 became default.

Bonus notes:
Cm7 (the minor cousin to Cmaj7) has the same flatted 7, (Bb) as the C7 chord.

Also noted by others, minmaj7 (generally a bit rare) is almost like the minor-variant of C7. C7 is major with a minor(flat) 7, Cminmaj7 is minor with a major(natural) 7. I think of it as the “detective” chord. Strum one on a jangly strat with a bit of delay and it’ll remind you of James Bond, I’m sure of it. If you’re a gamer or familiar with games, the Team Fortress 2 theme heavily uses minmaj7.