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Thread: New member - how do you recognize 7th chords?

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    Default New member - how do you recognize 7th chords?

    Hello,

    I’m a new member, and I‘m certainly not a musician, so please forgive my ignorance. I’m just beginning to learn classical guitar. I took lessons from a teacher many years ago, but only for a short time. At this time in my city, there are no teachers of classical guitar, so I’m trying to pick up where I left off years ago. I'm currently using Mel Bay's classical guitar instruction books, and I’m slowly progressing.

    My question is probably a very simple one to most of you, but so far (even using as many internet sources that I can find), I haven’t been able to assure myself that I understand the answer yet.

    Put simply, how can I recognize a seventh chord?

    My meager understanding is that it is normally composed of a root, then a third, then a perfect fifth, then a seventh. But each time that I think that I’ve got it, when I look at another seventh chord, I find that the rule that I thought was correct, doesn’t work.

    I understand that a 7th chord normally consists of a triad, followed by a seventh.

    I understand that the triad is normally a root, a third, and a perfect fifth.

    I understand that there are major 7th chords, minor 7th chords, dominant 7th chords, etc.

    I also understand that a 7th chord can be inverted, so that the root isn’t the lowest note.

    I have so many questions that you may not want to take the time to answer them, but if you do have the patience, I’d appreciate any help that you can give me.

    Here are some of my questions:

    For instance, if a chord has more than four notes, how do I know which three notes are the triad and which is the seventh?

    Can a seventh chord be composed with any root that I choose?

    I know that my questions may sound ignorant to most of you, but I would appreciate any help that any of you can provide.

    Thanks,
    Louis

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Ill start from the beginning:

    A triad is the basic chord. It is based on a root. Say the root is A - then the third is C. This comes from the scale ABCDEFG in which A is first and C is 3rd. The fifth then is E, correct? If you look at the notes of a triad and see these three then you know that the root is A no matter in which inversion the chord is written.

    Adding a 7th means adding the 7th note of that scale, in this case - G. Therefore if you see ACEG then it is a 7th with root A. It gets trickier when the fifth or third are left out - which is often the case, however the root and the 7th will never be left out in a 7th chord. Again, we can summarise that if we see an A and G in the same chord, without the common triad, it is a 7th chord with root A.

    Note that in the 'cycle' of notes (abcdefgabcdefgabcdef......), when two notes in a 7th chord are adjacent - the root is most likely the 'higher' note or the one that comes after the other.


    When trying to analyse chords, write the names of the notes out and deduce the chord from this; you can write inversions out afterwards.

    Hope this help...

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LBrandt View Post
    My meager understanding is that it is normally composed of a root, then a third, then a perfect fifth, then a seventh. But each time that I think that I’ve got it, when I look at another seventh chord, I find that the rule that I thought was correct, doesn’t work.
    If you find what appears to be a seventh chord but it does not have a perfect fifth (examples: A-C-Eb-Gb or A-C-Eb-G; the distance from A to Eb is a diminished fifth or tritone), it is a diminished seventh chord, either half diminished or fully diminished. In a half diminished seventh, the triad is diminished (i.e. the distance from the root to the fifth is a tritone instead of a perfect fifth) but the seventh is minor (A to G is a minor seventh). In a fully diminished seventh, both the triad and the seventh are diminished. This is because the distance between each adjacent note is a minor third. So the distance from the root to the seventh is a diminished seventh (such as A to Gb). By itself, this interval sounds the same as a major sixth.

    If a 7th chord is inverted, you can figure out what the root is by stacking the notes in 3rds. For example, if you have C-E-G-A, you know that there are thirds between C, E, and G, but there is not a third between G and A. So you move the A to where it is a third away from something. You put it below C, giving you A-C-E-G, and that way you know A is the root. There is probably a better way to explain this.

    If a chord has more than four notes, one of the notes might be a non-harmonic tone, also known as a non-chord tone. This is simply a note that's not actually part of the chord, and usually creates a dissonance. Look to see if one of the notes in the chord changes to a different note before the other notes in the chord. If it does, it is likely a non-harmonic tone. Chords with four or more notes may also be 9th or 13th chords. You will see these occasionally, but not very often in music written before the 20th Century.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Meaghan View Post
    If a chord has more than four notes, one of the notes might be a non-harmonic tone, also known as a non-chord tone. This is simply a note that's not actually part of the chord, and usually creates a dissonance. Look to see if one of the notes in the chord changes to a different note before the other notes in the chord. If it does, it is likely a non-harmonic tone. Chords with four or more notes may also be 9th or 13th chords. You will see these occasionally, but not very often in music written before the 20th Century.
    Thanks Meaghan, but one thing that I didn't understand is your statement "if one of the notes changes to a different note before the other notes in the chord". I don't understand what you mean by "changes to a different note". If I see a chord with say, five or six notes, how do I know if one of the notes "changed"?

    Thanks,
    Louis

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    Forgive me, but I just thought of one more question about 7th chords. From what I understand about chord inversions, you can take any of the notes of a 7th chord and rearrange them in a different order. Here's my question: My Mel Bay classical guitar book shows a roman numeral (e.g. V, III, I, VII) underneath some of the 7th chords. Am I correct in saying this refers to the particular inversion? That is, does the "V" mean the fifth inversion, and the "III" mean the third inversion?

    If so, (and I may be way off base), what does it mean to say the "third inversion" or the "fifth inversion"?

    Thanks again,
    Louis

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    Roman numerals indicate which harmonic function a chord has. in a scale, each note has a "degree".

    In G major:

    G. 1st degree I
    A: 2nd degree ii
    B: 3d degree iii


    This numeral helps you to determine what function a chord serves in a harmonic progression, regardless of inversion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rasa View Post
    Roman numerals indicate which harmonic function a chord has. in a scale, each note has a "degree".

    In G major:

    G. 1st degree I
    A: 2nd degree ii
    B: 3d degree iii


    This numeral helps you to determine what function a chord serves in a harmonic progression, regardless of inversion.
    Thanks Rasa, but now I have a couple more questions. First, some of the G7th chords in my Mel Bay book show a roman numeral VII below them. So my first question is, how could this be, since there aren't seven notes in the chord. Second, in your example, you show an "A" in G Major, but based on my book, I don't see any "A" notes in a GMajor 7th chord. And finally, when you say that each note has a "degree", can you explain (to a beginner like me) what you mean by a "degree"?

    Also, is there a reason that you showed the "ii" and "iii" in small letters instead of caps?

    Thanks,
    Louis

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Degree means which note of the scale. The 2nd scale degree is simply the 2nd note of the scale. In the key off G, this is A. The triad built on A (in the key of G, this is A-C-E) is the two chord, labeled with the roman numeral ii. It is in lower case instead of caps because this is a minor chord. Minor chords have lower case roman numerals and major chords have upper case roman numerals. When you see the roman numeral VII under a chord, it means that the chord is built on the seventh scale degree. There is no A in a G major 7th chord, but there is an A in a G scale. Rasa was just saying that A is the second scale degree in G and the ii chord is built on A.

    Roman numerals do not indicate inversions. This might be different in some guitar notation, but I have always seen inversions indicated by regular numbers. For example, a 6 above a 5 means that a 7th chord is in first inversion, with the third on the bottom. These numbers are called figured bass. Roman numerals only tell you which scale degree a chord is built on. If you are playing something in the key of C and you see the roman numeral V, it's a G chord because G is the fifth note of C.

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    The reason for the capital and non-captial notation of degrees is a local habit of the professor I studied with. A capitalised numeral would mean it's a major chord that is on that degree (in G: V would be D F# A), and non-capitalised would mean a minor triad (in G: ii would be A C E).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_%28music%29

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    Thanks again to all. I know that my questions probably sound elementary to all of you, but I'm still learning, and it's nice to find musicians who are willing to share their knowledge and help others. I may have more questions later, but I'm going to try to digest everything that you've told me so far.

    Thanks again,
    Louis

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    Quote Originally Posted by Meaghan View Post
    Degree means which note of the scale. The 2nd scale degree is simply the 2nd note of the scale. In the key off G, this is A. The triad built on A (in the key of G, this is A-C-E) is the two chord, labeled with the roman numeral ii. It is in lower case instead of caps because this is a minor chord. Minor chords have lower case roman numerals and major chords have upper case roman numerals. When you see the roman numeral VII under a chord, it means that the chord is built on the seventh scale degree. There is no A in a G major 7th chord, but there is an A in a G scale. Rasa was just saying that A is the second scale degree in G and the ii chord is built on A.

    Roman numerals do not indicate inversions. This might be different in some guitar notation, but I have always seen inversions indicated by regular numbers. For example, a 6 above a 5 means that a 7th chord is in first inversion, with the third on the bottom. These numbers are called figured bass. Roman numerals only tell you which scale degree a chord is built on. If you are playing something in the key of C and you see the roman numeral V, it's a G chord because G is the fifth note of C.
    Meaghan,
    Thanks again for your help, but if you don't mind, let me ask this additional question. I thought that I understood everything that you explained about the roman numeral notation, but in my book, I am looking at a G7 chord, in the key of C, and the chord has the following notes in order from lowest to highest: D, G, B, F (no sharps). Underneath the chord is the roman numeral VII. Based on what you said, since this is in the key of C, and D is the lowest note of the triad, I would have expected the roman numeral to be II since D is the second note in the C scale. But there is a VII under the chord. So I'm still confused.

    On the other hand, when I checked your explanation of the roman numeral rule, it seems to work for every chord that I looked at in my book, EXCEPT for the 7th chords. Is there a different rule for 7th chord roman numerals?

    Louis
    Last edited by LBrandt; Nov-05-2010 at 16:18. Reason: add text

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    The chord D-G-B-F is in an inversion, which you can find by re-arranging the notes so there is a third between each note: G-B-D-F. The root of the chord is G, which is the fifth scale degree. I am puzzled as to why there is a VII under the chord. I would expect there to be a V7, provided it is indeed in the key of C. Perhaps your book indicates 7th chords with roman numerals, but that's not something I've seen anywhere else. Does your book have a guide to its usage of roman numerals?

    The local habit of Rasa's professor regarding capitalization of roman numerals is standard, at least in American analysis, though this might be different elsewhere. In 7th chords, the capitalization should reflect whether the triad (the first three notes of the chord) is major or minor. However, the roman numeral by itself will not tell you whether the seventh is major or minor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Meaghan View Post
    The chord D-G-B-F is in an inversion, which you can find by re-arranging the notes so there is a third between each note: G-B-D-F. The root of the chord is G, which is the fifth scale degree. I am puzzled as to why there is a VII under the chord. I would expect there to be a V7, provided it is indeed in the key of C. Perhaps your book indicates 7th chords with roman numerals, but that's not something I've seen anywhere else. Does your book have a guide to its usage of roman numerals?

    The local habit of Rasa's professor regarding capitalization of roman numerals is standard, at least in American analysis, though this might be different elsewhere. In 7th chords, the capitalization should reflect whether the triad (the first three notes of the chord) is major or minor. However, the roman numeral by itself will not tell you whether the seventh is major or minor.
    Thanks again Meaghan,
    No, my book doesn't have any type of guide to the use of the roman numerals. And no, I'm sure that the VII isn't used by the book to indicate 7th chords, because some of the other 7th chords have different roman numerals beneath them. As an example, another 7th chord right next to the one I mentioned has the notes B F G D, and it has a V under it.

    Just to make sure that what I'm telling you is clear, the page that I'm referring to in my book is titled "The Chords in the key of C". Under that title are three sections of chords. The first section is called C chords, the second section is called F chords, and the third section is called G7 chords.

    Your explanation of the use of the roman numerals works perfectly for all of the chords in the first two sections, but not for the chords in the third section (the one labeled G7 chords).

    UPDATE:
    Meaghan, after I composed the above text, I continued to scratch my head about the roman numerals, and I finally realized that I could see a pattern in the 7th chords. Here's the way that I now think that the Mel Bay book has used the roman numerals. For non-7th chords, your explanation is perfect, that is, the numeral indicates the position of the lowest note in the chord relative to the root note.

    After looking at several more of the 7th chords in several keys, I found that the roman numeral for those fits the pattern of using the numeral to indicate the position of the HIGHEST note in the chord relative to the root note.

    If that sounds logical to you, then that may be the answer. It seems to fit every 7th chord that I've looked at in the book.

    Thanks again and best regards,
    Louis

    Thanks again,
    Louis
    Last edited by LBrandt; Nov-05-2010 at 18:22. Reason: add text

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Are you sure it is in the key of C, it is possible that it is in the key of A minor. This the parallel minor and so shares the same key signature. A minor and C major both have 0 sharps or flats and G is chord VII in A minor

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    Quote Originally Posted by emiellucifuge View Post
    Are you sure it is in the key of C, it is possible that it is in the key of A minor. This the parallel minor and so shares the same key signature. A minor and C major both have 0 sharps or flats and G is chord VII in A minor
    Thanks,

    According to my book, it is in the key of C. My book has a page titled "Chords in the key of C", and right under that, there are three sections of chords labeled C chords, F chords and G7 chords.

    But I think that with all of the help that I've received from you all, I may have figured out the puzzle of the roman numerals in the 7th chords. If you'll read my post that I submitted a few minutes ago, you'll see what I believe is the answer.

    Thanks again,
    Louis

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