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It's been noted on this forum that dominant ninth chords normally have the ninth above the root.

Is that same true for the major seventh of a major seventh chord?

I've tried playing lots of progressions using major sevenths with different voicings, and while it seems like the seventh can be placed in many positions, some placements can seem harsh.

I also wonder is placing the root and seventh in the outer voices is avoided commonly. That one in particular can sound harsh on my piano, but fine on guitar.

It's interesting how the sound of a major seventh chord can be very sweet in some cases and sharply dissonant in others.

Is there any common standards for handling the major seventh?

  • I have a hunch that arrangements of John Williams's works are skewing statistics towards placing the 7th of major 7th chords above the root. – Dekkadeci Jul 10 at 10:32
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The 7th and root can appear in any order in a voicing. I think it is more common to have the root below. One thing to be careful of, if the 7th is below the root it should be a cluster. If they are separated by an octave you will have a m9 interval between them which is very harsh and not good for what should be a pretty chord. You mentioned some of your voicings were harsh, check for that m9 on those. A nice alternative is play the root below the 7th and substitute the 9th for the root in the upper part of the voicing. It generally works really well, adds color and takes away the possibility of the b9 between the 7 and high root.

Having the root and seventh as outer notes in a voicing works. I think it sounds better when they are more than an octave apart.

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Classically, the seventh was often used as the lowest note in a seventh chord. Handel seemed to like this a lot. The only problem would be that the seventh moves down to the third and the chord tends to a I6 chord. The V42-I6 sounds fine.

Seventh chords can be used in all inversions.

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  • Doesn't that only concern dominant and minor seventh chords? How common are major sevenths in classical music? – awe lotta Jul 11 at 16:37
  • That's correct, My answer was about the usual dominant seventh construction. – ttw Jul 11 at 17:04
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It is not uncommon to have the root doubled in 7th chords as with triads. So you can have the 7th both above and below the root. There is definitely a 3rd inversion for seventh chords that puts the seventh in the bass and this is not at all uncommon in guitar big band chord voicing. Older books on this try to place the "lowest" note on the low E string while moving as little as possible. I am not sure this is for harmony reasons as much as for simplicity of hand movement for very fast tunes. These two basic rules taken together generate very "interesting" voicing and movement for the guitar. However, as you may be aware, in the big band era (pre 1940s) the guitar was more of a melodic drum. So it's not clear that the choices made would survive today.

That being said all I can say is that putting the 7th below the root is no at all bad. The real issue would be the stacking of notes and to that end I'd say you want to avoid small intervals in the bass. So if the 7th is below the root I'd bump the root up an octave to create some space. There is a concept in guitar voicing called "fat chords", I'm sure pianists use that term too. The idea is to create a large interval between the bass and tenor voices and allow for a small interval (3rd) between the alto and soprano voices. This goes back to classical four voice harmony theory.

In guitar chord melody there is a voicing of the Maj 7 on the upper 4 strings that goes like (x, x, 7, 3, 5, 1), two 4ths separated by a minor third. It is particularly easy since the (7, 3) and (5, 1) will be on the same fret.

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    Okay, so I'm consistent with typos – ggcg Jul 10 at 0:13
  • Damn, I thought it was a real thing! – chasly - supports Monica Jul 10 at 0:16
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    Perhaps after a glass of Ardbog, a specialty scotch from Ardbeg. – ggcg Jul 10 at 0:26
  • Regarding the voicing you mentioned in your last paragraph and also before when you talked about bumping the root up an octave, that creates a m9 interval between the low 7th and the high root, dissonant for a maj7, no? – John Belzaguy Jul 10 at 5:05
  • Not as dissonant as a m2 in the bass, and with other notes in between it's not that dissonant. – ggcg Jul 10 at 10:19

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