Why are major seventh chords called delta chords and written with a delta symbol, like CΔ7 or CΔ? Do engravers consistently use Δ to mean a seventh chord (such that Δ7 is redundant) or do some use Δ simply to mean major?

2 Answers 2


The triangle symbol Δ originally meant "triad" (meaning major triad) [1]. However, nowadays it is - at least to my knowledge, and when used without any other qualifiers - exclusively used to denote a major seventh chord, even though that usage is a bit sloppy. I recommend you use Δ7 for denoting a major seventh chord. This will avoid any possible confusion, and it is also the symbol I come across most often.

[1] The Chord Scale Theory & Jazz Harmony, B. Nettles and R. Graf

  • 1
    Is there anything wrong with using "Cmaj7" instead of "CΔ7"? IIRC, Rocksmith uses "Cmaj7".
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 19:45
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    @ColeJohnson: No, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's just one of several options.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 20:40
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    CΔ9 and CmΔ9 are also common. Major 7th. major 9th.
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 22:17
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    I respectfully disagree with the "exclusively used to denote a major seventh chord" statement. In modern days, it stands for "major seventh". For example, the music typesetting software I use, Lilypond, notates a minor triad with an added mayor seventh simply as "mΔ".
    – Alex Lopez
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 11:34
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    @AlexLopez: Thx for you comment, and I don't think we disagree. What I meant was that the triangle used alone without anything else always denotes a major 7th chord, even though I would discourage such a usage and would use Δ7 instead. In combination with a lowercase "m", it clearly denotes a minor triad with a major 7th. I'll edit my answer to clarify.
    – Matt L.
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 13:34

△ without further qualifications in most contexts means "some type of major chord".

The point of these chord charts is to indicate to the player the most important information about the harmony of a given song. Usually, where the symbol "△" is used, we're talking about a jazz context. In this context, which specific major chord to use is left to the tastes of the performer, and so when one sees C△ in a lead sheet it might be rendered variously as C△7, C△9, C6/9 etc.

In the same way we often don't feel the need to tell the player which inversion to use, in jazz we often don't feel the need to tell the player which specific type of major chord to use.

Similarly, we often don't specific inversions; take for example a dominant chord (instead of a major chord), most of the time we see G7 any inversion of will do, but sometimes we really want the F at the bottom, in which case one would write G/F.

The same goes for major chords; if it's really important then be specific (e.g. C△9/G), and if it isn't then let the player decide what specific chord and inversion to use and just write C△

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    You can maybe get away with "...in most contexts means major quality chord," but I have never seen an instance of a C△ that could be a C7, which is a major quality chord.
    – user39614
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 5:06
  • perhaps quality is the wrong word, I very nearly just said "flavour". A C7, C9, C7♭9 etc. are all a "dominant" chords and "Δ" is a "major flavour chord", for want of a better term. I don't know what exact term to use, but basically anything that "functions" as a major chord. I don't know if dominant chords count as major quality, if they do then that's the wrong word to use.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 5:25
  • The main point is that C△ does not necessarily mean C△7 as the accepted answer suggests. In fact, there are many cases when another major chord would be preferable, or even just a triad sometimes!
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 5:27
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    @DavidBowling, C7 is not considered a "major quality chord" among most serious musicians, particularly jazz musicians. They consider there to be 3 types of chords: major, minor, and dominant. Thus C7 would be a dominant quality chord, not a major quality chord.
    – ScottM
    Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 18:33
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    @ScottM -- You are confusing chord quality with chord function. Chord quality refers to the underlying triad and can be major, minor, augmented, or diminished, but not dominant. Chord function can be dominant, and a 7th is not required for a chord to be dominant. Standard chord nomenclature names: root, triad quality, highest degree of the structure when built in 3rds above the root, finally alterations or added pitches. This is how Nettles and Graf describe chord symbols.
    – user39614
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 13:59

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