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Having used dominant seventh chords extensively,I am now trying to incorporate minor seventh chords into my compositions... Based on my [rudimentary] knowledge, minor seventh chords are usually used in ii-V-I progressions (replacing the ii with ii7) , and also to add "colour" to the chords... How else could i use these chords in my songwriting?

Besides, i have noticed that minor seventh chords tend to sound a bit "less gloomy" than minor triads, which i presume is due to the "major" component in them. (eg. Dm7 = D F A C which has an F major triad as its "element", ie. F A C). (Not sure whether my statement is true though). Could I use minor seventh chords this way, ie. to make my song a bit happier but not overly happy? Explanations would be greatly appreciated.

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Casey's answer is fundamental and should be thoroughly understood. When you're ready to go farther afield, you can use other closely-related minor 7th chords.

Consider this chord progression: I-I7-IV-V7-I. The I7 is a "secondary dominant", the "V7 of the IV" chord. It gives a stronger feeling of "fourness" to the IV chord. Now, if you wanted to more strongly emphasize the subdominant (IV), you could do this: I-v7-IV-I7-IV-V7-I. The v7 (minor 7th chord built on the dominant) is the "ii7 of IV" (technically a "secondary supertonic"). This allows you to flirt longer with the "fourness" without getting repetitive.

I'm only using the IV chord as an example. You can apply the same idea to the V chord, for example, and this is very often done in practice.

  • Thanks @BobRodes, i tried it on my keyboard and it sounds wonderful! :) so if i were to apply it to the V chord, do i go this way: ii(7)-vi7-V7 -I? – mey Feb 10 '15 at 7:07
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    You can use ii7, but that's one of the chords that Casey talks about. II7 is the V7 of V, and vi7 is the ii7 of V. Try this progression: I-vi7-II7-V7-I. That will give an extended feeling of "fiveness" to the progression. – BobRodes Feb 10 '15 at 23:04
  • Yes @BobRodes, i actually prefer II7. Sounds happier than ii7☺. In fact i am overdoing it (also i use too much of V7 and III7... lol) – mey Feb 10 '15 at 23:44
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    So, keep in mind this concept of "secondary dominants" and "secondary supertonics". Secondary dominants are dominant 7ths ("five ofs") of another note in the scale, typically IV or V, and secondary supertonics are supertonic 7ths ("two ofs") of another note in the scale. Also, do keep in mind that for every element of joy, there must be an element of sorrow, so that we may better understand both. :P – BobRodes Feb 11 '15 at 0:14
  • that's right. Great insight!☺ indeed, balance is very important. – mey Feb 11 '15 at 0:17
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Minor seventh chords can typically be substituted whenever adding a diatonic 7th (the 7th that is within the current key) to a minor triad leads to a minor seventh. In a major key, this occurs for ii7, iii7 and vi7. In a minor key, this occurs for i7, vi7 and v7.

So for instance, if you have a chord progression, like I-iii-vi-ii-V, you could add 7th to any of the minor chords without dramatically changing the character of the harmony.

As you pointed out, adding a 7th to a minor triad gives the chord results in a major triad on top, which, when played by itself, appears to give the sound of the chord a little "levity", so to speak. However, in context, I think the effect is more often to add some dissonant nuance to the harmony, rather than to make these chords sound "happier". I personally tend to use minor 7th quite frequently for an almost opposite purpose to what you describe: to increase the tension in the harmony.

  • Thanks @Casey-rule... The use of m7 to increase the tension sounds interesting☺. What chord would you choose to go after the m7- is it something from the 2-5-1 progression? – mey Feb 10 '15 at 6:53
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Following the two excellent answers, Im7 can be used in place of I7, leading, as it usually does to IV. As in C - Cm7 - F. The Cm7 can come over as Eb6, but by keeping the root at the bottom, it works as a dominant of F. Example found in 'The Lady Is a Tramp'. That change from C to seemingly a non-diatonic chord a minor third above can appear subtle and 'in your face' at the same time, I think.

  • Thanks @Tim. That progression sounds awesome.☺ By the way, i recall a composition (in my own country) involving i minor (it was in a major key), but not sure if I could add a minor seventh on top of it. The progression was V-v-I -i - II7 sus4 -V. – mey Feb 10 '15 at 10:25
  • i found another interesting feature of Cm7: if i play it over an Eb note in the key of C, it leads smoothly to the key of C min/Eb maj without needing help from another pivot chord... Have you encountered this situation, and do you think this is right? – mey Feb 10 '15 at 21:58
  • @mey - right and wrong don't feature as such in music, as far as 'rules' are concerned.The right and wrong are more - does it work? does it sound good? – Tim Feb 10 '15 at 22:22
  • Ah yes. ☺ So do you think Cm7 actually works that way? – mey Feb 10 '15 at 22:26
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    @mey - it works - the theory says that Cm/Eb are very close relatives, thus introducing the Eb whilst in C maj will often lead to Cmin. – Tim Feb 10 '15 at 22:43

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