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I've received a few emails through my website asking me what a major minor seventh chord was. At first I thought they had mixed up the sequence and were referring to the A-#7 chord (root chord of harmonic minor), and were confused because my site has it as A minor natural 7th (I made custom fonts for the symbols).

But they pointed me to Wikipedia where there seems to be an alternate chord naming system that specifies the triad quality, then the interval quality. Outside of the fact that I think this is very confusing for beginners my questions are this:

What is the actual name of this system (if any)?

What is the purpose/goal of this system?

Is it related to or historically derived from any particular genre of music or school of analysis? Or is just one of those Wikipedia Exclusive type things.

For comparison I learned/teach them like this on my website: Chord and Scale Qualities

Here's the article on Wikipedia: Dominant Seventh Chord Which has been revised since I first saw it.

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I don't know if the major-minor thing has a name, but the idea is to dissociate the actual intervals from the tonal function. Calling a chord a "major minor seventh" is simply describing the chord without any context, and calling a chord a "dominant" chord is describing a relationship with the tonic.

In the kind of Classical music that is typically used to study chords, Mm7 chords are pretty much exclusively used as dominant (or secondary dominant) chords, so the naming systems get intertwined. Modern Popular styles very commonly use Mm7 chords that are not acting as dominants, and so in a way calling them dom7 chords is misleading. But there's little chance of actually confusing anyone, so nobody is too much of a stickler for accuracy here.

  • That seems plausible. That's music education for you. Get bent out of shape over the name of something, and then flush an otherwise consistent naming system down the toilet (don't even get me started on the half-diminished to -7b5). Dominant chords sound tense, the job of a Dominant function chord is to create tension, and there is an historical connection. I understand you are explaining not advocating but the only way to understand this system is to already know what a dominant 7th chord is then to translate, making it IMO useless. – Jay Skyler Apr 27 '15 at 17:34
  • You answered the question more directly, perhaps a bit too diplomatically for me to get immediately. Thanks to hashing it out with Dom, it clicked that its not supposed to be universally accessible for all genres, but rather to define the terms of discourse to stay focused on the educational goals of one, which is more or less what you were saying. Since it wasn't one of my genres it was not readily apparent. I have no idea what you win with these points, but I gave them to you both. Thanks! – Jay Skyler Apr 28 '15 at 9:38
  • I would just add that the name Domintant 7th derives from the position it is exclusively found in, in both the major scale and the harmonic minor scale: it is the 7th chord on the dominant. It is actually also found on the 3rd degree of the natural minor scale, but well, that shouldn't be used for chords... – niels May 1 '15 at 11:16
  • @niels: Did you mean seventh scale degree of natural minor? The seventh scale degree of A natural minor is G, and a G seventh chord would be G-B-D-F--a dominant seventh shape. The third scale degree is C, and a C seventh chord would be C-E-G-Bnatural, which is a Cmaj7. – supercat Jan 10 '18 at 7:19
  • hmm, interesting. You are right of course, not sure what I was thinking back then... – niels Jan 16 '18 at 9:32
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It's a very distinct and verbose way to name 7th chords that is derived from classic theory. I'm not sure if it has a name or even needs a name as there's always more then one way to name chords for example some people use Co7 to represent a fully diminished chord and some people use Cm6b5 to denote the same chord and call it that. I'll refer to it as 7th type just to denote the difference.

The goal is to teach chords from the ground up and the current system is literally just short hand for it as I will show below. If you're just getting your feet wet in music theory and don't already know how to build and name chords, the idea is simple. You would start out teaching the basic four triads (major, minor, diminished augmented) and then when it comes to naming 7th chords as long as they understand naming intervals it's a simple as adding an interval quality. For modern chord symbols we understand a letter name alone (C for example) represents a major triad while a 7 alone represents a minor 7th which isn't obvious to most people starting out. Including these implied you'll see the system is actually the same and we tend to use it for chords that don't come up very often like a minor major 7th for example CmM7. Here's the basic compassion between the two:

Chord Name         7th type
C+M7               AM
C+7                Am
CM7                MM
C7                 Mm
CmM7               mM 
Cm7                mm
Cø                 dm
Co7                dd

All these chord symbols whether it is implicit or explicit contain this idea of denoting the triad first then the 7th type. It's not a big difference at all though it is understandable that you're not use to it.

  • Your second para - you say 7 alone = min7 (dom7). The two are very different . – Tim Apr 27 '15 at 15:37
  • Still not exactly - yes, the 7th bit is a min7th, but C7 is essentially a major chord - with a M3. – Tim Apr 27 '15 at 15:47
  • @Tim That part is right as I'm not referring to the whole symbol. IE the 7 in C7 is a minor 7th just like the 7 in the Cm7 is a minor 7th. – Dom Apr 27 '15 at 15:55
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    I know you know ! It just sounded a little confusing, specially for beginners. – Tim Apr 27 '15 at 16:04
  • I'm hardly new to this, I just would have never thought this was a teaching system considering it requires knowing the normal system to decipher it. Plus using the term Major as a quality and Major as interval distance in the same Maj.7 chord symbol seems designed to confuse (as these comments attest to). I was thinking maybe it had to do with the common practice era of some genre of Opera or something. But it seems to be just what it first seemed like i.e. a confusing way to teach chord construction. I do appreciate the time you took to outline the whole system. – Jay Skyler Apr 27 '15 at 17:58
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To call such chord a Dominant surely saves time and it is practical thing to do when your theory knowledge is strong. However the "major, minor 7th" perfectly describes all the intervals -omitting the fifth- and it is a more straightforward approach to chord learning.

  • According to Dom's chart the system the first descriptor is the triad quality, not the interval distance of the third, this is what I think some find confusing. However we teach a topic in music, we are guiding students into a perspective, typically one that will provide them with an intuitive sense of their primary genre. I asked the question to get a sense of what that perspective was, which I got. Thanks to everyone. – Jay Skyler May 13 '15 at 4:35

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