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I am attempting to learn all 60 root position seventh chords. I would like to do this in a way that advanced my playing ability most efficiently.

I've heard I should focus on 3 things: motor memorization of chords so that my fingers automatically know where to go, hearing chord qualities so that I can discern if I need to make an adjustment, and knowing the notes of the chords so that I can learn the theory.

It seems my mind can only handle one thing at a time. Do you have any strategies to get these chords under my fingers in a way that gets the motor, sound, and theory cemented into my brain? Any particular exercises?

As of right now, I am just going up and down in one key to practice all major sevenths. Then I do all minor sevenths, and so on. This allows me to focus in on the chord quality sound and motor memory, but the theory escapes me as playing chromatically doesn't help my understanding I think.

Ideas?

Also, do you think I should continue to only work on root position until I have them all down and then do inversions?

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I wouldn't do them that way, personally. It's quicker to learn things if you find ways to apply them as you go; otherwise, you lose track of why you decided to learn them in the first place.

So, learn some chords in one key, and then learn some basic progressions with those. Find the ways that those progressions are easiest to play. Once you have a progression down in one key, start transposing it to other keys.

For example, start with C, a I-IV-V-I progression. Play the chords in root position first, and take note of what type of seventh chord each one is. I and IV are major 7th chords, and V is a dominant 7th. Now, look at inverting the chords in such a way that they fall easily under your hands. If you're just blocking the chords like this, it's most common is to play I in root position, and IV and V in second inversion:

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This minimizes the amount of movement you have to do from chord to chord. Even if you don't care much for the sound, it's a good idea to learn this, because if you're aware of the easiest inversions involved in moving from one chord to another in a progression, you'll find it easier to harmonize music at sight.

If you're working with a bass line, start by playing all the chords in root position. Something like this:

These chords are understood to be in root position, since the bass notes are.

Once you have found something that you like, you can start playing it in a bunch of different keys, and putting melodies above it.

So, by all means, go ahead and learn all 60 7th chords, but find ways to apply your knowledge as you gain it.

  • Are those tonic chords in your left-hand example what you intended? – Richard Dec 5 '17 at 3:01
  • @Richard Not quite sure what you mean by the tonic chords in my left-hand example. The first chord (beats 1 and 2 in the first bar) is tonic, and the fourth chord (beats 3 and 4 in the second bar) is also tonic. The other two chords are subdominant and dominant, in that order. It doesn't look like I put them in wrong (?). – BobRodes Dec 5 '17 at 3:41
  • Oh, I misread; I thought you were aiming for triads, not seventh chords. My mistake! – Richard Dec 5 '17 at 3:49
  • Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, those would be some pretty strange triads. I'd suggest to the OP to learn triads first, but he did specifically ask about 7th chords. – BobRodes Dec 5 '17 at 4:01
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    @DavidBowling 60 is indeed a somewhat arbitrary number. If the chord can be any of major, minor, augmented and diminished, and the 7th can likewise be any of the four, there are 192 possible permutations in the scale. Beginning theory teaches (correctly IMO) that there are five seventh chords most commonly in use: MM7 (major) Mm7 (dominant), mm7 (minor), dM7 (half-diminished) and dm7 (diminished). Then you could add in +m7 and +M7 (augmented and augmented major) and get 84. Then you could add in ... but I thought I might leave all that alone to avoid confusing the OP. 60 is a good start. :) – BobRodes Dec 5 '17 at 18:58

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