I noticed some people play seventh chords as the basis for their music. I noticed this especially from jazz pianists that make most of the chords use a seventh, for example.

My question is, is a seventh chord as fundamental as a triad? Meaning, is a 7 note on the same "level" as the 1, 3, and 5.

It seems like jazz gives weight to the seventh chord (so all 1+3+5+7 notes are equally important). While pop uses mainly triads and uses seventh chords only as embellishments (for example V7 to get back to I sort of thing). So I'm confused.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Carl Witthoft, Richard, Dom May 1 '18 at 16:36

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    I am not sure that "as important" is the right way to look at this; all chords are important and have different qualities. Maybe what you are asking is whether seventh chords are as fundamental as triads? Of course, this would depend on the musical context, since some music avoids tonality altogether. – David Bowling May 1 '18 at 13:00
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    Well now I'll ask: what do you mean by "fundamental"? How does one measure "fundamental"ness to determine if the seventh chord is as fundamental as a triad? – Richard May 1 '18 at 13:02
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    @foreyez Are you perhaps asking "In which genres is the seventh chord more common than the triad?" That's an interesting question, but almost impossible to answer. – Richard May 1 '18 at 13:08
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    It's not good when a question is vague because you'll get a lot of vague and speculative answers trying to figure out what you want (I'm not quite sure if you know what you want yet from this question). We do have a close reason for "unclear what you are asking" specifically for closing questions that are too vague. – Dom May 1 '18 at 13:49
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    Well FYI the question in your most recent comment is a complete mystery to me. "is a 4 chord as fundamental as a 3 chord?" I'm assuming by "4" you mean "four note chord" but not all four note chords are seventh chords. And asking about music in general is just way too broad. Asking about how 7th chords take on a different importance in jazz is a pretty good question. Asking about whether 7th chords versus triads are "more fundamental" to music as a whole is missing the point, IMHO, and it's too broad. All kinds of chords are important in all kinds of genres. Don't play favorites. – Todd Wilcox May 1 '18 at 14:08

Many, perhaps most, branches of jazz do use seventh chords and other extended chords as fundamental parts of the harmony. The central harmonic concept in this kind of music is the tritone and tritone substitution.

The dominant seventh chord contains a tritone between the third and the seventh, which means another dominant seventh chord that has a root a tritone away from the original root shares two of the same notes as the original chord. This is a popular and important harmonic mechanism in a lot of jazz, so I believe the word "fundamental" is appropriate. In these types of jazz, I think it would be fair to say that "mere" triads are relatively uncommon. Note that tritone substitution is not ubiquitous in all jazz, and can be used in other genres.

Beyond that, seventh chords of all kinds are quite important in almost every kind of music you might hear today. Music before the baroque period seems to have occasionally used the dominant seventh chord, and by the baroque period the dominant seventh chord was important. The history of the major and minor seventh chords doesn't come up as easily in a quick web search, but they are definitely used widely, starting in the classical period at the latest, and all types of sevenths are regularly used in pop and rock music, along with many other genres.

Side note, while seventh chords are not as fundamental in genres other than jazz in the same way, you might be underestimating the role of non-triad chords in pop and rock.

  • thanks for answering, but I don't think you understood me correctly. I wanted to know if the triad is considered "main" harmony and or is the triad+7th considered to be "main" harmony in music. – foreyez May 1 '18 at 14:14
  • @foreyez I definitely don't understand your question about "main harmony". It's funny, I thought I understood your question so I answered what I thought it was. Now that you're trying to clarify your question, I understand less and less. – Todd Wilcox May 1 '18 at 14:16
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    @foreyez Sounds like an opinion based question but I'll give you my opinion: you should not divide harmony into "basics" or "fundamentals" and "embellishments". Just learn to understand and use all kinds of chords equally. Imagine different chord types are different colors. If you were a painter, you wouldn't want to mainly focus on some colors and hardly ever use other colors. You want to use the colors that paint the picture you want. Sometimes you need some colors, other times you need others. – Todd Wilcox May 1 '18 at 14:20
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    @ToddWilcox interesting analogy about colors. I fell like the op is looking at just like that, or asking that. Are triads like primary colors and 7ths like tertiary colors. and in a way, i guess so...if you hear nursery rhymes played with all triads and diatonic melody notes it is like a painting with all primary colors. But any music other than that is going to have more than 3 colors, so to speak. – b3ko May 1 '18 at 15:20
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    @b3ko and there are other color systems that don't focus on primary colors like RGB, CYM, and HSV. Neither is more fundamental, just different ways to talk about the color. Some ways are more useful than others (CYM is dominant for printers because of the subtractive nature of the operation and RGB is dominant for talking about pixels because of the additive nature of them). – Dom May 1 '18 at 16:29

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