Every time I play major7th or minor7th it doesn't make me feel any different than the normal major or minor chord, so what's the point of such chords? What do these chord qualities accomplish that simpler chords do not? Is there a real difference?

  • Consider that it may be the voicings you use. – Tim Feb 10 '19 at 11:08
  • I've vtc because there's not much substance behind the question, and any feelings emanating from music listened to is very subjective. – Tim Feb 10 '19 at 11:24
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    Like a dentist said after local anesthesia: "Don't eat anything until you can feel your cheeks". I recommend trying to learn to feel the difference. I wouldn't like to give a chronic harmonic insensitivity diagnosis - you just need to give it more time and practice. When I was something like 15, I liked to stuff extra notes in all chords, because I liked the taste. After a few years of doing that I got tired of everything being sugar-coated, so my taste got a bit more developed. But if you can't feel any difference in making a minor chord a minor seventh chord... practice more. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '19 at 11:40
  • @Tim I think there's a very good question behind this. It could be worded a bit differently, like "through what kind of exercises and example songs can I learn to feel the difference in function and feeling between regular minor chords and minor seventh chords, regular major chords and major seventh chords". Or something. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '19 at 11:46
  • @piiperi - I thought the good question behind this was "why use 7th and sus chords instead of their major/minor triad counterparts?" – Dekkadeci Feb 10 '19 at 16:09

7th and suspended chords are often used to explain away melody notes as chord tones instead of labelling them as nonchord tones. (Accented nonchord tones sometimes make less sense than just plain calling them chord tones.)

Dominant 7th chords (or major chords with an additional minor 7th from the root) are also used to unambiguously prepare tonicizations or modulations. For example, while spamming C major chords can make you think the piece will remain in C major, adding a single C7 chord will often make you think an F major chord will come next (as, in C major, C7 is V7/IV).

Jazz often uses 7th chords because that is somehow the convention, though. Yes, this includes using a 7th chord for the tonic. Anyone can explain this convention?

I've heard some more modern pieces that use several parallel sus chords in a row (mainly video game themes, the occasional contemporary piano piece), probably because they sound cool and suggest quartal harmony (a sus chord is an inversion of a quartal chord consisting of two stacked 4ths).

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  • The other week, I played with a small jazz band at a birthday party, and it was all but impossible to get one guitarist to NOT use major seventh chords for the I in 'Happy Birthday'. (In response to your 3rd para. - I just don't know..! – Tim Feb 10 '19 at 11:05

it doesn't make me feel any difference than the normal major or minor chord, so what's the point of such chords?

One tricky thing about music is that it's subjective, and different people feel different things! Personally I feel that a minor seventh is much deeper and more mysterious than a straight minor chord, and I find that sus2 (or 5 add 9) chords have a real emotional multidimensionality to them. That's just me of course!

Of course there might be lots of aspects in harmony that you enjoy that I don't appreciate. A lot of things that are supposed to "make sense" in common practice harmony leave me cold, or even slightly nauseous.

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    What's a '5add9' chord? – Tim Feb 10 '19 at 11:06
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    @Tim a '5' denotes an open fifth / power chord, and the add 9 means you're adding a 9th but not the seventh - to me it implies an open voicing of sus2, i.e. two stacked fifths. – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '19 at 12:05
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    "Message in a Bottle" is built around 5(add9) chords. I agree that these are interesting chords; for young players who want to use power chords all the time, 5(add9) chords can provide a nice introduction to a broader sonic palette. – ex nihilo Feb 10 '19 at 16:26
  • Chord symbols are not supposed to be used to indicate voicings. If you wanted to indicate voicings you would not just give a chord symbol. Also tying to notate a quintal stack using typical chord symbols is not advised because the quintal nature will be hidden. This also goes for quartal harmony a C7sus4 may have the notes of a quartal trichord, but it's not obvious thats what you are going for. – Dom Feb 13 '19 at 18:38
  • @Dom I agree - but in this case i was having a think as to how i'd understand 5 (add 9) to be different to sus2. What would you see as the difference? – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 13 '19 at 19:42

When you’re first learning about music, seventh chords can sometimes seem like an unnecessary adornment. I remember thinking about them the same way you do. I greatly preferred regular major and minor triads because they sounded better—consonant is the technical term—and indeed they are. Like coffee or olives or blue cheese, seventh chords may represent an acquired taste. You have to get used to hearing them in context with a harmony to appreciate what they do.

There is a dissonance within seventh chords which makes your ear want to hear a resolution. Take a G7 chord as an example. The constituent notes are G B D F. The B and F together form a tritone. It’s the interval between a perfect 4th and a perfect 5th. Try playing just B and F together and you’ll see that they don’t sound consonant at all. Throw in the D as well and you’ve got a diminished chord.

Both diminished chords and dominant seventh chords often serve the same function: to prepare your ear to expect the tonic chord. In the case of G7 or B°, that is C (or Cm if it’s in the minor key).

Suspensions have a similar effect. They want to resolve to the major or minor triad. The major second interval within every suspended chord is less consonant than a major or minor third. (In a sus2 chord, the major 2nd is between the root and the second. In a sus4 chord, it’s between the 4th and the 5th.) So Dsus2 or Dsus4 chords would resolve to D or Dm, for example. It’s rare that it doesn’t happen.

So whether you hear it or not—and if you spend enough time, you eventually will—the point of seventh and suspended chords—at a basic level—is to create tension to be released.

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    The OP didn't claim to prefer regular triads. He said he cannot hear any difference. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '19 at 14:01
  • @piiperi OP said they felt the same and I can understand that. To take that and assume the OP “couldn’t hear any difference” is a big stretch. – trw Feb 10 '19 at 15:42
  • @ashraf-taha can you clarify? – trw Feb 10 '19 at 15:43
  • By hearing I obviously meant the kind of hearing that might lead to developing a preference towards one or the other. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '19 at 17:14
  1. Maj and min 7th chords, and even more suspended chords, do sound different than major and minor chords - just not so much because there's either an extra, or a different note in the chord - all the other notes are the same.

  2. One reason I use these chords when writing songs is variety, having more options. If a chord progression is in the key of C major, I sometimes play the C as a C maj 7th, the A as an A min 7th the G as G7th so on and so forth.

Sometimes I choose one of them, at others just a normal major or minor. I see what's best for that particular song. There's a lot of subjectivity here.

  1. On a more objective side 7ths and suspended chords tend to cause tension in music - dissonance.

And something our ear really loves hearing is dissonance being resolved into consonance.

This is especially the case with suspended chords. Play a D sus for followed by either D major or minor.

Can you hearthe dissonant note being resolved?

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The point is to create tension and then relaxation. That is how music moves you.

Suspended chords (sus) want to resolve towards the third. The seventh chords (and chord tensions such as the 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, and 6ths) all create and resolve tension to various degrees.

If you grew up watching Warner Bros cartoons, you would immediately recognize the frequent dim7 sliding in minor third intervals during the climactic scenes of the Road Runner & Coyote cartoons.

Create the tension, then release it. That is the essence of musical communication. These additional chord voices provide more vocabulary for the musical language.

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