I was wondering what is it about seventh notes...

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from ipanema goes walking
       Gm7                          Gb7                                  Fmaj7  Gb9
And when she passes, each one she passes goes - ahhh!

Would this song not have been possible with regular triads, do the seventh notes add vocal pitches not found with regular triads? It seems like they do. Like when I add sevenths I'm inclined to sing it differently almost more whimsical or something. Do those seventh chords tend to change the pitch of a voice when one sings it?

  • Can you check that particular song and make sure you have your question worded right? The opening bar does have the melody reflect the chord extensions. The melody has E which is the maj7 of the plain F major triad. i.pinimg.com/originals/3c/0d/1f/… – Michael Curtis Apr 15 '19 at 16:54
  • Are you asking "why does the accompaniment need to play the maj7 if the vocal part provides that maj7 tone?" – Michael Curtis Apr 15 '19 at 16:56
  • It's easier to sing a tone if the accompaniment is playing it as well. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 15 '19 at 17:08
  • @piiperi, true, it can help the singer, but surely the composer didn't use extended harmony as a guide track. Anyway, I'm not sure yet what the question is. – Michael Curtis Apr 15 '19 at 17:15
  • @MichaelCurtis feel free to edit it if you see chords that you think are wrong – user34288 Apr 15 '19 at 17:21

Of course they do! in regular triads, there's only 1, 3 and 5, so yes, they will inevitably add to the chord. And sometimes the vocal line too. That 1st chord could even have been maj9, as the vocal line there sings both the maj7 and the 9th notes of Fmaj.

It won't change the pitch, but having extensions to chords will give more opportunity to improvise more interestingly, if that's what you mean. Maybe the question needs tweaking a little, to make it clearer.

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  • But it would also be possible for the accompaniment to have F major with only F, A, and C, even though the melody has E or G or any other note, and it is also possible for an accompaniment to have an Fmaj7 or Fmaj9 even if the melody contains no notes other than F, A, or C. – phoog Apr 15 '19 at 17:35


Strictly speaking, if you're singing the seventh of a played seventh chord versus singing the seventh of a played triad, no, the pitch would not change. However, no humans ever sing the exact same thing the exact same way, and we tend to add slight changes to everything we sing, whether it be subtle or obvious. So I think it's reasonable to assume that the presence or absence of the seventh of the chord in the background would change a singer's interpretation of the song, carrying over into their voice.

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Do seventh chords add vocal pitches not found in triads?

Sometimes yes...

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The maj7 in the chord adds a tone that is part of the vocal melody and that tone is not part of a plain triad.

Sometimes no...

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The maj7 and 7 on these chords are not in the vocal part.

Would this song [The Girl From Ipanema] not have been possible with regular triads..?

It would have been "possible" in so far as an accompaniment of a plain F major triad plus the vocal part providing an E would combine to realize the Fmaj7 chord.

So you might ask "why add chord extensions to the accompaniment in a lead sheet if the vocal part already provides the extensions?"

I can think of three reasons:

  • A piano or guitar is probably assumed to part of the accompaniment in jazz and a composer or arranger wants the full sonority of extended chords on those intruments, in other words plain triads on piano or guitar don't really have the jazz sound.
  • The chords are used to accompany a soloist, you may not be assured the soloist will hit all chord extensions in a solo, so the accompaniment needs to play the full chords.
  • Singers often 'interpret' melodies and don't sing them exactly as written, you can't rely on a singer to provide all the extensions, the accompaniment must play full chords.
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