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Music (Part 10)

Even more on chords and chord voicings

Article from Sound International, May 1979

... so anyway, we finally get 'em in the back of the Merc, right? So then Pete ('e's the drummer) reckons to the blonde one, like 'e's a right larf when 'e's pissed, ole Pete — 'ere luv, looked in yer 'andbag lately? Right? So, she opens it up, right, an' guess wot Pete's gone'n put in there? I tell you, we fuckin' cracked up. Hur, hur, hur. Larf? Wet meself. Anyway, so then 'er mate turns round and sez: Oi! Be fair, see... wot? Eh? Oh sorry, are we on? (Gulp!) Er...

(In hushed deep tones contrasting sharply with opening frenzied whine): Good evening. Welcome to the Wonderful World of...

Chords And Chord Voicings (Part 3)

In this I'd like to take a look at 'Major 7th' chords and 'Inversions'. In deference to Petes up and down the country (who I can imagine getting a little restless when confronted with endless chord diagrams) I'll probably make this article the last on this particular subject for a while, even though we still have a lot of ground to cover. Next month I'll be getting back to generalities, paradiddles etc, but meanwhile I'm sure you'll bear with me as I lurch into action with:

Major 7th Chords

These are chords in which the seventh is major. In an ordinary dominant chord the seventh is at an interval of a minor seventh from the root of the chord.

Though the chord itself is major (as determined by the third - the G and B interval of a major third means the chord has to be a major), the seventh is a minor seventh. In the chord of the minor 7th, both the third and the seventh are minor.

Now a major 7th chord is perhaps more natural as, unlike a dominant 7th, it employs as a seventh a note which occurs naturally in the major scale based on the root of the chord. The major scale of C is:

and the chord of C major seventh (usually abbreviated to Cmaj7) employs the seventh note of that scale.

For the key of G the major seventh chord is formed by adding an F# to the major triad.

These are the major seventh chords for each key:

(You'll notice that the major seventh is one semitone below the name note of the chord; the seventh is sometimes referred to as the 'leading note', as in melodic and scalic terms it leads to the note a semitone above it, the octave.)

The examples that I've given show the major seventh chord in its most basic voicing, with the seventh sitting neatly and symmetrically on top of the major triad. As you know, though, any chord can be voiced in a variety of different ways, and the major seventh is no exception. One simple alteration would be to bring the seventh down an octave, while leaving the major triad unmoved.

This actually sounds very good despite the slight dissonance of the

interval within the chord. ('Dissonant' - jarring, clashing, discordant)... or, if you like, because of that slight dissonance, the

voicing sounds more interesting than the

Chords often work in this sweet'n'sour way; this chord:

(another voicing of Cmaj7) contains the rather jarring dissonance of

which, when played alone, sounds a bit gruesome. When the inner E and G are inserted, however, the chord sounds beautiful. At first the ear might tend to be offended by the

(minor 9th) interval even when the other notes were present

but like all good sensory experiences, the appreciation is an acquired taste. A bit like getting to enjoy the more pungent cheeses. (Actually, I can't stand those intense French cheeses. The smell reminds me of... see opening paragraph.)

But I digress. Open your desks and take out your banjos and accordions. I'm going to go out of the room for half an hour, and when I come back I want you all to have learnt these C major 7 voicings off by heart. You never know, you might even like some of them. You might even work them into a song, in which case my lawyer will be in touch with you immediately concerning copyright infringement and damages which I'm prepared to waive in favour of my modest fee of 60% of all royalties...

(Guitar shapes courtesy Allan Holdsworth. Allan appears courtesy of the Morland Brewery and, it should be noted, has rather big fingers.)

Inversions and Alternative Bass Notes

Oi, bass players! This bit's for you. It no longer suffices for you to thunder out indistinct but vaguely reassuring root notes underneath the chords painstakingly created by your more sensitive guitarist and keyboard colleagues.

The time has come for you to leave your vantage point at the Artists' Bar and weigh in with a bit of harmonic groundwork.

Take this chord sequence:

Obviously a bass player can get by simply booming

out the roots, but a different choice of bass notes could make the sequence sound more interesting:

Playing bass in this style creates 'inversions' to the chords. If the bass plays the third of the chord instead of the root, the chord is said to be a '1st inversion' — take the second chord in the sequence above, an F major chord with an A bass note; this is called F 1st inversion, written F1. (The minor version would be F minor with an Ab bass note — this is Fm 1st inversion, or Fm1.)

If the bass plays the fifth of a chord, it's called a '2nd inversion'. G major with a D bass note is called G 2nd inversion, written G2, and the minor version of that is Gm2. All quite simple if you know your triads! Occasionally 3rd inversions crop up, which is when the bass daringly plays the seventh of a seventh chord: C7 with a Bb bass note is called C7 3rd inversion (written C73) and C major7 with a B bass note is Cmaj73. Looking back over the sequence with the altered bass notes, you can see that I've made chords 2, 3, 5, 5, 7 and 10 into 1st inversions by having the bass play the third of the chord.

Apart from the three inversions, it is possible for the bass to play other 'altered' root notes to interesting effect. Let us take, yet again, C major as an example.

We know the notes of C, E and G will work in the bass:

(They have to, really, as they're all notes contained in the chord already!) A 'B' bass note gives us a Cmaj73 and if the B is flattened to a Bb we arrive at a C73 . These last two often occur when descending bass lines are used:

What happens if we go on descending to an 'A' note? At this point, as I've mentioned before, the C major chord changes its identity and becomes an Am7 chord.

You could argue that in theory it's still a C chord with a sixth (A) in the bass, but in practice it sounds like an Am chord — try it and see!

If I might be permitted to extend this idea to its obvious conclusion, you could also try playing 'F' and 'D' bass notes under a C major chord. An 'F' sounds really good, giving this chord

(which I personally would describe as 'C over F bass', though it could be regarded as an Fmaj7/9 (no 3rd)... think about it!). I like this chord a lot, and quite often change the root of a major chord up a fourth (or down a fifth) in my own music. A 'D' note doesn't sound quite so good initially

(but a subtle improvement is to add a major seventh to the chord thus

which improves the effect. (Actually this last chord could be seen as a type of 'D13' chord, but as we haven't got that far with chords yet we won't dwell on it.)

So you can see that it's possible to use any note from the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A and B) as a bass note to a C major chord. I'm not suggesting that it's desirable for the bassist always to alter the root, merely that alternatives exist. Keyboard players, due to the clear layout of their instruments, are in a better position to spot these alternatives (which is why keyboard players often end up as arrangers) but guitarists and bassists should be aware of them. All I'm saying really is that in order for someone to improvise well, they must be aware of what notes will work with which chords and be prepared to play some of the less obvious ones. In the right context, a bassist playing inversions and alternative root notes is a joy to hear... in the wrong context, though (like halfway through March of the Mods at a holiday camp knees-up), it sounds bleedin' 'orrible. Goodnight.

Series - "Music"

Read the next part in this series:

Music (Part 11)
(SI Jun 79)

All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 (Viewing) | Part 11

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Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - May 1979

Donated by: Richard Elen


Music Theory



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 (Viewing) | Part 11

Feature by Dave Stewart

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> The Role of the Sound Engine...

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> Letters

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