How to form major chords

Major chords

How are major chords formed? The most important characteristic of a major chord is the major 3rd interval from the root (starting note) to the second chord note. We can have major triads and major chords with a 7th.

If you want to hear sound samples of the different chords, please refer to the lesson ‘What is a chord? How do different chords sound?’.

Major triads

A major triad is made of the root (1st), 3rd and 5th note of the major scale. For example, the C (major) triad is formed by the root, the 3rd and the 5th note of the C major scale. So, the notes of a C major triad are: C, E and G. Notice the major 3rd interval between the root (C) and the E. The E is therefore called the major 3rd in the key of C.

Let’s try another example:  the A major triad. The root, 3rd and 5th in the A major scale are A, C# and E.

OK, one more example: the Eb major triad. The root, 3rd and 5th are Eb, G and Bb.

We write the major triad just with its root note, so the C major triad is simply written as C. The context will tell you if the symbol C refers to the single note C or to the C triad.

Major 7th chords

Major 7th chords are formed by a major triad with an extra note: the 7th note of the corresponding major scale. In the scale of C major, the 7th note is a B, so the C major 7th chord consists of the notes: C, E, G and B. Note that the interval of the root (C) to the 7th note in the scale (B) is a major 7th interval. That’s why we call this chord the C major 7th chord. So the word ‘major’ in the chord name refers to the major 7th (the B) of the scale, not to the major 3rd (the E). We write the C major 7th chord as: C∆7, CMaj7 or CM7.

Let me take the 2 other triad examples to show you 2 more major 7th chords:

The A major triad was: A, C# and E. Add the major 7th of the A major scale, and A∆7 consists of the notes A, C#, E and G#.

When you apply the same thing to Eb, you can see that Eb∆7 consists of the following notes: Eb, G, Bb and D.

Dominant or 7th chords

Instead of adding the major 7th to the major triad, we can also add the minor 7th to the major triad. The minor 7th in the scale of C is Bb (the minor 7th is the note that makes a minor 7th interval with the root). So the C dominant (or C seventh) chord consists of the notes C, E, G and Bb.

We write this chord as: C7.

Note: a major 7th chord is a major triad with a major 7th, but a 7th chord is a major triad with a minor 7th. So we don’t call this a minor 7th chord. A minor 7th chord is a chord based on a minor 3rd interval between the root to the second chord note. So here, the word ‘minor’ doesn’t refer to the 7th, but to the 3rd. A bit confusing, I admit, but things are like that…

So, A7 consists of the notes A, C#, E and G (since G is the minor 7th in the key of A). And Eb7 consists of the notes Eb, G, Bb and Db.

All the other major chords

With the information in this lesson, you can now find out all the other major chords. Start with all the 12 triads, and then put the minor 7th or major 7th on top to find the dominant (7th) and major 7th chords. If you don’t remember well all the major scales, then have a look at the lesson about major scales. For the major chords that have a ‘black key root’: take the roots that have a major scale with not more than 6 sharps or 6 flats (see ‘How to form a major scale’). For the sake of completeness, I will also add the enharmonic equivalents with more than 6 sharps or flats in parentheses.

When you’re finished, check your answers with the solutions below.

Triads

Major triad Chord notes Number of sharps/flats

in the major scale

C C   E   G 0
D D   F#   A 2 sharps
E E   G#   B 4 sharps
F F   A   C 1 flat
G G   B   D 1 sharp
A A   C#   E 3 sharps
B B   D#   F# 5 sharps
Db (C#) Db   F   Ab   (C#   E#   G#) 5 flats (7 sharps)
Eb (D#) Eb   G   Bb   (D#   F##   A#) 3 flats (9 sharps)
F# / Gb F#   A#   C#   / Gb   Bb   Db 6 sharps / 6 flats
Ab (G#) Ab   C   Eb   (G#   B#   D#) 4 flats (8 sharps)
Bb (A#) Bb   D   F   (A#   C##   E#) 2 flats (10 sharps)

 

Major 7th chords

Major 7th chord Chord notes Number of sharps/flats

in the major scale

C∆7 C   E   G   B 0
D∆7 D   F#   A   C# 2 sharps
E∆7 E   G#   B   D# 4 sharps
F∆7 F   A   C   E 1 flat
G∆7 G   B   D    F# 1 sharp
A∆7 A   C#   E   G# 3 sharps
B∆7 B   D#   F#   A# 5 sharps
Db∆7 (C#∆7) Db   F   Ab   C   (C#   E#   G#   B#) 5 flats (7 sharps)
Eb∆7 (D#∆7) Eb   G   Bb   D   (D#   F##   A#   C##) 3 flats (9 sharps)
F#∆7 / Gb∆7 F#   A#   C#   E#   / Gb   Bb   Db   F 6 sharps / 6 flats
Ab∆7 (G#∆7) Ab   C   Eb   G   (G#   B#   D#   F##) 4 flats (8 sharps)
Bb∆7 (A#∆7) Bb   D   F   A   (A#   C##   E#   G##) 2 flats (10 sharps)

 

Dominant (7th) chords

Dominant chord Chord notes Number of sharps/flats

in the major scale

C7 C   E   G 0
D7 D   F#   A 2 sharps
E7 E   G#   B   D 4 sharps
F7 F   A   C   Eb 1 flat
G7 G   B   D   F 1 sharp
A7 A   C#   E   G 3 sharps
B7 B   D#   F#   A 5 sharps
Db7 (C#7) Db   F   Ab   Cb   (C#   E#   G#   B) 5 flats (7 sharps)
Eb7 (D#7) Eb   G   Bb   Db   (D#   F##   A#   C#) 3 flats (9 sharps)
F#7 / Gb7 F#   A#   C#   E   / Gb   Bb   Db   Fb 6 sharps / 6 flats
Ab7 (G#7) Ab   C   Eb   Gb   (G#   B#   D#   F#) 4 flats (8 sharps)
Bb7 (A#7) Bb   D   F   Ab   (A#   C##   E#   G#) 2 flats (10 sharps)

 

And now it’s time to practice all that you’ve learned in this lesson. The exercises below are an excellent way to practice your skills.

If you don’t know what chord inversions are, then do only the exercises in root positions. Otherwise, you can follow the lesson about inversions.

Major triads:

Place the notes of the major triad on the piano (only root positions)

Place the notes of the major triad on the piano (all the inversions)

Dominant chords:

Place the notes of the dominant chord on the piano (only root positions)

Place the notes of the dominant chord on the piano (all the inversions)

Major 7th chords:

Place the notes of the major 7th chord on the piano (only root positions)

Place the notes of the major 7th chord on the piano (all the inversions)

Mix of all chords (also minor!):

If you know how minor chords work, you can do also the following exercises. If not, look first at the minor chords lesson.

Place the notes of the chord (dominant/minor 7th/major 7th) on the piano (only root positions)

Place the notes of the chord (dominant/minor 7th/major 7th) on the piano (all the inversions)

 

I hope that you learned a lot in this lesson about major chords. Please tell us what you find of this lesson and the exercises by leaving a comment below.

 

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Martin Cohen
 

Martin Cohen is a science and piano teacher. He is also a jazz musician and composer.

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