The Major Seventh

major seventh on keyring
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Other Names:

Major-Major Seventh

Symbols & Abbreviations:

M7, ?7, maj7

Scales:

Diatonic

Set Class:

(0158)

This chord often has a yearning or breathy quality and shows up in less harmonically-restricted styles of pop, as well as in limited jazz and classical contexts. Hear it in the opening arpeggios of Chicago’s “Colour My World,” or in the nostalgic first phrase of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here.” In both of these cases, it functions as a tonic chord. The first chord of the intro to Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” is also a major seventh, but functions as a subdominant (IV7) chord. Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1” alternates between these two major seventh chords—the subdominant and tonic. Prior to the end of the 19th century, this chord would have been considered much too unstable to behave in such a way. But this very instability also made it suitable for the height of the dramatic tension in bar 276 of the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”). 

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