How do you make a minor chord more interesting? By adding an additional note, and making it into a 7th chord. In today’s article, we’re going to be discussing the magic of minor 7th chords.
But, if you are just looking for a quick rundown: Minor 7 chords (min7 or -7) are minor triads with an added minor 7th interval (10 semitones above or two semitones below the root). They can also be built by adding a flattened 7th scale degree from the Major scale to a minor triad (1, ♭3, 5, ♭7). They can be used as substitutes for minor triads.
While that’s minor 7 chords in simple terms in the following article, we’re going to take a closer look at minor 7 chords including a more in-depth look at how to construct them using intervals or scale degree formulas. We’ll also demonstrate how to play them, including some useful moveable shapes, along with how to use them in chord progressions, but first, what do minor 7th chords sound like?
What do Minor 7th Chords Sound Like?
As you might expect (being a minor chord), minor 7 chords sound darker and more melancholy than their major counterparts.
But, there is a similarity in that both chords contain intervals that form major and minor triads within their existing structure. This makes minor 7th chords a little more ambiguous and (arguably) more hopeful sounding than minor triads, although this often has more to do with musical context.
For example, if removing the root note of our Amin7 above, we are left with a C Maj chord consisting of a Major 3rd, and Perfect 5th.
Alternatively, an A major 7th chord (if the root is removed) becomes a C♯minor triad as there is an interval of a minor third between the 3rd and 5th and an interval of a perfect 5th between the 5th and 7th scale degree.
How to Build Minor 7th Chords using Intervals
As discussed all minor 7th chords are essentially minor triads with a minor 7th interval added.
As can be seen in the table above, if taking the Root (P1), minor 3rd (m3), Perfect 5th (P5), and minor 7th (m7) we are left with the notes: A, C, E, and G
If we were looking at the intervals relative to the individual notes of an Amin7 chord we are simply stacking thirds by adding a minor third interval which is 4 semitones from the fifth (E), as seen on the musical staff below. You can read more about tones and semitones, intervals, and chord construction in my article on where to get started with guitar theory.
How to Build Minor 7 Chords using Scale Degrees
If you are familiar with scale degree formulas, Amin7 chords can be constructed using the following formula: 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7
By referencing the Major scale, we simply take the first (root), flattened third, fifth, and flattened 7th scale degrees.
Flattened means take the existing note and lower it in pitch by a semitone.
Why don’t we just use the minor scale?
We could use the minor scale to build minor chords, by modifying the scale degree formula to 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the natural minor scale. But, the accepted standardization is to use the Major scale when constructing chords, regardless of the type or quality of the chord as all chords can then be referenced against the one ‘master scale’.
If you are unfamiliar with intervals and/or scale degree formulas and constructing chords in general, be sure to check out my article on guitar chord theory which covers all aspects.
How to play min7 Chords
The chart below shows an Amin chord compared to an Amin7 chord. Be sure to click here if you need to brush up on reading chord charts.
To change an Amin chord to an Amin7 we simply lift the ring finger and allow the open G string to be open. This replaces the second A with a G (the flattened 7th scale degree from our major scale) which is required to form an Amin7 chord.
Below are examples for all basic minor 7 chords.
Minor 7 Barre Chords
Take a look at some of the open chord shapes above and you’ll notice a couple of shapes in particular that are moveable, allowing us to play min7 chords all over the neck.
For example, our Fmin7 shape is already a partial barre chord, as can be seen in the example below it of Gmin7 which simply moves the shape 2 frets higher up the neck.
Fmin7 Shape – Partial Barre Chord Shape
I first stumbled across em7 when learning Chris Cornell’s ‘Like a Stone’.
It’s a simple chord to play, only involving one finger and 5 open strings, but also makes a fine min7 barre chord shape. If you are already familiar with root 6 minor chord shapes, then it’s simply a matter of removing the pinky from the D string.
Another great min7 shape you can use is the Amin7 shape. If you are already familiar with using the Amin barre chord shape, simply lift your pinky off the fretboard and you have a min7 barre chord shape.
Technically we could barre all 6 strings, as the 6th sting will also produce a note from the chord (the 5th scale degree) but this would be a slash chord and would be written: Bmin7/F♯ to indicate the F♯ in the bass.
How to Use Minor 7 Chords on the Guitar
Now that we know how to form both open position and moveable minor 7 chords, we can play minor 7 chords all across the neck. But, how do you go about using them musically?
In a major key, we can replace the ii (supertonic), iii (mediant), and vi (submediant) chords with minor 7 chords.
If we take the vi chord for example, which in the key of A is F#min. If we substitute this for an F#min7 we are adding a minor 7th which happens to be an E which is the 5th scale degree of the A Major scale, so all notes are still within the key of A.
If playing in a minor key this means we can replace the i, iv, v chords with min7 substitutes.
Minor7 chords are a great way to add a little sophistication to an existing chord progression. If you’ve never integrated them into your playing before start by learning either your Amin7 or Emin7 shapes and from there, add a barre (two frets behind the lowest note for Emin7 and one fret behind for Amin7) for a simple way to add a lush, yet slightly melancholy sounding minor 7th chord anywhere on the neck.