If you’re looking to add more color to your chord repertoire, then look no further than our seventh chords. In fact, the Fmaj7 is one of these chords excellent for creating that bluesy aethstetic, or building tension within a chord progression. But what is a seventh chord, and how can you start using them? As you read on, we’ll dive deeper into what makes the Fmaj7 chord works, and how to start playing it today. Let’s dive in!
How to Play the Fmaj7 Chord
Now, let’s go through the Fmaj7 chord and a couple of its variaitons!
Chord chart of the Fmaj7 chord played from 1st fret position, simplified.
Chord chart of the Fmaj7 chord played from 1st fret position, Advanced.
Chord chart of the Fmaj7 chord played from 8th fret position.
Trouble With Chord Charts?
For beginners, looking at a chord chart can be a little intimidating. However, it’s not as bad as it looks! Let’s bring our attention to the giant rectangular box containing the various horizontal and vertical lines. This represents our fretboard. The six vertical lines each represent a different string on the guitar. From left to right we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings. The horizontal lines, however, each separate one fret from the next.
Within the frets and atop the strings you’ll see circles containing numbers anywhere from 1 – 4. These numbers are to indicate where each of your fingers go to complete the chord. The number 1 is for your index finger. The number 2 is for your middle finger. The number 3 is for your ring finger. Lastly, the number 4 is for your pinky finger. If, however, you see a bar connecting from one number to another, that indicates you’re to form a “barre”. To form a barre you take your index finger, lay it across a grouping of strings along the same fret, and apply pressure. This will be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with time!
Above the fretboard and strings you may see an “O” or an “X”. The “O” represents an open note (a string to be played but not fretted to complete the chord). When an “X” is present, that indicates you are not to play the string to complete the chord. Sometimes off to the left of the fretboard you might see a number indicating the starting fret for the chord. If no number is present, it generally implies you’re playing the chord from the open note position. Easy as that!
Breakdown of the Fmaj7 chord
As mentioned before, our seventh chords are excellent for capturing that bluesy aethstetic, as they are most commonly used in the genres of Jazz and Blues. However, they aren’t uncommon in other genres looking to go for the same vibe, like hip-hop and neo soul. In order to understand our Fmaj7 chord better we’ll need to better understand the different components, the key, scale, and the triad its formed on.
We’ll begin with our key. Our key can be defined as the collective group of pitches you’d find within the associated scale; the F major scale. To find out what notes are within the scale, it’s important that we first define was our key signature is. Every key has its own key signature, which can be often spotted after the clef on a piece of sheet music, represented by a collection of sharps (#) and flats (b). A note that is marked sharp is to be raised by a semitone, while a note that is marked flat is to be lowered by a semitone.
Knowing what key you’re in, how do you figure out its associated key signature? In this case, it can help to consult the circle of fifths.
A diagram of the circle of fifths, displaying the most commonly used key signatures.
The circle of fifths is a wheel-shaped diagram displaying the most commonly used keys and their corresponding key signatures. Within the wheel, you’ll notice two rings. The outer ring shows all of our major keys, while the inner ring shows us all of our relative minor keys (keys with a different root note, but containing the same key signature).
As you go clockwise around the wheel, starting from C major/A minor, you’ll notice that every key gains an additional sharp to its key signature. On the other end of the spectrum, going counterclockwise around the wheel, you’ll notice that every key gains an additional flat to its key signature. Since, however, we’re dealing with the Fmaj7 chord, we’ll focus on the left half of the wheel containing the flats. So how are the sequence of flats added to each key determined? We use a simple acronym: BEADGCF. This stands for:
“Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles’, Father”
Each word within this little saying represents a different note to be made flat within our key signatures, following this exact sequence. Here is how it appears:
C = No sharps or flats.
F = Bb
Bb = Bb, Eb
Eb = Bb, Eb, Ab
Ab = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db
Db = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb
Gb = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb
Cb = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb
Taking this information, for example, if we were in the key of Eb major, containing three flats, then using our fingers we’d go, “Battle, Ends, And…” therefore, the key of Eb major contains the flats Bb, Eb, and Ab. Let’s try this again with Gb major containing six flats. Using our fingers once more, “Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles’…” therefore, the flats contained within the key of Gb major are Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, and Cb.
The trick to easily figuring each key signature out is to know beforehand how many flats each key has. This is where it might take a little work on your part to memorize the circle of fifths. However, there is a trick to memorizing our key signatures that only takes you remembering half of the circle of fifths. For instance, if you’re stronger with your key signatures containing sharps, but want to figure out a key containing flats, just remember the number 7. For instance, D major contains 2 sharps, if we want to figure out how many flats Db major has, we can take 7 and take away 2; this gives us 5. Therefore, the key of Db major contains 5 flats. Let’s try again with E major, containing 4 sharps. To figure out how many flats Eb major has, we use our number 7 and take away 4; this gives us 3. Therefore, the key of Eb major contains 3 flats.
Knowing this, we can figure out that F major contains 1 flat, Bb. Now, let’s throw our scale together:
F > G > A > Bb > C > D > E > F
Did you know that major scales contain their own strict pattern of tones (T) and semitones (S)? This is what helps give our major scales their distinctly happy tone. Let’s take a look:
T > T > S > T > T > T > S
As you can see, our F major scale follows this pattern perfectly. Our B becomes Bb, moving a semitone away from A, but a tone away from C. As usual, E and F are a semitone apart, remaining unchanged.
Now, let’s try playing our F major scale:
Guitar tablature of the F major scale, ascending and descending
Trouble With Tablature?
Tablature, also commonly referred to as “tab” is an easy solution for guitarists without hefty musical knowledge to write, share, and learn some of their favorite songs and exercises. It can be thought of as a more dumbed down alternative to musical notation, but for guitarists! Let’s begin by drawing our attention to the six horizontal lines, each representing a different string on the guitar. From bottom to the top, we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings.
On some, if not all strings, you’ll see a number indicating what fret you’re to play on the corresponding string. If it’s the number 2 on the A string, then you’re to play the 2nd fret of the A string. If it’s a number 5 on the D string, then you’re to play the 5th fret of the D string. If however, you encounter the number 0, then that indicates you’re to play an “open note” (a string to be played, but not fretted). It’s easy as that!
Since tablature is incredibly easy to pick up, it’s made improving on the guitar a much less cumbersome and overwhelming experience for self-taught guitarists. However, in that comes a drawback; maintaining good habits. The good habit we’re primarily referring to here is proper fingerwork. This is something easily glossed over for beginners, as learning the guitar as a whole can be a very exciting experience. We just want to play because it’s fun, and sometimes the essentials get left in the dust. It happens to the best of us! The important thing to do before learning a song is to read ahead, and understand what’s involved. This might help you better understand where to place your hand and situate your fingers. The idea is you want your hand in a comfortable and loose position for transitioning, while maintaining the general shape. Things like spider exercises, and practicing with a metronome can help you improve upon this.
A final thing to note about tablature is unlike musical notation, you oftentimes don’t get all of the details. Sometimes it is up to you the guitarist to fill in the gaps using your ear, and best judgement on how things are meant to be played. Of course, however, this isn’t to say all tabs are lacking of detail, as the quality from tab to tab varies. In fact, here are some additional details recognized by guitarists for use on tabs:
H = Hammer-on
P = Pull-off
B = Bend
X = Mute
PM = Palm Mute
\ = Slide Down
/ = Slide Up
~~~ = Vibrato
The important thing for beginners is to be mindful of what you’re playing, and how you’re playing it!
Every note within our scales serves an important purpose. We can think of each note as a different degree. Each degree has an identifying name, helping musicians refer to them more easily. Using our F major scale, lets go through each one:
F = Tonic (1st Degree)
G = Supertonic (2nd Degree)
A = Mediant (3rd Degree)
Bb = Subdominant (4th Degree)
C = Dominant (5th Degree)
D = Submediant (6th Degree)
E = Leading Tone (7th Degree)
F = Tonic (1st Degree/Octave)
Now, let’s talk briefly about each of them. The first degree, the tonic, is our tonal center. It’s the root note of our key where things tend to resolve. Next is the second degree, the supertonic. This degree acts as a predominant degree, often subbing in for our fourth degree, as within their triads, they share two of the same notes. A step up is our third degree, the mediant, sharing two notes within its triad as the tonic, it serves for an excellent degree in drawing our tonic out further. The next one is our fourth degree, the subdominant, a tension building chord. This degree shares a single note in its triad with our tonic, the root note. Typically our subdominant will move to a degree of even greater tension. Next we have our dominant, on the fifth degree. This is our climax where tension is at its peak, and will beg for resolve – typically resolving to our tonic. Our sixth degree is our submediant, which serves as another predominant degree, containing two notes in common with our subdominant. The seventh degree, the leading tone, is another great tension builder, and also of great importance for our seventh chords. If you try playing the C major scale and end on B, your ears will want to hear it resolve on C. Try it out! Finally, we are back on the tonic yet again, but a whole octave higher from where we started.
A triad is a type of chord containing three notes played in unison. It’s important to note, all triads may be chords, but not all chords are triads! To form our F major triad, we take our tonic, mediant, and dominant degrees (1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees) of our F major scale and stack them on top of one another. Doing so gives us the notes: F, A, and C.
However, within major triads, there are specific intervals that they use giving them their happy tone:
- Major 3rd – Between the 1st and 3rd degrees. F > A.
- Minor 3rd – Between the 3rd and 5th degrees. A > C.
- Perfect 5th – Between the 1st and 5th degrees. F > C.
We’ve now made our F major triad! However, taking this, we can now convert it into an F major seventh triad. To achieve our seventh chord, we take our existing triad and stack our seventh degree of our F major scale on top! This gives us the notes F, A, C, and E. We now have our F major seventh chord.
Finding Chords Compatible With F Major
The Fmaj7 chord can be a great way of spicing up your chord progressions. The real struggle for most, however, is making a chord progression to use it in, let alone one we enjoy! Thankfully, there’s a process to make this a little easier! We take what we’ve learned about triads, and stack them on each degree of our F major scale. Here’s what we get:
F Major = F, A, C (Tonic/1st Degree)
G minor = G, Bb, D (Supertonic/2nd Degree)
A minor = A, C, E (Mediant/3rd Degree)
Bb Major = Bb, D, F (Subdominant/4th Degree)
C Major = C, E, G (Dominant/5th Degree)
D minor = D, F, A (Submediant/6th Degree)
E diminished = E, G, Bb (Leading Tone/7th Degree)
Now we have all of the chords compatible with F major!
However, sometimes we can get a little stuck on where to begin making our chord progression. In which case, sometimes it helps to start with some tried and true chord progressions. Let’s take a look at a few:
I – IV – V
This three-chord progression starts on the tonic, F Major, where things feel relatively calm. From here, we’ll move to our subdominant, adding a little tension, Bb Major. Next, we’ll move to even greater tension, C Major. At our climax of tension, we will want resolve, therefore, we’ll move back home to F major, the tonic.
The chord progression looks like this: F Major > Bb Major > C Major.
ii – V – I
The “two-five-one turnaround” is another three-chord progression commonly used in Jazz music. This progression starts on our supertonic, G minor 7, a tense predominant chord. From here we’ll shift to even greater tension, our dominant, C Major 7. Next, we’ll want to relieve some of the tension, shifting to our tonic, F Major 7. Afterwards, we will move back to our tense supertonic, doing it all again.
The chord progression looks like this: G minor 7 > C Major 7 > F Major 7.
I – vi – IV – V
This four-chord progression begins with our tonic, F major. Things feel relatively calm, before shifting to our submediant, a sad D minor. The D minor acts as a pre-dominant chord, adding some mild tension. Next, we’ll shift to our subdominant, Bb Major, drawing out the tension further. Finally, we’ll transition to the peak of our tension, C Major, the dominant. Now, we’ll want to resolve, so we’ll return home to our tonic, F major.
The chord progression looks like this: F Major > D Minor > Bb Major > C Major.
Fmaj7 to Fmin7
We’ve talked a lot about our Fmaj7 chord, but what of its minor counterpart, Fmin7? This differs a lot from its relative key relationship with D minor, as they have a different tonic, but share the same key signature. However, Fmaj7 shares what’s known as a parallel key relationship with Fmin7. This difference is that while they share the same tonic, they contain different key signatures. Let’s uncover some more of these differences!
The key of F minor contains four flats within its key signature, different from F major containing only one flat. The flats within the key of F minor are Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db. Next, lets talk about the scale, which looks like this:
F > G > Ab > Bb > C > Db > Eb > F
However, much like major scales do, minor scales also have their own strict pattern of tones (T) and semitones (S) that give their scales a melancholy feeling:
T > S > T > T > S > T > T
As you can see, A becomes Ab moving a semitone away from G and a tone away from Bb. B becoming Bb moves it a tone away from C, however, D becomes Db, moving a semtione away from C, but a tone away from Eb. E becoming Eb also puts it a tone away from F. Everything follows the pattern, it never fails!
Now, let’s try playing our F minor scale:
Guitar tablature of the F minor scale, ascending and descending.
Moving onto our triads, the method still remains the same to form a minor triad as it does to make a major triad. We take the tonic, mediant and dominant degrees of our scale (1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees). Next, we stack them on top of each other. This gives us the notes: F, Ab, and C.
However, while the method of forming our minor triads remains the same, the qualities underneath change a little! We’re talking about the intervals. Let’s take a look:
Minor 3rd – Between the 1st and 3rd Degrees. F > Ab.
Major 3rd – Between the 3rd and 5th Degrees. Ab > C.
Perfect 5th – Between the 1st and 5th Degrees. F > C.
Can you see the difference? It’s reversed! Our first interval is a minor 3rd, while in a major triad its a major 3rd. However, the second interval is a major 3rd, while in a major triad its a minor 3rd. The perfect 5th remains the same.
Just as before, if we want to form our Fmin7 chord, we take our existing F minor triad and stack our seventh degree of the scale on top. This gives us the notes: F, Ab, C, and E. We now have our Fmin7 chord!
Now you have all of the tools necessary to get started in using your brand new seventh chord, Fmaj7. Learning new chords like this can be an excellent way of challenging yourself, as well as adding more chords to your color palette for future use. However, it’s only the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty of more types of chords to learn! In fact, if you want to change your perspective on chords, and the fretboard as a whole, learning about the CAGED system may be a step in the right direction! How will you make the most out of the Fmaj7 chord today?