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How to Play Major, Dominant, Minor, and Diminished 7th Chords on the Piano

Mr. Ryan, Instructor of Piano and General Music at LAAPA will walk you through playing a variety of chords on the piano complete with notation slides!

Learn to Play Major, Dominant, Minor & Diminished Chords on the Piano

- contributed by Ryan T.

(00:29): Hey, guys, Ryan here with Louisiana Academy of Performing Arts. We're here doing another Lagniappe Lesson. Today we're going to be on the keyboard, talking about how to formulate the five different types of seventh chords by just moving one note at a time. In order to do this, we're going to use the key of C. All too great, makes it easy to visualize on the keyboard, using all those white keys.

(00:50): You're probably already very familiar with the C-major chord, triad, whatever you call it. We're going to actually play it as a root third fifth, and a root on top, as well. We're going to have the notes, C, E, G, and C, another C on top. That makes us a nice, pretty C-major arpeggio or chord. Now what we do from this point is we're going to start moving tones one half step at a time to change this chord, the C chord, into these different seventh chords that we use in jazz, R&B, soul, all types of music.

(01:21): The first move we need to make is, we have a root, a third, a fifth, and a root. We're trying to make seventh chords. We need a seven in there. Where's the seventh note of the scale? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Here it is. It's B. That's the first note I'm going to move to. I'm going to move this C down a half step to B. By doing that, now I have four tones represented. I have the root, the third, the fifth, and the seventh. This makes what's called the C-major seventh chord. Has a little bit more color than the traditional C chord, right? Here's C again. Here's C major seven. Again, all I did was move my C down to B to get this C-major seventh chord. That's the first major chord in our family we're going to go to.

(02:05): The next is going to be the dominant seventh chord. In order to get the dominant seventh chord ... If you know a little bit about chords, you may have heard that the dominant seventh is called the major minor seventh. What that really means is it's got the C-major chord, the triad on the bottom, but instead of having B, the major seventh from the C-major scale, we're actually going to lower it one more half step to B-flat. We're borrowing the seventh from the minor scale. What we have now is C, E, G, and B-flat. We just move that seventh down. The formula for this chord you can think of is one, three, five, flat seven. That gives us the dominant seventh chord.

(02:43): All right. The next chord we're going to go to is the minor seventh chord. If you know little bit about major and minor, you know, to make a C major a C-minor chord, you have to move the E down to E-flat. that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to move this E tone right in the middle of the chord, that third, we're going to move it to E-flat. Now we have root, flat third, fifth, flat seventh. That gives us the C-minor seventh chord. Much darker sound, right? Than major chords.

(03:18): If you know your scales and you know your C-minor scale, you actually recognize the notes I'm playing as the first, the third, the fifth, and the seventh note from the minor scale. But, if we're looking at it and thinking in terms of C major, we think of this tone as being a lowered third, and this tone as being a lowered seventh. We still have our original root, our original fifth.

(03:36): The next chord we're going to make has two names. It's called the minor seven flat five chord, which is the better way for us learning it to think of it as, but it's also called half diminished. We're not going to worry about why it's called that. All we have to do to make a minor seven flat five is to have a minor seven chord, and we're going to take that five, and do what with it? We're going to flat it, right? Minor seven, but with a flat five. Now we have a C-minor seven flat five chord, otherwise known as C half diminished.

(04:06): We're almost there. We've gotten four of the types of seventh chords. We have one more. The last one is actually called a diminished seventh, or a fully diminished seventh chord. It has the root, flat third, the flat fifth. What we're going to do to get there is we're going to move that flat seven and make it a double-flat seven. Now we have our C fully diminished chord.

(04:29): If you're looking at the note I'm playing and going, "Hold on. That's an A. Isn't that the sixth of the scale?" Yes, it is, actually. But, here's the thing about the chords. We want to stack thirds. We want to think of thirds. In order to keep that continuity of those odd numbers, always going up in thirds, we have to think of this A as a double-flat seven. Now we have this fully diminished seventh chord.

(04:54): Now what I'm going to do is I'm actually going to go back up. When I practice this, or think about doing this, or apply it to different keys, I'll start out with the parent major chord, root, third, fifth, root, work my way all the way down to here, and then work my way back up, going through and thinking about the chords I'm forming. Let's move in reverse order.

(05:12): When I went from minor seven flat five to this fully diminished chord, I move the seven to a double flat. To get back, I'm going to need to move that seventh up. I'm going to raise that A back up to B-flat. Now we have root, flat third, flat fifth, and a flat seven. All right? That's half diminished, or minor seven flat five. If I want to make this a minor seven chord, which is going back up the ladder of the chords we made, I just have to undo the flat five, don't I? I'm going to bring that five, the G-flat back up to G. Now we're back at minor seventh.

(05:47): The next step is to make the dominant seventh chord. Remember, that's got the major on the bottom, and it's got that minor seventh on top. I'm going to have to transform the C-minor triad in the bottom of my chord voicing back to a C major. I need to move the E from E-flat back to E. Here we go. Now we have the dominant seventh. C, E, G, B-flat.

(06:08): Now we got just a couple more steps to make. We need to bring that seventh back up to that major seventh, right? Because we're trying to move from dominant seventh to major seventh. I move that B-flat up to B, and here we are, back at C-major seven. If I make my last move, moving that seventh back up to the root again, I'm back to, just, your good old C major, our favorite little chord, right?

(06:31): You can do this to every key. For example, just really quickly, I'll do D. Right? I just have my D chord in my hand. I just have to remember which notes are what, and how to move them. I move the seventh, right? Root down to seventh. Then I move to flat seven, root, third, fifth, flat seven. Now I have to flatten third. Minor seventh. Then I have to flatten the fifth, make a minor seven flat five. Then, last but not least, I flatten the seven one more time to a double-flat seven, and I have that fully diminished chord. Then I can make my way back up. Minor seven flat five, minor seventh, dominant seventh, major seventh, major. We are back where we started.

(07:21): It's a great exercise. You'll learn to see your chords and start to visualize all your seventh chords. Here's a tip. As you're starting to learn these chord shapes, a thing to keep in mind, a way that I think of chords and remember them, is the pattern of white and black keys they have. For example, if I want to play a G-minor seven, I know it's white, black, white, white. It helps me. Start at G, black, white, white. Now that I start to learn different sets of seventh chords, I can use that little tip to start to remember them. F-minor seven will be white, black, white, black. It's a great way to visualize chords.

(07:57): Then once you have that visualization, you can start to use that for inversions if you'd like. If I take a white, black, white, black chord and invert it, I'm just going to put the white on top so now it just changed to black, white, black, white. You can think of it in that way. White, black, white, black. Black, white, black, white. White, black, white, black. It's a cool thing to do.

(08:21): I think that's enough for one day. That's plenty for you guys to sit down and practice with. If any of you guys watching has a question, feel free to ask me or reach out in some way. We'll try to help you out. That's going to be all for today. Thank you for watching. This has been Ryan with Lagniappe Lessons.

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