1 Music Theory – 1E Four Note Chords

In this lesson we will learn:

  • To create the six main types of four note chords:
    • major 7
    • minor 7
    • dominant 7
    • half-diminished 7
    • diminished 7
    • minor-major 7

We are now getting into four note chord territory. Triads are good for underlining basic harmony and four note chords build colour to that basic harmony. Until now we have had the 1-3-5 of the chord and now we are adding the 7 thus creating a wider spectrum of colour and more possibilities. There are six main types of four note chords worth learning. I have presented the chords as a numeric pattern and that is how I will present all chords from now on. All examples are in the key of C. By now you should be able to calculate the semitones and stacked thirds by yourself. I have still provided the information as a table at the end of the lesson so you can check if you got them right.

Major 7

Cmaj7 chord

Common ways of writing the chord:

C^7 (triangle), Cmaj7, (CM7 rare)

Minor 7

Cm7 chord

Common ways of writing the chord:

Cm7 , C-7, Cmin7

Dominant 7

C7 chord

Common ways of writing the chord:


Half-diminished 7 

Cm7b5 chord

Common ways of writing the chord:

Cm7b5, Cø7 (crossed circle), C-7b5, Cmin7b5 

Note: There are two common ways to “read” this chord. One is as a “half-diminshed” chord and the other as a“minor seven flat five”. Sometimes ,especially in pop and non-jazz literature, a Cm7b5 chord could be written as Ebm6 which is most probably wrong. Be aware of that fact when you read non-jazz chord sheets. 

Diminished 7

Cdim7 chord

Common ways of writing the chord:

Cdim7, Co7 (circle)

Note: The seventh is double flatted (bb). It means it is lowered two times , a semitone each, resulting in a note that is a whole tone (2 semitones) lower. This is because our starting note is already a b7 (compare that to a normal 7 being lowered to b7). Actually we are playing the sixth note of the major scale although “technically” it is the double-flatted seventh. For most students it is easier to think of a diminished seventh chord as a diminished triad plus a sixth on top. So in the key of C it will be a diminished C triad (C-Eb-Gb) plus the sixth of there C major scale (A) on top resulting in Cdim7=C-Eb-Gb-A. 

Minor-major 7

CmMaj7 chord

(Common) ways of writing the chord:

CmMaj7, CmM7, C-M7, C-maj7, CminMaj7, C-^7, Cm^7, Cmin^7 etc.

Note: As you can see this chord is quite unique (although common in jazz) and so far there is no “common” way to write it so you might see it written in a myriad of ways. I use CmMaj7 so to not repeat the lower case m twice (Cmmaj7).

Four note chords chart

ChordIn CSemitonesThirds*N. Pattern

*m3=minor third / M3= major third

**bb7= same as 6 (not theory-wise). Think of the chord as 1-b3-b5-6 if that helps.

(c) 2019 Sibil Yanev