If you have a familiarity with major scales, we can think of each of our major 7th chords as having a direct relationship with each of these scales. For example, let’s take a look at the C Major scale:
C D E F G A B C
We have seven different pitch names here (not counting the duplicate C). Now place your attention on:
The first note in the scale
The third note in the scale
The fifth note in the scale
The seventh note in the scale
We can refer to these as the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the major scale. Specifically, they are:
C E G B
There you have the C Major Seventh chord. Of course, when we see this chord notated (as with other chords), use use a form of “shorthand” to refer to this chord, known as chord symbols. An interesting thing regarding chord symbols is that we don’t have one universally accepted way of naming most chords. Therefore, it becomes necessary to familiarize ourselves with the most common. When reading sheet music (or writing music), the chord symbols commonly used for the major 7th chord are:
CM7 (note the capital “M” here)
The chord structure shown above (C E G B) is actually the Cmaj7 chord in its most basic form. However, this is certainly not the only way to play this chord. You’ll want to learn inversions and eventually chord voicings for more tasteful options. But learning your 7th chords in the most basic positions is a great start. This way, you have a foundation to work from.
So, if you know your major scales, it becomes evident that simply playing the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of any of these scales will give you its corresponding major 7th chord. For example, the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the G Major comprise the Gmaj7 chord, etc.
Now, if you do not have a background in music theory and are not familiar with scales, does this mean that you can not begin mastering your chords on the piano without this knowledge? Not exactly. As a matter of fact, if you would like to familiarize yourself with an easy approach to learning just about all the 7th chords you are likely to come across in a way that is very easy to understand and implement, consider this program. At the time of this writing, there is even a free trial available there (It is suggested that you become familiar with some basic triads prior to beginning).
It’s not necessary to be in a hurry to learn all your chords at once. It’s more advisable to learn them a little at a time while fully appreciating the distinctive sounds each of these chords creates.
PLAY WITH PASSION!