Let’s talk 7th chords, specifically dominant 7th chords. The dominant 7th is what you’ll most likely encounter in most rock, blues, and generally popular music, so it’s a type of chord you should learn and understand first before moving onto major 7ths and other chord variations. Of course, before you learn these chords, you should learn your beginner guitar chord shapes. After learning those basic guitar chords, go ahead and learn barre chords on the guitar. Then come back here and learn about 7th chords.

As I mentioned, we’re specifically talking about dominant 7th chords here. In my experience though, simply calling these chords “7th chords” is mostly OK. There are other types of 7th chords, but when people just say “7th chord” they’re usually referring to the dominant 7th.

Take me to the chord diagrams.

What Is A 7th Chord?

A 7th chord is a chord with the 7th degree of the scale in it. So we’re talking about your normal triad (1, 3, 5) plus a 7th. As mentioned, if someone says “7th chord,” they’re usually talking about the dominant 7th rather than a major or diminished 7th.

What Is A Dominant 7th Chord?

The dominant 7th is simply a flat 7th. On the major scale, there’s only a semi-tone (one fret) between the 7th and the root note. So a flat 7th occurs if you put a whole tone (two frets) between the 7th and the root. This interval creates dissonance thanks to the tritone between the 3rd and the 7th degree of the scale.

The dominant 7th occurs naturally for the chord based on the 5th degree of the major scale and the 7th degree of the natural minor scale. So if you’re playing in C, the G chord will naturally have the dominant 7th. That being said, in popular music, you’ll often see dominant 7th chords used throughout a song regardless of degree of the scale.

How To Practice 7th Chords

Practice these chords like you’d practice any other chord. If you’re already proficient in the basic open chord shapes and the barre chord shapes, these shapes shouldn’t be too difficult. As with other chords, just make sure all the notes ring out completely. Take it slowly at first.

7th Chord Shapes On Guitar

Here’s some quick links to the shapes

E shape     A shape     D shape

G shape     C shape

Notice that there aren’t any minor chord shapes here. That’s because we’re only talking about dominant 7th chords here. The minor naturally has a flat 7th, but that’s considered a minor 7th rather than a dominant 7th. However, since both the dominant 7th and the minor 7th are both flat 7ths in terms of the root note of the chord, it’s the “same” note. That is to say, if you play the minor shapes of the chords to follow, the flat 7th will be in the same place.

How To Play An E7 Chord On Guitar

Let’s start with the E7 chord and its general shape. There’s two places to find the dominant 7th in this shape. One place to find it is on the 4th string and the second place to find it is on the 2nd string. Both voicings are in the diagram (as well as the barre version of course). Personally I like playing the 7th on the 2nd string as I feel it comes out a little bit more in the chord, but it’s also a little bit harder to play, especially as a barre.

My suggestion is to get comfortable with both voicing so you have them in your arsenal to play either as appropriate. Sometimes you’ll feel like one sounds better than the other, depending on the song.

Guitar chord diagrams of the E7 shape.

How To Play An A7 Chord On Guitar

Like the E7, the 7th in the A shape is easy to find in two places. It occurs on the 4th string and the first string. Again, get used to both because they work well in different situations.

For this shape, I particularly like playing the 7th on the 1st string because it makes it fun/easy to change up to a D chord by doing a bar across the first three strings and then using my second or third finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. Then, as you progress, generally playing around between the A chord and the D chord. Getting ahead of things a little bit, if you’re playing in the key of A, D is the 4th; and going from the I to the IV chord is very very common.

Guitar chord diagrams of the A7 shape.

How To Play A D7 Chord On Guitar

Moving onto the D7 chord. The open version of this chord is relatively simple but, as with the barre version of the D chord, the barre shape for the D7 can be a bit of a tangle. Admittedly, this shape doesn’t come up quite as often as the E7 or A7 shape, but it comes up enough for it to be worthwhile to learn and master.

On the chord diagram for the barre, I’ve opted to put the barre completely across the fret with the first finger (just like I did with the D barre). But you can probably quickly see that you’re really only playing that 4th string. I’d still suggest getting in the habit of doing the full barre. Once you start playing with other variations of the shape, like adding a 9th and things like that, getting used to fretting all the strings will be worthwhile.

Guitar chord diagrams of the D7 shape.

How To Play A G7 Chord On Guitar

Guitar chord diagram of the G7 shape.The G7 shape is pretty easy on guitar but, like the regular G shape, doesn’t work too well as a barre. Forget the barre for now and just concentrate on the open shape. Learn and understand where the notes are though, as you can get a lot out of it with other variations of the chord.

In a lot of ways, I find this shape a lot easier than the standard G shape. As with the regular G shape though, be careful of muting the 2nd string. It’s easy to mute that string. You want to make sure it rings out.

How To Play A C7 Chord On Guitar

Guitar chord diagram of the C7 shape.The final shape is the C7 shape. This 7th comes on the 3rd string here. While I haven’t included a barre version of this chord, you can probably see how movable this shape is up and down the neck if you mute the first string. It’s actually a pretty versatile shape that’s easy to forget about. Because of that, I really suggest getting to know this shape well. It will come in handy. 

And That’s The 7th Chords On Guitar

Hopefully you’ll see that dominant 7ths are pretty close to the standard open guitar chords and their barre counterparts. If you’re familiar with the open and barre chords, these shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. And I’m personally saying “too much of a challenge.” These are still new things for a beginner guitar player, so if you’re not getting them right away, that’s OK. Everything new takes practice. These shapes are still intended for beginners, so you’ll still be challenged by them. Practice and you’ll get them right.

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