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Beginner guitar: how to play 7th chords

Beginner guitar: getting started with 7th chords
(Image credit: Getty Images/Westend61)

Beginner guitar: We’re pretty sure nearly all of TG’s readers could quickly play a few 7th chords - say... Am7, D7 or Cmaj7. These are easy chords that beginners might play in the open position, and more advanced players might tackle as barre chords or in open tunings.

So why, you may ask, would we go to the trouble of writing a lesson if it’s all so easy? Well, although the shapes can be easy to play, there’s still a lot of music to be made from these chords. 

And understanding how they’re built and the sounds they’ll help you create is a great springboard for your songwriting and riff ideas.

What follows is a quick look at four different kinds of 7th chord, all presented with a D root note. 

They're similar shapes, with each chord having just one different note to its predecessor. It’ll help if you know the notes of the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#) - so try to map those out in the open position on your guitar. 

It’s also useful to give each note a number (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), because this is a core part of music theory. Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

1. D major 7 (aka Dmaj7)

Beginner guitar: getting started with 7th chords

(Image credit: Future)

Hopefully you know how to play a basic open D chord. Well, Dmaj7 changes the familiar shape by adding a new note: a C# note, which is a major 7th interval in the key of D major.

Character: Mellow
Notes: D F# A C#
Intervals: 1 3 5 7
Interval names: Root note, major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th

2. D dominant 7 (aka D7)

Beginner guitar: getting started with 7th chords

(Image credit: Future)

Dmaj7 and D7 differ by just one note (as would any similar pair, eg, C7 and Cmaj7), and they're a semitone apart. So, whereas Dmaj7 has a major 7, D7 uses a b7 - a C note. If you can see the notes changing, you're halfway to understanding the theory.

Character: Tense
Notes: D F# A C
Intervals: 1 3 5 b7
Interval names: Root note, major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th (or flat 7th)

3. D minor 7 (aka Dm7)

Beginner guitar: getting started with 7th chords

(Image credit: Future)

Another commonly used chord, Dm7 has one different note from D7 - a minor 3rd F note instead of D7's major 3rd F#.

Character: Moody
Notes: D F A C
Intervals: 1 b3 5 b7
Interval names: Root note, minor 3rd (or flat 3rd), perfect 5th, minor 7th (or flat 7th)

4. D minor 7 flat 5

Beginner guitar: getting started with 7th chords

(Image credit: Future)

If you’ve understood that each of the chords we’ve looked at involves a simple note change, you can probably work out how to play Dm7b5 just by its name. Yep, just move the 5th down a semitone.

Character: Biting
Notes: D F A b C
Intervals: 1 b3 b5 b7
Interval names: Root note, minor 3rd, diminished 5th (or flat 5th), minor 7th (or flat 7th)

Stay on track!

Here are three tracks to help you come to terms with how these chords interact with one another. The first is a vamp around D, Dmaj7 and D7, and the second jams around Dm, Dm7 and Dm7♭5. The final track is a guitar-free mix for you to jam along to using any of the chords from this lesson.

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Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.