Learning the B7 chord can be a little intimidating.
Checkout Jamplay's chord chart below.
Nearly every chord looks monstrously difficult to learn, especially to the raw beginner.
That is, all but two.
To learn B7 on the guitar, I want to show you two shapes that are far easier to start with than the others.
They're both circled in orange:
What we'll do is take a minimal approach to the chord by first establishing a “three-string” voicing (the triadic version of the B chord) and another I’ll call the “barre” voicing. Together, they give us a cozy corner to start learning our B7 patterns. For help with other concepts, checkout our topically-ordered guitar basics lesson.
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Two Different Voicings of the B7 Chord
- Triad plus the seventh
- Barre version
We’ll break the triad down to an even easier version that you can play now. Eventually, we’ll build it back into the full, formal version of the chord.
We'll cover the barre version with the low root B omitted.
Five steps to mastery, folks.
Let’s get started.
Basic B7 Chord Theory
The B7 chord is easily defined:
A seventh chord contains a triad plus the seventh interval of the root.
While there are five different seventh chords, we're going to focus on the major and minor seventh chords, which can be identified with the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th scale degree.
We simply take the root B (the 1st) and add the following intervals:
- Major third
- Perfect fifth
- Major Seventh
A dominant seventh chord adds a minor seventh over top of the triad instead of the major seventh. For any B7, you can simply drop the seventh interval one semitone to create a dominant B7.
Just in case you missed it, a triad is a chord made up of three notes that contains a root, a third and a perfect fifth.
Assuming the root B, this is everything we need to build our chord.
Let's put it to good use in our first, easy example.
1. Root plus a third plus a seventh
The B7 sound starts with the root note (B) and a major third interval.
We can play these two notes as our foundational dyad.
In this case we end up with a simple dyadic shape that isn’t technically a B7 chord yet, since it omits the seventh interval. However, once you're able to comprehend and play this shape, the rest of the chord becomes much easier. By fingering strings five and four, you can play a portion of the full chord.
At the same time, the sound it makes is still passable in place of a full B7.
If you see B7 on a chord chart and feel panic setting in, just play this dyad and no one is the wiser. It'll sound completely fine.
Try playing the shape a few times.
Once comfortable, you can add the minor seventh interval (the note in the following diagram on the third string) back in to give us our first B7 voicing.
The fingering pattern should be middle finger on the fifth string, index on the fourth and ring on the third.
In two steps, this gives us our first (and most common) B7 guitar chord shape, with its root position at the second fret on the fifth string. This exact same chord shape can also be applied at the ninth fret position on the sixth string.
Wherever you have the root B and the seventh of that root (which will always be an A) you have the skeletal structure of a B7.
For example, these three spots would all work:
In each dyad we have the root B and the seventh of that root.
We can either play the shape as-is, or add in the third and fifth as we've done above.
Note that the second voicing we're about to learn is based on the second dyad in the above tab.
2. Barring the B7 chord
The second voicing is a short barre chord with an interval added on the high E.
Since the root note is in the chord twice, the diagram omits the low root B.
Depending on your barre chord skills, it may or may not be as easy as the voicing we just covered.
Here’s the diagram:
It’s just a B major barre chord with a high A note tagged at the end. That note is important, since it rounds out a bluesy sound quality as the seventh interval and makes the shape a seven chord.
Without that seventh interval, it's just your garden-variety B major triad.
Assuming you can handle barre chords, this version is straightforward.
Dare I say, it's beginner-friendly.
Practicing both versions of the B7 chord
Here are the two voicings we've covered:
- Second fret position
- Barred fourth fret position
They don’t demand a lot of stretching and are easy to move from one fret to another.
Learning them first means you'll accomplish something and be spurred on by progress instead of getting burnt out on the more difficult versions of the chord. Give practice time to each chord shape until every note is coming out clear and you can comfortably transition to and from each chord.
In the next section we'll cover a few ways you can creatively exercise the B7 shape.
3. Moving and Arpeggiating the B7 Chord
The two shapes we’ve outlined can be moved to a different fret (where they’ll become a different chord entirely (A7, C7, D7, etc.). Practice that movement to get used to shifting the chord voicings.
You can also play each chord as an arpeggio (one note at a time) to get more familiar with the shape.
Here are a few exercises to start with:
Exercise #1: The Half Slide
Exercise 2: The Full Slide
Exercise 3: Full Arpeggio
Exercise 4: Partial Arpeggio
Exercise 5: Full Arpeggio
With each exercise you can extend the pattern in either direction at your own discretion. The point is to simply get used to the shape, so the musicality of what you're playing isn't a major concern.
A lot of times I like to exercise a chord shape by simply repeating it up and down the fretboard in a chromatic pattern.
If you're bored, it probably means you're making good progress.
4. Add the Open B
Remember the first three-note B7 chord we covered?
We’re going to build that chord into the full, open version one note at a time. First, add an open B note to the chord, which is easy to do with the open second string.
It's simply layering the tonic B over the root note, several octaves higher.
Here’s our chart:
Make sure the open note rings out by practicing the arpeggio version of the chord and picking through each note individually.
Listen for each note to ring without any buzzing or half-mutes.
If you prefer to avoid the open note version, play the same chord with the root note on the seventh fret, like this:
Most people prefer the open version of the chord, because that last note doesn’t need to be fretted.
Yet this variation could be more appealing, especially if you want to be able to move the entire shape.
5. Add the F♯ Note on the First String
Ready to complete the formal version of the B7 guitar chord?
Just add an F♯ on the high E string.
This is the fifth of the root and technically a compound interval since it’s located several octaves above the actual root B.
Your pinky should be fingering the F♯ on the high E string, assuming you’re playing the open version of the chord on the second fret.
Here’s what the chart looks like:
You’ll have to make sure that the open B note is free to ring between the two notes on either side.
That can be a little tricky, since fingers tend to “slouch” and make unwanted contact with other strings.
Here's a super-quick video that summarizes and demonstrates this full chord shape:
Arpeggiate the final B7 Shape
Once again, the arpeggio method is the best way to troubleshoot.
Pick through the chord and make sure each note rings clearly.
Don’t try to always play the full version
Remember the two-note dyad we started with at the beginning of this lesson?
That’s a perfectly acceptable way to play the B7 chord on the guitar, even though it isn't the full formal shape.
It’ll sound fine and the interval (major third) will exude some of the bluesy tone of a seventh chord, even without the other notes.
Learn the minimal versions first
Now, at some point you should learn the full version, but you don’t always need to use it and it shouldn’t be the first B7 chord you tackle.
Learn the minimal versions first then progress into the more difficult voicings of the chord so that you get an incremental exposure to the concept.
Ready to tackle the more difficult versions?
Further Application: Four Blues Riffs in the Key of B
To follow up on the chords we've learned, we'll run through a few bluesy riffs in the key of B that either use the B7 chord or segments of the chord's interval pattern.
Each tab line is a standalone lead run. Feel free to use and/or build on it as you see fit.
The first pattern anchors on the root B at the seventh fret:
Bends with the B7 Chord
An applicable takeaway would be that you can tag the B7 chord at the end or beginning of any blues run or arpeggio (assuming the key of B).
If you're improvising some kind of solo, seventh chords are a great way to implement filler and variety.
As long as your run resolve to the right key, it'll sound good with the seventh interval.
Here's another one that resolves to the same spot:
This one is almost entirely made up of dyadic chord shapes.
The three different kinds of dyads are all represented by different intervals.
Here’s a quick cheat-sheet that you can use to identify the dyads and intervals in this run or in the chords we covered earlier:
This walk-down is based on the pentatonic blues scale shape in the key of B. Notice the root note at the second fret on the fifth string.
We’re starting with a full bend starting at the sixth fret, then walking down the notes of the scale until we resolve to the root B.
Try switching directions and coming up with your own variation.
Between Two Octaves
The two octaves (both B notes) can serve as limiting elements for our improvised solo.
It’s not that you can’t play outside of the octaves (I do on the note at the fifth fret on the sixth string) but they form the basic structure of your pattern and help you focus on a specific part of the fretboard.
Experiment by adding some more intervals to different parts of this run and see how they sound.
Creating your Own Blues Guitar Riffs
To come up with your own blues riffs in the key of B, or whatever key you choose, the first step is to find a scale to work with.
I’d recommend starting at all-guitar-chords.com and using the scale web app.
You’ll select the pattern, chord (or key) and the type of scale you want.
Start with something easy, like a pentatonic major scale in the key of C with a three-fret pattern. Here’s what you’ll get:
You can now work within that scale and come up with an improvised pattern from the notes thereof.
Try starting with just the first three strings.
The key is to apply what you already know about technique, melody and chords to a reliable structure. Because the structure itself, isn’t musical.
You have to do something with it.
Once you learn that process, you can repeat it in just about any musical situation.
An Incremental Learning Style
One lonely little chord shouldn’t require an involved learning process, right? If you break it up into segments, you can see a lot of parts that the student needs to examine.
There’s a root note, intervals, open notes, muted notes, chord-changing technique, right hand technique and form. It all has to be understood and eventually memorized in order to really learn the chord.
That takes time.
And it’s not easy, so we shouldn’t try to do it all at once.
Instead, take it one step at a time.
Learn the root note, then the interval, the open notes and so on. Leave time for practicing each aspect of the chord until you’ve covered it completely.
This incremental learning style allows us to get comfortable enough with the chord to actually use it.
Got an idea, exercise or technique related to the B7 chord you want to share?
Sound off over at Twitter.
You can also leave questions in the comments section below.