In this article we show you how to build the E7 chord starting with a simple E root note and adding one interval at a time. This will give us both the easiest and more complex E7 chord voicings.
Seventh chords require additional music theory that simpler arrangements don't have to consider. For this E7 chord primer we'll need to cover two theoretical principles to properly address the composition:
- Chord extensions
The music theory term "triad" is loosely used to define any grouping of three notes that are reasonably consonant. For example, a power chord with a root, fifth and octave might be considered a triad. However the more formal and correct way to identify a triad is by the following three elements.
Root, third and fifth (E, A♭ and B). (View Larger Image)
A triad is made up of three notes where each of those notes are stacked on top of one another in thirds- giving us the root, third and fifth interval pattern.
A chord extension is any interval that goes beyond those three triadic elements. Conveniently, the most common example would be the seventh interval which we'll use to build our E7 chords.
The minor seventh interval we need for an E7 chord is D. (View Larger Image)
The problem here is that many full form E7 chords are difficult to master on the guitar. Our solution is to build several different E7 chords from scratch. We do this by starting with the root note and building into the more difficult chord forms at the optimal fretboard positions. We are able to build our chord while omitting less crucial intervals, like fifths or additional octaves. For example we can build an E7 chord with just the following three notes:
We'll build all our E7 chords this way - from the root up - giving you easier voicings and arrangements to choose from. Before we dive into that process, let's start with a quick look at the two most common forms of the E7 chord, in diagram and tablature form.
The Most Common E7 Chord Voicings
Tab sheet with two of the most common E7 chords. (View Larger Image)
Diagram with two of the E7 chords from the previous tab. (View Larger Image)
Other E Chord Guitar Resources
Finding the Root Positions of E
The positioning of the two previous E7 chords are fairly predictable, using the low E on the open sixth string for both voicings. However they are fairly involved and difficult, particularly if you're a beginner trying to find a way to "ease in" to the E7 chord learning path.
What we're going to do is pull back from those full forms and start with the most basic element of E7, a root E note. We'll find four places on the fretboard that make the most sense for starting the bass of an E7 chord. Bobby has written a resource on identifying fretboard notes if that's helpful for you. If not, just keep going and we'll give you the locations.
Here are the four spots on the fretboard where the root E note occurs which we'll use to build our chords one interval at a time.
Four common spots on the fretboard where the E note occurs in a standard tuning, establishing base camps for the E7 chords we're going to build. (View Larger Image)
Now, it's true that there are other E notes located on the fretboard. But we've chosen these spots because they allow us to easily build our chords from the lower strings. They'll serve as bass notes for each voicing.
- Open E (sixth string)
- Seventh fret
- Second fret
- 12th fret (upper register)
The first step would be to memorize the E notes in the aforementioned locations. Whenever you need to play an E7 chord (or any other E chord) your mind should jump to one of these four locations as the most optimal root positions for those chords. This will also help you when improvising- particularly as it concerns to playing in a key and understanding the music theory governing your fretboard.
Once you know where the root notes are you're ready to start building out your chord, one interval at a time.
Adding a Major Third to the E Root Note
The first interval we'll add to our root E is a major third. It's important to note that this does not mean the E7 chord is the same as the Emaj7 chord. This can be confusing if you don't know how the intervals are worked out and how the chords are named. Let's talk about this distinction first, then build our dyadic chords.
What's the difference between E7 and Emaj7?
While it's easy to get E7 and Emaj7 confused, the two are slightly different as you can tell by the note arrangement of each chord below.
- Emaj7: E, A♭, B, E♭
- E7: E, A♭, B, D
An easy way to remember this is that Emaj7 has a major seventh and E7 has a minor seventh, distinctions which would apply to those two chords - maj7 and 7 - regardless of the letter root note. This is how we can have a major third in the E7 without making it an Emaj7. The "maj" in that chord title is referring to the type of seventh interval, not the type of third interval.
Thus, a maj7 chord has the following notes: Root, major third, perfect fifth and major seventh.
And a 7 chord: Root, major third, perfect fifth and minor seventh.
Root and Major Third
To establish an anchoring dyad for our E7 chords, we add the major third interval to each root E. This gives us a basic E major dyad with a root E and major third interval (A♭), which are easy to play.
Here's the tab sheet:
We now have the root E and major third of that root in place. We've avoided adding any perfect fifths (B) to our chords, which would be the least crucial of the four notes involved. In other words: you need the root, third and minor seventh interval, but the fifth can be added later as the "optional" element of the E7 chord tone.
Adding the Minor Seventh Interval
Interval quality chart. (View Larger Image)
If you check the guitar intervals diagram above, you'll see that a minor seventh is 10 semitones (fret spaces) above the root note. Therefore with a root E, the minor seventh of that root would fall on D. To add the minor seventh interval to our root E, we'll look for D notes that are closest in fretboard proximity to our E root.
If we traverse a linear fretboard path on the same string, it's obviously not practical to use the D at the 10th fret.
The minor seventh interval is 10 semitones from the root, which in the case of a root E would be D. (View Larger Image)
Instead, since our root E is positioned at the open sixth string the most optimal minor seventh D note can be found at the third fret on the second string.
Visualizing a compound interval, which is just an interval that exceeds 12 semitones. (View Larger Image)
This is a D note that is multiple octaves above the D that is 10 semitones above the root on the sixth string at the 10th fret.
This is called a compound interval, which means you're using the same intervallic note at a different octave than the original. In other words: Any interval that is more than 12 semitones above its root is a compound interval. Applying this minor seventh interval to each dyadic pairing, we get the following chords:
Despite omitting the fifth, these shapes sound the part of an E7 chord and are significantly easier to play than the full forms. Theoretically they're "correct" in that they provide all the crucial elements necessary to form an E7 chord- despite the fact we've avoided any kind of barring or full form chord shape.
Here's the diagram for all four E7 chords:
Diagram for all four E7 chords. (View Larger Image)
Adding the Perfect Fifth
Once we're comfortable playing the E7 chords in this form-with only three notes, we can take the next step of adding the perfect fifth to all four shapes. This will help thicken the sound of the chord while still acting as an optional "non-critical" piece of the voicing.
This will give us four different full form E7 chords that will look similar to the voicings we introduced at the beginning of this lesson.
Instead of starting with those complex patterns we started with just the root note and built up into where we are now. Here's a simple rundown of the process for quick review:
- Plotted the root notes (E) at four common fretboard locations
- Paired each root with a major third, creating a basic E major dyad
- Added the minor seventh interval (D) creating E7 triads
When you're ready, here's the full form of each E7 chord:
Full form of each E7 chord with the root, major third, perfect fifth and minor seventh intervals. (View Larger Image)
And the diagram version:
Same chords in diagram form. (View Larger Image)
Note that the chord on the bottom right corner does not have a fifth interval since the configuration of the chord makes it hard to add a D note. Instead you can let the high E string go open to add a thickening sound an octave above the root.
These shapes are what we would consider "full form" E7 chords, meaning you're playing shapes that are identical or close to the conventional voicings. In our examples we've left out some additional octaves and open notes that aren't necessary to achieve the tone of the chord. Once again, it's important to keep in mind that the fifth, though part of the core triad, is not crucial to the E7 sound.
As a consequence we would advise being most familiar with the versions that form an E7 triad:
- Major Third
- Minor Seventh
While you should know the full form E7 chords, they shouldn't necessarily be your go-to in all situations. Often the triad voicings will sound better and are far easier to play.
While it requires understanding a fair amount of basic music theory, looking at guitar chords piece-by-piece in the context of chord building is more helpful than starting with full voicings that contain non-crucial intervals and octaves (like the perfect fifth). It will be easier to master the E7 chord using this method by starting at the most basic element - the root note - and building out from there.
Let's recap that incremental process one more time:
- Root note (start here)
- Major third
- Minor seventh (minor seventh for E7 chord, major seventh for Emaj7 chord)
- Perfect fifth (end here)
Get the root notes down first and build up your knowledge of the chord one interval at a time. Not only will you learn multiple chords (dyads, triads, etc) in a more functional way, but you'll also learn a lot of valuable music theory that can be applied in other scenarios.
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