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The major seventh, the Ionian scale and basic voicings

5.1 The major seventh, the Ionian scale and basic voicings
We are going to leave the blues behind for a while and look at jazz standards in general. In order to do that we need to look in greater detail at the two key chords, apart from the seventh, which is the major seventh and the minor seventh. Let’s start off with the major seventh. Let’s start off with C major 7. We have met it before. It consists of the root, the major third, the fifth and the major seventh.
The scale that goes with it: do re mi fa sol la ti do. Let’s look at how we voice it.
Well there’s two possibilities: there’s root voicings and unrooted voicings. Let’s look at root voicings first of all. Then we have the open seventh which consists of the root and the major seventh. Of course there is no third in that so it’s either implied or you play it in the right hand.
Next we have the fifth tenth, which is the root, the fifth and the third an octave higher which is the tenth. The fact that this is exactly the same chord as the fifth tenth for C7, the blues chord and so, really, to establish that this is C major 7 we need to either imply or play the major seventh - in the right hand. Finally there is the seventh tenth, which I can’t play because my hand is not big enough.
So I have to roll it: roll the chord and catch it with the pedal. It consists of the root, the major seventh and the tenth.
In that case, all three ingredients of the chord are present.
In terms of fingering: 51, 521, 521. Let’s turn to voicings now which we use if we are playing with a rhythm section.
If we take the basic major seventh and just use the notes that comprise that major seventh and move up every note by one - we’re going to C at the top. We call that the first inversion. Do it once again. It is called the second inversion. Do it once more. It is called the third inversion. Notice it’s got a minor second interval in the chord. It is very characteristic of the sound of Bill Evans.
That’s our first chord (and our second one - that’s a third based chord: we get it by inverting a third based chord. Now for our second chord which we have in a different position, so that we can get the chords next to each other in a chord sequence, we are going to use the third of the chord, the sixth and the ninth and, not surprisingly, it’s called C69. Notice that there’s no major seventh in it, again it’s implied or you play it in your phrase. That’s a fourth based chord - a more open sound compared to that crunchy sound you get - especially with that minor second in.
What I haven’t said so far is how you remember what these chords are. After all, you need to know them in every key - all twelve keys. I’ll give you a little bit of what I hope is a help and how I learnt then when first came across them. The major seventh - the third inversion version - is pretty simple because you basically play the major triad with 421 and then under it, with the finger 5, you put the major seventh. So if I want it in G, I play G triad and add the major seventh. If I want it in F, I play the major triad with the seventh.
If I want it in E flat: play the major seventh: play the triad and add the major seventh.
A flat: triad, major seventh. So that’s not too bad. Unfortunately, for C69 I can’t really give you any clue other than the fact that I know the kind of feel of what a 69 chord is like. As long as I get the fifth finger - the little finger - on the third of the chord I can usually “feel” where the rest goes, because they’re all gonna be.
So for example G: I put the little finger on it - the third -, I know what a 69 feels like when I play it.
E flat: I put the little finger on the third, I know what the 69 feels like - that’s it. We didn’t say anything about the voicings for the seventh chord. Again, I might be able to give you a bit of help in a sense that, again, when it is the case of the thirteenth, C7 the thirteenth voicing - then again, I have a feel for what that’s like. My hand, after a lot of years, knows where to go. It’s a question of aiming at the right place and to do that I look for a tone below the root. In the case of C.
I look for a tone below, I put my fifth on it and I play my thirteenth shape.
In the case of F: the tone below it is E flat, I play my thirteenth shape. In the case of B flat, a tone below is A flat and I play my thirteenth shape.
Again the other version, which is a sort of first inversion where we use the ninth as well, and we miss out the G often because it sounds just a bit too consonant. Then I just know the feel of that chord - it’s not very helpful perhaps - and I aim for the third. So there it is in C.
In F: I aim for the third.
In G: I aim for the third.
In E flat: I aim for the third with the little finger. Whether that helps you or not - I don’t know. Anyway, we have our two voicings which are the most important thing. The third based third inversion and the fourth based C69. Now let’s use these in a tune.

You will learn about the major seventh, the Ionian scale and its basic voicings.

You can download the major seventh in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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