7 Ways to Play a C Major 7 | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In the last few lessons, I introduced you to dominant seventh chords. This time, I’ll introduce you to a new seventh chord, the major seventh, known for its jazzy, sophisticated sound.

The Work


Whereas the C7 chord is a major triad with a flatted seventh, the Cmaj7 chord includes the triad plus the major seventh. So, remember that a C major triad includes the root (C), third (E) and fifth (G), as shown in Example 1, and Cmaj7 just adds the seventh (B), like in Example 2.

notation for 7 Ways to Play a C Major 7 guitar chord


Example 3a shows how to make Cmaj7 from an open C chord—all you have to do is remove your first finger from the B string. Example 3b is based on the same C chord, but you add your fourth finger to string 3, fret 4. This more complex-sounding voicing is commonly played with just the notes on strings 2–5.

Take things up to third position for Example 4, with its five-string barre shapes. Example 5a shows a Cmaj7 chord derived from a six-note C chord at the eighth fret. Because of its unusual sound, this Cmaj7 voicing is seldom heard. Try it instead with just the bottom four strings, as shown in Example 5b. A traditional jazz player might play this Cmaj7 with the notes on strings 6, 4, and 3, while muting string 5 with the underside of the first finger—a nice clean voicing that can work in any style.

Example 6a shows how to get to a Cmaj7 chord on the top four strings, and there’s a brighter-sounding alternative in Example 6b. This last Cmaj7 might be a little more difficult to play, as it requires a third-finger barre on the top strings.

The Result

You should now know how a major seventh chord is constructed and how to make Cmaj7 from various C major shapes. A great tune that makes use of the Cmaj7 chord is Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote”—one of my own favorites (you’ll hear the Cmaj7 around the 3:17 mark). Next time you’ll work more on the major seventh chord, using G and Gmaj7 voicings.  

Kate Koenig
Kate Koenig

Kate Koenig is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and music journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They have been a regular contributor to Acoustic Guitar since 2017.

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