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Watch the Day 20 online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp

Many players grease by with a few basic major 7, minor 7, dominant 7, and minor 7b5 chord forms. Typically, these are the standard four-note shapes with roots on the fifth or sixth string. While suitable for solo, duo, or small-group settings, these voicings often sound sluggish and bottom-heavy in the context of a full rhythm section.

One quick way to pare down lunky seventh chords is to discard the root the most expendable chord tone. The remaining chord tones (3, 5, and 7) are fully functional triads. Ex. 1 shows how you can view a seventh chord as a triad-over-bass-note slash chord. For instance, a Cmaj7is also an Emtriad perched on a Croot ( Em/ C).

Triads can be inverted across as well as up and down the fretboard. Focus on a seventh chord’s upper-structure triad and all its inversions and you’ll open the door to a generous supply of seventh-chord surrogates.

To explore Examples 2, 3, and 4, record a succession of whole-note Croots and then play the Em, Eb, Ebdim, and Ebmintriad inversions as shown. Examples 2 and 3 move along the fretboard on the same string set. In Ex. 4, the inversions carry you across the fretboard, changing string sets on the way. Ex. 5 illustrates how you can bring life to a simple Cmaj7- Fmaj7vamp by simply playing off the upper-structure triads.

In Ex. 6, triad inversions add movement to seventh chords in a typical R&B groove. To further investigate this approach, try harmonizing the melody of a favorite standard tune using your new, scaled-down chord forms. You’ll be on your way to a new world of voicing possibilities.