If you’re a beginner pianist who feels lost when it comes to learning how to play the C7 chord on the piano, then you’ve come to the right place. In today’s detailed article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the C7 piano chord, including how it visually appears on sheet music, how to play with correct fingerings, and how you can create its inversions.
Where the C7 Chord Comes From
Let’s quickly begin with the basics–what is a chord and why does it matter?
What Is A Chord?
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “chord,” or if you’ve heard it but don’t know what it means, don’t worry! As a beginner pianist, you have to swim through a firehose of new words and symbols when learning to read music. Chords are just one word in what probably feels like an endless line of confusing music-related terminology.
I get it. That’s why we’ll walk through this process together slowly.
To start, a chord is formed by layering two or more notes in a column. These notes should be played at the same time to create a harmony, a sound which supports and brings depth to a melody, or main sequence of notes in any piece of music.
In the image below, the chords each consist of four notes stacked in a column.
The C Major Scale
All chords derive from something called a “scale.” Scales are sequences of notes which come in a specific order and are used to build both harmonies and melodies. Major and minor scales are made up of seven notes, with a bonus eighth note. This last note is a repeat of the first and completes an octave.
The C major scale begins and ends on the note C and has only natural notes. In other words, there are no sharps, flats, or black keys played in this scale. If you look to the far left at the treble and bass clef, you’ll only see the lines of the staff following it—the key signature is blank.
As you move your hands up the keyboard, the notes get higher on the scale, and as you move your hands down the keyboard, the notes get lower on the scale. In other words, the keyboard and the notes on the staff match one another in direction of movement.
You can check out the C major scale as written in the treble clef and bass clef below:
A dominant chord is made up of a major triad plus a minor seventh note. Major triads consist of three notes—the first, third, and fifth notes of the major scale. A minor seventh note is the seventh note in the major scale but is flattened. So for the C7 chord, the notes are C, E, G, and B♭. It can appear with the notation C7, Cdom7, and C dominant 7.
How to Play the C7 Chord
Locating the Chord on the Piano
If you’re trying to locate the C7 chord on the keyboard, take a look at the image below:
To find a C key, look for two black (accidental) keys. The C key is a white (natural) key directly below the first of those black keys.
To find an E key, move two white notes up the keyboard from C. The E key is also a white (natural) key.
To find a G key, move two white notes up the keyboard from E (or move four white notes up the keyboard from C).
To find a B♭ key, move two white notes up the keyboard from G, then move to the black (accidental) key directly above it. This key is the B♭ key.
Playing the Chord and Fingerings
Now that you’ve located the individual keys on the keyboard, let’s pause and go over fingerings.
“Fingerings” is a term used by professional pianists to refer to standardized or recommended fingers which should be used to play different scales and chords. They are written on sheet music as numbers and correspond to each individual finger. So, for both the right and left hands, thumbs are 1 and pinkies are 5.
As a beginner, most of the music you’ll be playing will have these fingerings written directly onto the music. However, as you advance in skill level, the numbers will be omitted because you’re expected to have them memorized by then.
Although fingerings may seem annoying or tedious in the beginning, they are actually organized to help you improve your hand technique, build muscle memory, and play music smoothly. Use correct fingerings right from the start so you don’t have to retrain them later.
For the root position of the C7 chord—CEGB♭—these are the fingerings:
Place your hands on the keyboard and double check your fingerings. When you’re ready, press all of the keys down at the same time!
Congratulations! You’ve just played the C7 chord!
C7 Chord Inversions
Now that you’ve learned to play the root position—CEGB♭—but did you know that there are other forms of these chords? That’s right.
Dominant 7 chords come with a few variations that you should know about. These are called inversions, because the order of the notes is rearranged, remixed, or inverted to form a similar chord.
1st Inversion (C7/E)
When making the first inversion, take the bottom note of the root position, the C, and move it to the top of the chord. CEGB♭ becomes EGB♭C.
The fingering changes does not change in any hand when you move from the root position to the first inversion:
This first inversion is also known as the C7/E chord because the third note of the C major scale, the E, is the lowest note in the chord.
2nd Inversion (C7/G)
When making the second inversion, take the bottom two notes of the root position, the C and the E, and move them to the top of the chord. CEGB♭ becomes GB♭CE.
The fingering does not change in any hand when you move from the root position to the second inversion:
This second inversion is also known as the C7/G chord because the fifth note of the C major scale, G, is the lowest note in the chord.
3rd Inversion (C7/ B♭)
When making the third inversion, take the bottom three notes of the root position, the C, E, and the G, and move them to the top of the chord. CEGB♭ becomes B♭CEG.
The fingering does not change in any hand when you move from the root position to the third inversion:
This third inversion is also known as the C7/B♭ chord because the minor seventh note, the B♭, is the lowest note in the chord.
Tip: If you need to remember how to make the inversions, here’s an easy way to do so: Think of the number of notes you need to invert! If you need to make the first inversion, move one note from the bottom of the chord to the top. For the second inversion, move two notes, and for the third inversion, move three notes.
Review of the C7 Chord
The C7 chord is formed by combining a major triad—CEG—and a minor seventh—B♭—to create a dominant chord, CEGB♭. Since C is the root of both the scale and the chord, this C7 chord is in its root position.
However, there are three inversions: The first inversion chord is EGB♭C, the second inversion chord is GB♭CE, and the third inversion chord is B♭CEG. To make each of these chords, take the bottom first note, the bottom two notes, and the bottom three notes respectively, and move them to the top of the chord.
When playing these chords, make sure your fingerings are correct and that all of your fingers press the notes down simultaneously.
Keep practicing the C7 piano chord, and hopefully over time, you won’t feel as confused by the terminology, nor the hand and finger placement..
If you’d like to learn more about dominant chords in general, check out this article. And, if you’d like to know the difference between dominant and diminished seventh chords, you can read about it here.
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