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Chords Lesson: Essential Voicings For Jazz Beginners And Everyone

Updated on December 6, 2012

A chord is any set of notes that is heard as sounding simultaneously. Depending on the set of notes and the interval between them, you have different types of chords. Generally the first chords everyone learns are major and minor three notes voicings, like C major, G minor, E minor or Eb minor. But if you want to learn more complex types of music or create your own music, you may need more colourful chords. By that I mean chords with 4 or more different notes. There are essentially three types of chords - minor seventh, major seventh and dominant seventh or in abbreviation minor, major and seventh chords, respectively. These are the basic types but there are others that can be considered variations of the ones above. I will also mention some of them because this lesson is an introduction to four notes chords and some essential voicings. The other two types I will mention are the diminished and the half-diminished chords.

I will show you a few examples but there are many more, some of them are very common shapes and others less common but all usable depending on the context. If you are playing alone or perhaps with a singer, the voicings that use 5 to 6 strings may be useful. If you are playing with a whole band, then you may choose 4 strings voicings or even select to play only 2 or 3 notes. For example, in a funk context, often only 3 notes voicings are used. In such situation, you can choose whatever notes you like but generally the 3rd and the 7th are kept because they are the most important ones. It’s essential for you to know at least one voicing with bass (= root) on the 6th string and one with the bass on the 5th string for each type of chord. Don’t learn only the shapes but try to understand where the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th are in each shape. As you will see, some of the shapes shown don’t have all the notes but still the chord doesn’t lose its “feeling”. I also warn you that some shapes involve wide stretching and I hope those shapes open your mind as much as your hand.

Major Seventh

The major seventh chord is a major chord, so it has a major third and a perfect fifth, but in addition it has a major seventh. You can hear it by clicking on play.

Minor Seventh

The minor seventh chord is a minor chord, therefore it has a minor third and a perfect fifth, but in addition has a minor seventh. You can hear it by clicking on play.

Dominant Seventh

The dominant seventh chord is a major chord, so it has a major third and a perfect fifth, but in addition has a minor seventh. You can hear it by clicking on play.


The half-diminished chord is a minor chord, so it has a minor third but, instead of a perfect fifth, has a diminished fifth (tritone) and in addition has a minor seventh. You can hear it by clicking on play.


The diminished chord is like a half-diminished chord but, instead of a minor seventh, as a diminished seventh. You can ear it by clicking on play.


With these chords you can easily play a lot of jazz standards, as well as other types of music, and also be more creative composing your own music and your own voicings.

I hope this lesson has been helpful. Good Luck!


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