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Essential Jazz Guitar Chords For Beginners

Updated on May 12, 2010

Jazz can be an intimidating genre...

Jazz can be an intimidating genre to learn, considering the vast numbers of scales and chords that jazz guitarists must have under their belts. That's not to say it's impossible - you just need to start off with the basics.

There's nothing more basic in jazz than laying the foundations with a few chords. And so, I'd like to go over today a few of the basic chords that are commonly used in jazz. These chords are: D minor 7th, G dominant 7th and C major 7th (or Dm7, G7 and Cmaj7 for short). You'll have noticed that in jazz, most chords have a 7th at the end. 7th chords, simply put, are your minor or major chords with an added note in it. At this stage, it's not too important to go into the depths of chord construction - but just appreciate that the 7th note adds character to the chord, or embellishes the chord, as I like to call it.

Before we continue, I will assume that you are able to play basic barre chords. If you aren't able to do so, I would suggest taking time in practise the fingerings of basic minor and major barre chords until each string can be clearly heard.

If you're ready, let's start off with the Dm7 chord...

Dm7 Chord

G7 Chord

Cmaj7 Chord

2-5-1-6 Chord Progression

Tried fingering the chord shapes yet? Once you've got a handle on these basic chords, I would like to teach you a simple chord progression, called the 2-5-1 chord progression, which is the backbone of many jazz standards. It's called 2-5-1 because they are chords which are built upon the 2nd, 5th and 1st degrees of the major scale. Incidentally, using the C major scale as an example, these are your Dm7, G7 and Cmaj7 chords, respectively. If we examine the notes of the C major scale, we can quite readily see how the 2-5-1 chords are derived from. 


The C major scale with the 2nd, 5th and 1st degrees circled in red.
The C major scale with the 2nd, 5th and 1st degrees circled in red.

Try strumming this pattern. '/' means one strum. It's important here to practise changing from one chord shape to another. Don't worry if you find this difficult - it will come with practice - trust me!

       Dm7                     G7                    Cmaj7 

|     /   /   /    /     |     /    /    /    /      |    /    /    /     /      | 

Now that you are able to switch from one chord to another, I'm going to introduce another chord to the chord progression, the A7 chord. This is the dominant 7th chord based on the 6th degree of the C major scale. 

A7 Chord

What do you notice about this chord? Yep - it's exactly the same fingering as the G7 chord, but shifted two frets down. You can apply the same idea for the other chords. For example, to play Em7, simply shift the shape for Dm7, two frets down. To play Bmaj7, shift the shape for Cmaj7 one fret up etc. That's the beauty of barre chords - once you've learnt one shape - you've learnt 12 new chords (one for each key)!

Back to the chord progression, now that we've added the A7 to the chord progression, it would go something like this...

Dm7                 G7             Cmaj7             A7         and then repeat

|  /   /   /   /   |   /   /   /   /   |   /   /   /   /   |   /   /   /   /   |

To help you practise this chord progression, I've created a YouTube video file as a backing track. The tempo is quite slow to give you time to change your fingering.

2-6-5-1 Backing Track

The backing track was created using Band-In-A-Box - a wonderful piece of software which allows you to create backing tracks by simply entering your chord progression and selecting an accompaniment style of your choice. All chord diagrams were created using Guitar Pro, a guitar tabbing software which I highly recommend you to try.


Enjoyed this lesson?

For more jazz guitar lessons, guitar licks and general guitar playing advice, visit The Shadow Guitarist Blog.


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    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great hub with all the main licks and guides thereto.

    • illkid_88 profile image

      illkid_88 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks Jon,

      It's nice to have a fellow guitarist appreciating my hub!

    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi there- great hub - I'll link to it from my hubs on jazz guitar.