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Beginner's Jazz Guitar Lesson

Updated on December 29, 2021

Jazz chords info

Although this hub is about jazz chords, you can apply these chord shapes to any style of music, and they should make a big difference both in terms of sound, and also playability. There is a video below featuring Joe Pass - thinks, must do some practice!

It's important to understand how barre chords work, but once you do finally conquer them, you may find they are pretty much redundant!

  • You can reduce chords to a 3- note version that sounds clearer and better in most situations. Learning these was probably the best single improvement I made to my playing, specifically as an accompanist.
  • Examples of these chords are given below, in the context of a jazz standard
  • Notice that the m7 (minor 7th) chord shape is identical to the shape for a 7th chord one string lower, so learning to use one shape and switching it across one string can pay dividends very quickly.
  • This chord progression is one of the most common in all styles of music, and it's part of the ii-V or ii-V-I chord progression you will find in all styles of music.
  • These chord shapes are either root 6 (root note is on string 6) or root 5 (root note is on the 5th string)
  • For Dm7 - root is on string 5, and fret 5 is a D
  • For Em7 - root is on string 5, and fret 7 is E

Jazz chords for guitar

Playing 3- note chords

Here are some important things about 3- note chords:

  • Just the notes shown should be played.
  • By leaning your first finger a little, you can mute the middle string
  • Line 2 chords are Am7, D7, Abm7, Db7
  • These are movable shapes that can be played anywhere on the guitar neck
  • For instance, for Bm7 to E7 - just move the shapes up 2 frets.
  • For the 7th shape, only play the three notes shown - if you like these can be fingerpicked
  • One of the best things about these chords is that you can slide into them, and also apply vibrato if you want
  • You should be able to play for much longer periods without hurty fingers!

Scale patterns

I've shown a couple of scale patterns that will fit with the first 4 chords - Dm scale is D dorian, and fits the chords Dm7 to G7. Then the same pattern can be moved up 2 frets for the Em7 to A7 chords. Play the note outside the box pattern too. These scale patterns will work for any song that uses these chords, and if you use the 3 - note chords it is easier to integrate lead and rhythm playing, as the volume difference is less than if you were using 6 -string chord voicings.

Chord/melody playing, as exemplified by Joe Pass, should get a little easier.

Chord progressions

Many of the best jazz standards are based on the ii V I (two-five-one) chord progression. This tune is a good example. Think of Satin Doll.

In the key of C the chords are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bm7b5

From this sequence (based on the major scale, with each note harmonized) you can see that chords ii, V and I are Dm, G, C. The same principle applies to all the different keys.

You may have noticed that some jazz guitar chords have complex names - these are usually altered chords. In practice, most of the complicated chords are just variations on the V chord.

  • The V chord will have the following altered notes:
  • Sharp 5 or 9
  • Flat 5 or 9
  • Sometimes, these are mixed - so you can find a couple of these notes in the same chord
  • Looking at the table below, the V chord is given for many different keys
  • A common chord would be G7b9 or G7b5 in the key of C
  • Both of these chords are quite dissonant, so they want to resolve strongly to the I chord.
  • The added extensions of sharp or flat 5 and 9 are not strictly needed and you can just use the 7th chords especially for comping or accompaniment.

ii V I chord progressions (different keys)

F sharp m7

The final chord is the I chord, also the name of the key.


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