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Jazz Guitar Lesson

Updated on November 22, 2020

Jazz Guitar chords

Here are two versions of a jazz guitar exercise. The first line shows an easy version for beginners, with the second line showing a more advanced take on the chord progression. It's based around Autumn Leaves, which is one of the greatest jazz standards, and also one of the most accessible and widely performed.

  • You can replace many chords with more advanced chord forms. Any 7th chord can be replaced with a 9th chord, and sometimes by a 13th if it sounds right.
  • Any minor chord can be changed to a m7 chord.
  • The first four chords form a circle of fourths progression, where the root note of each chord moves by a fourth to the next chord. The cycle of fourths or cycle of fifths ( it's the same thing) is detailed in my other hub Cycle of fifths. This is essential music theory and very useful in a number of different ways.
  • The last three chords form a minor ii - V - I chord progression, which is very common in jazz standards.
  • The chord progression is 8 bars long - nearly all jazz tunes use an 8 - bar structure which repeats - a very common form is AABA, where all the A sections are similar. This will result in a 32-Bar chorus, as found in I Got Rhythm and countless others.

Jazz Guitar chords

G maj 7

The G maj7 chord could also be played like this: take an Am chord, and move it up two frets. Then use your thumb to cover the low G on string 6. I find this easier than the barre chord shown. On these chord diagrams, the barre is shown by the thick line.

F ♯m7 b5

This chord is like an Am, with second fret on string 6 added. About 95% of the time, this chord will be followed by B7 or a B9 - so it's a good idea to practice this chord change until it is totally automatic.

It's very likely that the next chord will be an Em, the home chord of this sequence.

Although the chord progression begins with an Am chord, it's in the key of Em. The key of Em will use mostly the same chords as the key of G, as it's the relative minor key for G. This also means that the Em pentatonic scale is a good basic choice for soloing over these chords. A more advanced jazz approach is to play a scale or arpeggio based on each chord.

Rhythm guitar

Count four strums for each bar. Great jazz rhythm examples are Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green from the Count Basie band.

Next step: learn another couple of chord voicings for all the chords and experiment with substituting some of these into the sequence you already know. Then try to play an arpeggio based on each chord.

In this key, the default scale could be Em pentatonic, but this will sound so much better if each chord change is emphasised by a change in chord arpeggio.


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