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Jazz Guitar Chords

Updated on February 8, 2018

Useful Jazz chords

Why use jazz chords? They sound so great once you get them really integrated into your playing, and can make even very tedious songs sound good. In fact, it can become a challenge to rescue really bad songs with some cool chord inversions. My new hub, Guitar Chords - Latin jazz chords

contains some examples of Bossa Nova style songs that use jazz chords, and looks at James Taylor material that is influenced by this style of playing.

My hub Play Jazz Guitar has some examples of common jazz guitar chord progressions.

You might also find this hub helpful - Jazz Guitar chords - intros.

The chord examples are given in a context - so each of the four boxes is a chord progression. Although you want to have a good chord vocabulary for playing jazz tunes, soul, funk and ballads it's also essential to learn the chords in a real-life context so you understand their function. My new hub More Jazz Guitar Chords has examples of using the chords in the context of a chord progression.

Most jazz standards use a lot of 2-5-1 or minor 2-5-1 progressions. (Usually given as ii-V-1 in Roman numerals) In the key of C these would be Dm G7 C or Bm7b5 E7 Am in Am, the relative minor key. The middle chord (a 7th chord) is almost always altered - that is, it will have a spicy flat or sharp 5, flat or sharp 9 added, maybe both.

If you want to identify one single change that will make your playing more jazzy, use this altered chord when the chord progression is going from the V to the I. So instead of G7 play a G7 sharp5 or G7 flat 5 chord, and also use these chord tones to play solos over the top, but returning to a normal major scale when you arrive back at the 1 chord.

All those fancy modes are all very well, but this will work, just following the changed notes in the chord. Barney Kessel once remarked that the only mode that interested him was pie-a-la-mode!

My new hub Guitar Lesson - playing jazz standards has a song with many of these chords in context.

Another thing that will really help is to play this stuff on an archtop guitar like we need an excuse to buy another guitar. I like Gibson 175, Byrdland as much as anybody, but Ibanez archtops are particularly good value, especially the PM35 Pat Metheny model, a great design. Great players such as Ted Greene also used Telecasters though.

Examples

  • Example 1: root 5 chord -the D is fret 5 on string 5. G/A or G with an A bass is used instead of A7. The final chord would be a G maj7 if you just changed the bass note to G instead.
  • 2: A minor 2-5-1 or ii V I in Em for the first three chords. The Am9 is a great chord, but don't hurt yourself!
  • 3: A very common chord sequence used in dozens of standards.The loop symbol is a barre shape.
  • 4: Variations on a C7 or C9 chord, useful for blues and funk styles. If you don't already know, C7,C9 and C13 can be used interchangeably.
  • 5: 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) in C
  • 6: Gm ideas


Useful Jazz Chords

More on the examples

  • D maj 9 can be used instead of D or D maj7. G/A  or G with an A bassnote leads to A7. As A7 is the dominant 7th for D, it will resolve nicely to D. This idea will work for many pop tunes too,as well as bossa nova and most ballads.
  • The minor 2-5-1 in example 2 is used in hundreds of jazz standards like Autumn Leaves, so you should learn it in many different keys.
  • Example 3 is found in tunes like Makin' Whoopee, Ain't Misbehavin'. The bassline is going up one semitone at a time, and this is a useful form of the diminished chord to learn. Concentrate on the middle 4 strings.
  • Ex3: The 3-note voicing for Dm7 can be moved over to string 6, where it becomes A7. This is the single most useful thing you can learn for chord playing, because these chords are so common in most styles of music, jazz included.
  • Example 4 - if you are stuck on one chord for a while, try to play different variations on the chord. Especially in blues tunes, or funk.

Preparing to play jazz guitar

Jazz guitar chords can be very complex, and chord melody style - where the melody and chords are played together, often with a bassline - is probably the most demanding thing you can do on guitar, with the exception of some classical pieces.

So, anything you can do to keep it simple is going to help. Joe Pass had this method, which does work well:

Classify all chords into three types - major, minor, dominant 7th.

Major - this would include maj7, 6, 6/9 chords

Minor - m7, m9, m11 chords

Dominant 7th - anything else - any 7th 9th 11th 13th, dim or aug chords.

To put this into context, let's imagine we are playing a song that goes C Am Dm G.

For the C chord we could use C maj7, C6/9, C add 9 or C6

For the Am chord we use a close relative such as Am7 Am9

For Dm just use Dm7 or Dm9

For G - as it is a dominant 7 chord here- we could use G7 sharp 5, G9 G13, G11 or F/G.

In other words we are not changing the function of the chords, but adding a little harmonic colour and diversity.

If you have questions about chord names, intervals etc you can ask here via the comments box - or check the music theory website, which I have linked below.

Intervals using the piano keyboard

Research

The great late Ted Greene wrote books like Chord Chemistry and Modern Chord Progressions that are the Bible for jazz chords. You need a lot of patience to get the most from these books, patience which I haven't got! Ted Greene videos are all over youtube, just fantastic playing from a master musician.

Comments

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    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      3 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      You're welcome - any questions, just ask.

    • profile image

      Bien Aimé Madajazzcar 

      3 years ago

      I'm gonna try now,thanks a lot

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Django, you're welcome I hope the chord pictures came up OK.

    • profile image

      Django Reinhardt 

      6 years ago

      Great explanation, thanks for posting.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks, you're welcome.

    • profile image

      Hindi Guitar Chords 

      7 years ago

      I'm big jazz fan..thanks a lot fr sharing this valuable ideas..

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks a lot Freelance.

    • Freelance5 profile image

      Freelance5 

      7 years ago from Houston, TX

      Real solid man. I play jazz guitar and this is a great explanation.

    • nikmaya62 profile image

      nikmaya62 

      8 years ago

      Thank Jon, it is clearly for me. I have to bookmark this hub.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi - If there is anything you'd like covered, just e-mail.

    • ddhamilt profile image

      ddhamilt 

      8 years ago

      Great stuff! Man I wish I had this when I first started playing guitar.

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