Jazz chords

In this section, you will learn about jazz guitar playing and in particular learn some useful chords and common chord progressions. Open chords are seldom used in jazz, neither is triads. The most used chords are extended chords (i.e. 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th) and are played in moveable shapes with various voicings.

The "start package" of jazz chords

The four shapes below are moveable and can be used for all notes (). Two have the bass note and sixth string and the other two on the fifth string.

maj7 (shape 1)

  • maj7 chord diagram

maj7 (shape 2)

  • maj7 chord diagram

m7 (shape 1)

  • m7 chord diagram

m7 (shape2 )

  • m7 chord diagram

Are you not sure how to play a specific chord? If you for example play the maj7 shape 1 with the bass note on third fret it would be a Gmaj7. And if you for example play the maj7 shape 2 with the bass note on third fret it would be a Cmaj7. See notes on the fretboard.

Add basslines between chords - two easy examples

Basslines are common in this music style and here are two playing examples (illustrated in tabs) that show you how this can be done in an very simple approach.

The first example use the chord shapes above with bass notes on the sixth string.

tab 1

The second example use the chord shapes above with bass notes on the fifth string.

tab 2

It's not necessary to play exactly as in the tabs, the most important is that you apply the chords and the basslines concept in some way.

Common chord progressions in jazz

Here is some common jazz progressions in jazz.


Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7

The formula for the progression above is:

ii7 – V7 – I7

This means that you can use the same chord formula in all keys. The roman numerals tells which note it is in the scale and small numbers mean minor, otherwise it's major.

A second progression, with chromatic motion:


Dm7 – Db7 – Cmaj7 (ii7 – bII – I7)

Let’s take another one, based on the same formula with one chord added:

Bm7 – E7 – Amaj7 – Fm7

In both these cases the first chord in the progression has not been first in the key, which is typical for jazz progressions. The first progression is in the key of C and the second in the key of A. See a larger collection of jazz progressions.

Other moveable chord shapes in jazz

Then playing jazz on guitar it will often sound better to play on 3-5 strings instead of 5-6. Therefore the regular barre chords will not be especially suited.

These moveable chords will bring more "jazzy" sound than more typical chord versions. The shapes could be difficult depending on your ability to reach over the fretboard, therefore are simplified chord presented as well.


11

  • 11 chord diagram

11 (simplified)

  • 11 chord diagram

13

  • 13 chord diagram

13 (simplified)

  • 13 chord diagram

7

  • 7 chord diagram

7 (simplified)

  • 7 chord diagram

9

  • 9 chord diagram

9 (simplified)

  • 9 chord diagram

Chord progression

Here is a chord progression to try using the shapes above


Bm7 – E9 – A7 – D9

Here are the specific shapes written out:
Bm7: 7X777X
E9: X767XX
A7: 5X56XX
D9: X545XX

12 bar structure

You could also play a 12 bar blues with the shapes above and include G7, C9 and D9.

Open chords in jazz?

If you're used to play open chords, some of these can be useful in a jazz context after all. Even if they are not the most viable chords in guitar jazz music you could practice the standard major seventh and minor seventh chords in open positions. Both categories create another color to the sound than the usual major and minor chords.

Play chords over scales

If want to improvise jazz a great way is to play scales over chords (see the article "The relationship between chords and scales"). It is great if you could play together with someone else. If not, you could play with some backing tracks.

If we return to the common Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 progression you could play three different scales over it. There are many possibilities, one way would be: D Dorian over Dm7, G minor blues pentatonic over G7 and C Lydian over Cmaj.

More in-depth readings could be found in Jazz Guitar Chord Mastery: A Practical, Musical Guide to All Chord Structures, Voicings and Inversions.

Jazz guitarists

A last tips is that you should listen to jazz music to get more familiar with the style. Here are some great guitarists:

  • Wes Montgomery
  • Kenny Burrell
  • Lenny Breau
  • Joe Pass
  • George Van Eps

You will not have any problems finding compilation albums with these names.