In this section, you will learn about jazz guitar playing and in particular learn some useful chords and common chord progressions. We start with open chords and after that continue with different chords voicings.
Useful open chords for jazz
If you're used to play open chords, some of these can be useful in a jazz context, even if they are not the most viable chords in guitar jazz music. These are known as major seventh and minor seventh chords. Both categories create another color to the sound than the usual major and minor chords.
Common chord progressions with open
A very common jazz progression with a kind of moody character goes like this:
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.
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.
Moveable chord voicings
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. Neither will open chords create the familiar jazz guitar music sound.
These moveable chords will instead bring more "jazzy" sound than the open chords presented above. Two shapes are presented in both categories with bass notes on the first and the second strings. By using both variations you won't be forced to long jumps on the guitar neck in the chord changes.
maj7 (shape 1)
maj7 (shape 2)
m7 (shape 1)
m7 (shape2 )
Here is a chord progression to try using the shapes above
Bm7 (shape 1) – E9 – A7 – D9
Here are the specific shapes written out:
12 bar structure
You could also play a 12 bar blues with the shapes above and include G7, C9 and D9.
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.