Basic Jazz Guitar Chords - Guide For Beginners
Jazz guitar chord voicings present a real challenge for beginners. Many guitarists think they need to know a lot of complicated chords with unpronounceable names to play jazz. But, the truth is that jazz guitar chords are based on easy shapes that you can move anywhere on the guitar neck.
These basic chords are divided into several distinct qualities (minor 7 , major 7 , dimininished 7 , half-diminished, dominant 7). They can be altered or enriched with extra tones as explains in this tutorial.
By studying the basic chord voicing shapes in this lesson you will understand how jazz chords are built, how to play them on guitar and how to apply them to any jazz standard or chord progression.
- Major Seventh Chords
- Minor Seventh Chords
- Dominant Seventh Chords
- Half-diminished Chords
- Diminished Seventh Chords
- Minor Ninth Chords
- Major Ninth Chords
- Dominant Ninth Chords
- Minor Eleventh Chords
- Dominant Eleventh Chords
- Minor Thirteenth Chords
- Major Thirteenth Chords
- Dominant Thirteenth Chords
- Exercise 1
- Exercise 2
- Exercise 3
- Exercise 4 - Comping Pattern - Major 2 5 1
- Exercise 5 - Comping Pattern - Major 2 5 1
- Exercise 6 - Comping Pattern - Major 2 5 1
- Exercise 7 - Comping Pattern - Minor 2 5 1
- Exercise 8 - Comping Pattern - Minor 2 5 1
- Exercise 9 - Comping Pattern - Minor 2 5 1
Intervals represent the distance between two notes, they are very important for understanding how chords are built. All music chords and scales can be considered a combination of intervals. Here is a quick list of interval names (simple and compound) :
- Second (minor or major).
- Third (minor or major).
- Fourth (perfect or augmented).
- Fifth (diminished, perfect or augmented).
- Sixth (minor or major).
- Seventh (minor or major).
- Ninth ( Compound interval, second + octave) can minor (b9), major (9) or augmented (#9).
- Eleventh (compound interval, fourth + octave). Can be augmented (#11).
- Thirteenth (compound interval, sixth + octave). Can be diminished (b13).
For more detailed information go read the lesson about intervals on guitar.
What Are Jazz Chords?
Basic jazz chords are generally composed of at least four tones that are : root (1 or R), third (minor or major), fifth (diminished or augmented) and seventh (minor, major or diminished). These types of chords are called "Four Note Chords", "Seventh Chords" or "Tetrads". They represent the backbone of jazz harmony.
The seventh of the previous voicings can be replaced by the sixth giving other types of chords named "Sixth Chords". There can be major sixth chords (maj6) built with 1 - 3 - 5 - 6 or minor sixth chords (m6) built with 1 - b3 - 5 and 6.
Guitar chord diagrams are very useful for those who don't know how to read notes on a stave. They give information on how to place your fingers on the fretboard and shows you what are the notes and the intervals which make up the chord. They can be presented horizontally or vertically however, it came about, the result is the same.
The three shapes below show three ways of presenting a chord diagram. Three important information are shown :
- The interval names (1, 3, 5, b7, etc).
- The fingers. (1 for index finger, 2 for middle finger, 3 for ring finger and 4 for pinky finger).
- The note names (A, B, C, D etc).
The orange note is the root note (R) which gives the name of the chord. This is the most important note it serves to transpose the chord in the key you want or find the name (tonality) of a chord. The black dots are the other notes of the chord.
- The dots of the figure one (the first from the left) show the intervals, the first line below show the note names and the second line the fingers.
- The dots of the second shape show the fingers to use. The first line below contains the name of the notes and the second line, the intervals.
- In the third diagram the dots correspond to the notes of the chord. The first line below is the fingering and the second line shows the intervals.
Any chord diagram can be played anywhere on the guitar neck, excepted the chords with open strings. The most easy way to transpose chords that doesn't use open strings is to keep the same position by moving it at the fret you want. Remember that the root (R) gives the tonality of the chord.
This requires to know the placement of the tones (whole-steps) and semitones (half-steps) on the guitar. Remember that the notes of the diatonic scale are separated by a whole-step excepted E & F and B & C that are a semitone apart. On the guitar, one fret is equal to one semitone so, you need two fret to get a whole-step.
The first diagram below show the semitones (dots in orange) on the guitar neck. The second and third shapes show the flats (green dots) and sharps (blue dots) between each whole tone.
Exemple of chord transposition with C7: When moving the C7 shape down five frets you get a G7 chord. The root note is at the third fret on the sixth string.
A single chord can be played in various ways, in different locations on the guitar fretboard. Obviously, the fingering will be different according to the location. For this, you have to find the root by ear or visually, then the other intervals that make the chord.
The three diagrams below show three chord positions for CMaj7. The first two shapes are built with the same voicing (R - 7 - 3 - 5) however, the position of the second form is a little bit different because of the guitar strings setting. The notes of the third shape are organized differently giving the voicing R - 5 - 7 - 3.
One of most difficult thing for the novice is to recognize and write jazz chords a jazz standard sheet. Indeed, the same jazz chords can be written in many ways using different symbols.
Jazz players, authors and educators haven't agreed on a common nomenclature for writing chords. Here is a short list of the most common chord symbols used in jazz standards that will help you identify and write jazz chords :
- MAJOR : C, Cmaj, Cma, CM.
- MINOR : C-, Cmi, Cmin.
- AUGMENTED : CAug, C+
- DIMINISHED : CDim
- SUSPENDE 4 : Csus4, C4.
- MAJOR SEVENTH : CΔ, Cmaj7, Cma7, CM7.
- MINOR SEVENTH : C-7, Cm7, Cmin7.
- DOMINANT 7 : C7.
- HALF-DIMINISHED : Cm7b5, Cø.
- DIMINISHED SEVENTH : Cdim, Cdim7, Cº7.
- AUGMENTED SEVENTH : C7+, C7aug, C7#5.
- MINOR MAJOR SEVENTH : CminMaj7, Cmin(Maj7), CmiΔ, C-Δ.
- DOMINANT SEVENTH SUSPENDED FOURTH : C7sus4, C7sus.
Basic chords can be extended with extra notes as 9, 11, 13. Remember that : the seconds are the same as ninths, the fourths are the same as elevenths and the sixths are the same as thirteenths. Exemple in the key of C :
- D is the second and the ninth of C.
- F the fourth is the octave of the eleventh of C.
- A is the sixth and the eleventh of C.
Here is a short list of extensions applied to common jazz chords.
- MAJOR SEVENTH EXTENSIONS : 9, 11, 13. (Cmaj9, Cmaj11, Cmaj13).
- MINOR SEVENTH : 9, 11, 13 (Cm9, Cm11, Cm13).
- DOMINANT SEVENTH : 7, 11, 13. (Dom9, Dom11, Dom13).
The 5, 9, 11 and 13 of minor 7 , major 7 and dominant 7 chords can be altered with a flat (b) and a sharp (#) giving this kind of notation :
- 7#9, 7#11, 7b13, 7b9, 7b5, 7b9b13 for dominant chords.
- Maj7#11, Maj7#5 for major seventh chords.
Minor seventh chords are rarely altered.
- Δ (triangle) Means major seventh.
- A (7) means that the 7th of a maj7 chord is lowered with one semitone making a dominant 7 chord.
- A dash (-) means that the third and the seventh are lowered, giving a minor seventh chord.
- The crossed circel ( ø) means half-diminished.
- The circle (°) means diminished.
- The plus (+) means augmented. It can be placed after the 7 of a dominant chord meaning that the fifth is augmented with a half-step. e.g C7+.
- The sharp (#) is placed before the extension of a seventh chord. e.g : C7#9, C7#11, CMaj7#11. It means that the 9 or the 11 are raised with one semitone.
- The flat (b) is written befor the extension. e.g : C7b9, C7b13, C7b5b9. Meaning that the extra note is lowered with a half-step.
Slashed chords are chords with non-root note in the bass. They can be seen as inverted chords. Exemple with Am/C. This is an Am chord (A - C - E) with the third (C) in the bass. The root note is no longer the bass note. The first letter on the left the slash (A), indicates the tonality of the original chord. The second letter on the right of the slash (C) shows the bass note.
The following provides the basic guitar diagrams and voicings of the most common types of chords found in jazz standards and progressions. Be sure to memorize them and try to play them in all twelve keys everywhere on the guitar neck.
Remember that all the chord shapes below are movable all along the guitar neck. Notice that these basic voicings do not have a strong jazz sound, they just represent a solid basis for jazz beginners.
Let's start with major seventh chords built with root (1) - third (3) - fifth (5) and seventh (7). They are related to the I and IV chord of the harmonized diatonic major scale.
- The first figure is drop 3 voiced (R 7 3 5).
- The two other shapes are drop 2 voicings (R 5 7 3). Notice that the fifth is doubled in the second diagram, you can choose to play only one fifth if you want.
Minor seventh chords are built with Root (R) - minor third (b3) - fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7). They are related to the degrees II, III and IV of the major diatonic scale. The voicings used in the following shapes are the same as the previous Maj7.
Dom7 chords are made of Root (R) - major third (3) - fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7). They are related to the V degree of the major scale, the melodic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale. They are used in many jazz progressions, often extended and sometimes altered to bring a little bit of tension jazz lines and comping. Once again the voicings used are R b7 3 5 for the first shape and R 5 b7 3 for the two others.
Half-diminished chords are minor chords whith the fifth lowered thus giving the formula Root (R) - minor third (b3) - diminished fifht (b5) and minor seventh (b7). They are related to the VII degree of the major scale, but mostly associated with the degree II of the harmonic minor scale so, they are found in minor 2 5 1 chords progressions.
The interval pattern for diminished seventh chords is Root (R) - minor third (b3) - diminished fifht (b5) and diminished seventh (bb7). Dim7 chords are not very used in jazz harmony, but they can serve as substitutions for 7b9 chords in turnarounds or minor II V I sequences. Diminished 7 chords most striking feature is that they are symmetrical, you can play the same chord position every three frets (3 semitones apart).
Extended chords are chords embellished with one or several notes located above the octave of the root note. These extensions are the ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13). They can be applied to minor and major triads but also to minor seventh, major seventh and dominant seventh chords thus giving some of the following chord voicing shapes.
Minor ninth chords are built with Root (R) - minor third (b3) - fifth (5), minor seventh (b7) and ninth (9). They can be seen as minor seventh chords with an added ninth. Due to the difficulty playing all the chords tones, in some cases the fifth can be removed, this way you'll play the most important notes of the chord that are 1 - b3 - b7 and 9.
The interval pattern for major ninth chords is Root (R) - third (3) - fifth (5), seventh (7) and ninth (9). They can replace any major seventh chord, depending on the musical context. Once again the fifth is omitted.
Dominant ninth chords are dom7 chords with an extra note, the ninth. Giving the theoretical formula Root (R) - major third (3) - fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7) and ninth (9). They can be used to enrich the V7 chord of any diatonic progression. Here are the most basic voicing shapes.
Minor Eleventh chord formula is Root (R) - minor third (b3) - fifth (5), minor seventh (b7) ninth (9) and eleventh (11). Here are the two main shapes to play them on guitar.
Dominant 11 chords are spelled Root (R) - third (3) - fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), ninth (9) and eleventh. They should not be confused with 7sus4 chords that are built with 1 - 4 - 5 - b7. Here are three common guitar diagrams.
Minor thirteenth chords are theoretically made of seven tones giving the formula Root (R) - minor third (b3) - fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13). Once again it is physically difficult to play movable min13 chord shapes on guitar. So, only the important notes are kept in the following forms.
Major 13 chords are major 7 chords with three added notes above the root octave. The formula is Root (R) - major third (3) - fifth (5), seventh (7), ninth (9), eleventh and thirteenth. Due to the lack of the ninth and the eleventh in the first two shapes, the chords should be named Cmaj7add13. Prefix "add" means that only the 13 is added to the chord.
The interval pattern for Dom13 chords is Root (R) - major third (3) - fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13). Here are the two most common chord shapes. They can embellish any diatonic V7 chord.
Altered guitar chords are chords that have one or more notes altered (lowered or raised) by a semitone (a half-step). The notes altered are the fifth (b5), the ninth (b9 / #9), the eleventh (#11) and the thirteenth (b13). These altered tones are mostly applied to dominant chord giving some chords with long strange and strange names as 7#9, 7b9, 7b9b13, 7#11 and many others.
Altered chords can be a bit out and sound wrong for jazz beginners but they are very useful to add color / tension to jazz chord progressions. It sometimes takes a while to hear and tame them. Here are some shapes related to the most used altered chords in jazz music.
The first way of practicing jazz guitar chords when you want to make the difference between them is to play each chord type starting on the same root and on the same string. Here are three exercises :
As you see in the tabs below the five main types of chord are played one after the other in a logical way in order so that you have to change only one note at a time. The order of the chords is Maj7, Dom7, Min7, m7b5 and dim7. The root notes are on the sixth string.
In the following example the chords have roots on the fifth string.
Now the root notes are on the fourth string.
Here is a serie of three major II V I patterns including some previous basic chord shapes from this lesson. Once you have learned these chord changes, be sure to practice them in twelve keys by varying the rhythm.
The first example is a 2 5 1 chord progression in C major containing three chords :
- Dmin7 as the ii chord.
- G7 as the V chord.
- Cmaj7 as the I chord.
This second 2 5 1 example is still in the key of C. Here we find the same chords but in other positions. Notice that the last chord is a C6/9 chord (pronounced C sixth / ninth). It's a great chord that sounds very well, it is very used in place of maj7 chords.
This third and last major II V I comping pattern is made of Dmin7 (root on the 4th string), G7 (root on the 5th string) and Cmaj7 (root on the 4th string).
Here is a first exercise to start off a serie of three minor II V I comping exercises. In minor key the I chord is a half-diminished chord (m7b5), the V chord is dominant 7th chord that can be extended with a b9 or a b13 (as shown in the tab below). Theoretically, the minor I chord should be minMaj7, however it is generally replaced by a basic min7 chord.
You can hear at the end of this minor 2 5 1 pattern how the min7 chord can be enriched with the ninth (9).
Lastly, here is another minor II V I sequence using a Cmin6 chord alternating with Cmin7.
Here we are at the most interesting part of the lesson. So it's time to apply some chord shapes previously seen to popular jazz chord changes and standards.
The first study is a jazz blues progression in A mixing basic chords and walking bass lines. Let's take a look at the chords used. The first five bars imply two dominant chords that are A7 and D9. In the sixth bar you hear a diminished passing chord (Ebdim7). This kind of chord is fairly common to make the link between the IV7 and I7 chord.
In measures 8, 9 and 10 there is a 6, 2, 5, 1 sequence (F#m7 - B9 - E7 - A7). The same sequence is repeated twice but with two chords per/measure. Notice that the last two chords (B7b13 - E7#9) are altered.
All of me is a very famous jazz standard written by Simon & Marks in 1931, one of the most played in gigs. It's an AB form where each section contains 16 bars. All of Me structure can also be seen as an AA' form where the second A (prime) is actually a variation of the first A. The melody and the chords are quite easy to play, that's the reason why many jazz guitar beginners appreciate this tune.
Here is an easy chord arrangement containing some of the easy shapes provided in this lesson. Many types of chords are represented as Maj7, Maj6, Dom7, 7b9, 7b5, min7, slashed chords, min6, min9, min11, min6, Maj7add13, dom13, 7b13, 6 and dim7. The rhythm has been intentionally simplified to work better as a tutorial, so don't hesitate to improve it.
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