Jazz up your chord - Jazz guitar lesson

Jazz Up Your Basic Guitar Chords - Jazz Guitar Lesson for Beginners

Jazz up your chord - Jazz guitar lessonGenerally, when a beginner start to learn to play guitar, he tackles open chords (up the guitar neck), those found in many popular songs.

Then, come the bar chords (major, minor, dominant 7) a little hard to master. But all these chords do not have a very interesting sound and are not mostly used in jazz music.

That's why in this lesson for jazz beginners we will take the main basic guitar bar chords to transform and enrich them so that their sonority is richer, exciting and better suited to jazz concept.

Major chords

How to make a basic major guitar chord sound more jazzy ?

Let's start with Major chords which are basically made up of a root (1), a major third (3) and a perfect fifth (5). These three notes are considered as the "skeleton" of the chord.

 The first thing to do when you want to make a basic chord more "jazzy" is to add the seventh. Then, the triad becomes a tertrad chord that is actually a set of four notes. Example with C major.

C major C E G    
Formula 1 3 5    
C major 7 C E G B  
Formula 1 3 5 7  
C major 6 C E G A  
Formula 1 3 5 6  
C major 9 C E G B D
Formula 1 3 5 7 9


It is also possible to replace the seventh with the sixth, this would give a major sixth chord and eventually add extensions as the 9, 11 and 13 to these chords. The possibilities are numerous.

The diagrams on the left represent the common shapes to play major bar chords on the guitar. You can notice that there are the three tones (root, major third and perfect fifth) that a major chord must have in its composition.

Some of these tones are repeated, the root (R) and the fifth (5). That makes powerful chords not highly desired in jazz, that's why we have to make some changes in order to highlight the most important notes of the chord.

Here are some possible chord embellishments based on common major bar chords :

  • The lower fifth (5) is left out and the major seventh (7) in place of the second root. Needless to overload the chord with a second root. This way we get a major 7th chord.
  • Major 6 chords (diagram 3) are very played in jazz music and works generally very well in place of any major chord. No big difference with major 7 chords. The sixth (6) is simply played instead of the seventh (7).
  • 6/9 voicings offers a very interesting sound. They are very cool because they have a more ambiguous and rich sound. These chords are great for substituting major chords. 

Basic major chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 1)

Major guitar chord diagram 2

Major 7 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 2)

Major 7 guitar chord diagram 1

Major 6 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 3)

Major 6 guitar chord 1

 6/9 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 4)

6/9 guitar chord diagram

Here are some basic major jazz chords with roots on the A-string  :

  • The second root is replaced with the seventh and the highest is left out. We get a major 7th chord with the root on the fifth string (diagram 6).
  • The seventh is replaced with the sixth (6), giving  a major 6 chord.(diagram 7).
  • The fifth is left out and the ninth is added. (diagram 8). This is a 6/9 chord. 

Basic major chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 5)

Major guitar chord diagram

Major 7 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 6)

drop 2 Major seventh guitar chord root 5 1

Major 6 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 7)

Major 6 guitar chord bass on 5th string

Major 6/9 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 8)

6 9 guitar chord diagram 8

Minor chords

How to turn a basic minor chord into a jazzy chord ?

Minor chords also contain three notes : root (1), minor third (b3) and perfect fifth (5). These tones constitute a minor triad. Like major chords you can add the seventh, the sixth and even extend them with the ninth, the eleventh and the thirteenth.

C minor C Eb G    
Formula 1 b3 5    
C minor 7 C Eb G B  
Formula 1 b3 5 7  
C minor 6 C Eb G A  
Formula 1 b3 5 6  
C minor 9 C Eb G B D
Formula 1 b3 5 7 9


Here are some ideas to turn a basic minor bar chord into a jazzy chord :

Roots on the E-string

  • Diagram 1 : Basic bar chord 
  • Diagram 2 : The lower fifth is left out, that gives a minor 7 chord.
  • Diagram 3 : The seventh is replaced with the sixth (minor 6 chord).
  • Diagram 4 : It is simply the minor seventh position previously seen with a ninth added. 

Roots on the A-string

  • Diagram 5 : Basic bar chord.
  • Diagram 6: This is a minor seventh chord, the second root and the higher fifth are left out against the bar position. 
  • Diagram 7 : The minor seventh (b7) is replaced by a sixth (6).
  • Diagram 8 : Minor 7 and ninth to get a minor 9 chord. 

Basic minor bar chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 1)

Minor guitar chord diagram

Minor 7 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 2)

Minor seventh guitar chord diagram

Minor 6 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 3)

Minor 6 guitar chord

Minor 9 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 4)

Minor 9 chord basic position 1

Basic minor bar chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 5)

Minor guitar chord diagram 2

Minor 7 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 6)

Minor seventh guitar chord diagram 5 1

Minor 6 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 7)

Minor 6 guitar chord 4

Minor 9 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 8)

Minor 9 guitar chord

Dominant 7 chords

How to make dominant 7th chords a little bit jazzy ?

Dominant 7 chords are major type chords, they consist of a major triad (1-3-5) with a minor seventh (b7). These are the chords that accepts the more extensions. as 9, #9, b9, 11, #11 (b5), #5,13, b13. In this article, we will dwell on 9 and 13 extensions.

C dominant 7 C E G Bb      
Formula 1 3 5 b7      
C dominant 9 C E G Bb D    
Formula 1 3 5 b7 9    
C dominant 13 C E G Bb D F A
Formula 1 b 5 b7 9 11 13


Here are some voicings derived from two basic dominant bar chords :

Dominant voicings with roots on the E string

  • Diagram 1 : Basic dominant 7 bar chord.
  • Diagram 2 : This shape contains the four needed tones of the dominant 7 chord.
  • Diagram 3 : This is a dominant 9 voicing. There is no third, it is replaced with the ninth. Because theoretically there are five tones in ninth chords, it is difficult to play all of them on the guitar. Leave out the third is not necessarily the best solution, you can try to leave out the root as explained on this page and keep the third instead. It's your choice.
  • Diagram 4 : Dominant 13 chord shape including a minor 7 (b7), a third (3) and a thirteenth (13).

Dominant voicings with roots on the A string

  • Diagram 5 : Basic dom7 bar chord.
  • Diagram 6 : Dominant 7 chord with no fifth.
  • Diagram 7 : Dominant 9 chord, no fifth again.
  • Diagram 8 : Dominant 13 chord with no fifth once again.  As you will have noted, the fifth is not the most important tone.

Basic dominant 7 bar chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 1)

Dominant 7 th guitar bar chord

Dominant 7 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 2)

Dominant 7 th guitar chord

Dominant 9 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 3)

Dominant 9 th guitar chord 1

Dominant 13 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 4)

Dominant 13 th guitar chord

Basic dominant 7 bar chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 5)

Dominant 7 th guitar bar chord 2

Dominant 7 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 6)

Dominant 7 th guitar chord 2

Dominant 9 chord - Root on the A-string (diagram 7)

Dominant 9 th guitar bar chord 2

Dominant 13 chord - Root on the E-string (diagram 8)

Dominant 13 th guitar chord 2

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  • Millo Lailang
    • 1. Millo Lailang On 05/31/2020
    I am not a jazz guitar player myself but I got a nice surface view of how jazz chords are formed. Your tips can surely help me in my own playing style too. Nice
    • Stef Ramin
      • Stef RaminOn 05/31/2020
      Glad it helps ;)