Shell voicings on guitar

3 Note Chords - Shell Voicings - Guide Tone Chords - Guitar Lesson With Shapes

Shell voicings are better known as 3-note chords (or guide tone chords), they are made up of the most essential notes (root, third and seventh) that define a chord (the fifth is omitted). They are very useful for beginner guitarists who want to explore basic guitar comping rhythms. This lesson provides the essential chord shapes and exercises for practicing them on guitar.

Essential 3-note Chord Types

Here are the most important 3-note voicings used in jazz music categorized by types. These four essential types are major 7 (1 - 3 - 7), minor 7 (1 - b3 - b7), dominant 7 (1 - 3 - b7), diminished 7 (1- b3 - bb7) that can be seen as minor 6 (1 - b3 - 6) and major 6 (1 - 3 - 6).

In all the ways, the fifth is not played to make the sound of the chord less fat and to economize a finger that can be used to enrich the chord with a most interested tone as the 13, 9 etc.

It is important note to confuse 3-note shell voicings with triad chords. Triad chords are also made of three notes but they don't have seventh.

Major Seventh Chords (Maj7) - 3-Note Shell Voicings

The three shapes below show how to play 3-note major 7 chords on guitar with root note on the 6th, 5th and 4th string.

Maj7 chords shell voicings


Minor Seventh Chords (min7) - 3-Note Shapes

Here are the three voicing shapes to play minor 7 chords.

Minor 7 chords 3 note shell


Dominant Seventh Chords (7) - 3-Note Diagrams

Dom7 shell voicings are built with root (1), minor third (b3) and minor seventh (b7). 

Dom7 chords shell voicings


Diminished Seventh (dim7) and Minor 6 Chords (min6) - 3-Note Chord Shapes

Diminished seventh 3-note chord positions are the same as minor 6. Indeed, the bb7 is the same as the sixth. They share the same root and the same b3.

Dim7 chords shell voicings


Minor 6 3-note chords


Major Sixth Chords (Maj6) - 3-Note Chord Shapes

In comparison with minor sixth chords, major sixth chords have a major third.

Maj6 chords guide tone chords

Jazz Blues Comping Study

Here is an easy jazz blues study in Bb implying four 3-note chords : Bb7, Eb7, Cm7 and F7 that will help you to comp using only shell voicings. You will notice the alternative position for Eb7, different from the one presented at the beginning of this tutorial.

Walking Bass Lines and Chords

3-note shell voicings are widely used to mix chords and walking bass lines on guitar. Because they are very simple to play and require three fingers, guide tone chords are very useful to connect fast walking bass lines while underlying the harmony of a tune.

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rhythm 3-note shell comping voicings chords

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