Learn about jazz guitar playing and in particular chords and common chord progressions. Open chords are seldom used in jazz, neither are triads. Among the most used chords are seventh and extended chords (i.e. 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th), which are played in movable shapes with various voicings.
This guide includes the following main sections:
- The "start package" of jazz chords
- 7th chords
- Half-dim chords
- 9th chords
- 11th and 13 chords
- Alt chords
See also the external articles: Jazz chord progressions and Drop 3 and drop 2 voicings.
The "start package" of jazz chords
The four shapes below are movable and can be used for all notes. Two of them have the bass note on the sixth string and the other two on the fifth string. When playing chords in the jazz style, use controlled down strokes, or pluck the strings, and try to accomplish a clean tone.
maj7 (shape 1)
maj7 (shape 2)
m7 (shape 1)
Are you unsure how to play a specific chord? If you play the "maj7 shape 1" with the bass note on the third fret it would be Gmaj7. And if you play the "maj7 shape 2" with the bass note on the third fret it would be Cmaj7. See notes on the fretboard.
The second m7 shape has only three notes, but you could add a fourth by playing it as X2X232. Likewise, you could simplify maj7 to X132XX (no 3rd) or to X1X23X (no 5th). It's also common to use a standard barre chord (often with the highest string muted) for the second m7 chord with bass note on the fifth string (otherwise aren't the standard barre chords used often in jazz).
The shell voicing version of Cmaj7 would be X324XX. Another 3-note alternative is for the same chord is X354XX with the 3rd omitted instead of the 5th.
The maj chords in short notationGmaj7 (shape 1) 3 x 4 4 5 x
G#maj7 (shape 1) 4 x 5 5 4 x
Amaj7 (shape 1) 5 x 6 6 5 x
A#maj7 (shape 1) 6 x 7 7 6 x
Bmaj7 (shape 1) 7 x 8 8 7 x
Cmaj7 (shape 2) x 3 5 4 5 x
C#maj7 (shape 2) x 4 6 5 6 x
Dmaj7 (shape 2) x 5 7 6 7 x
D#maj7 (shape 2) x 6 8 7 8 x
Emaj7 (shape 2) x 7 9 8 9 x
Fmaj7 (shape 2) x 8 10 9 10 x
F#maj7 (shape 2) x 9 11 10 11 x
How to read short notation
The min chords in short notationGm7 (shape 1) 3 x 3 3 3 x
G#m7 (shape 1) 4 x 4 4 4 x
Am7 (shape 1) 5 x 5 5 5 x
A#m7 (shape 1) 6 x 6 6 6 x
Bm7 (shape 1) 7 x 7 7 7 x
Cm7 (shape 2) x 3 x 3 4 x
C#m7 (shape 2) x 4 x 4 5 x
Dm7 (shape 2) x 5 x 5 6 x
D#m7 (shape 2) x 6 x 6 7 x
Em7 (shape 2) x 7 x 7 8 x
Fm7 (shape 2) x 8 x 8 9 x
F#m7 (shape 2) x 9 x 9 10 x
See below for pdf chord chart ("The Jazz Guitar Chords ebook") with more than 250 chords and voicings for jazz.
Add basslines between chords - two easy examples
Basslines are common in jazz and here are two playing examples (illustrated in tabs) that show you how this can be done in an uncomplicated way.
The first example uses the chord shapes above with bass notes on the sixth string.
The second example use the chord shapes above with bass notes on the fifth string.
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.
Other movable chord shapes in jazz
Then playing jazz on the guitar it will often sound better to play on 3 to 5 strings instead of 5 or 6.
The movable chords in pictures below brings a jazzier sound than other typical chord versions. The "simplified" 3-strings chords can sound equally good or even better in many situations, especially in fast comping.
Dominant 7th chords
First, we will look on two ways (including simplified versions, 3-string chords or so-called shell voicings) to play the seventh chord with the bass note (also root) on the sixth and fifth strings respectively.
Minor 7th chords
Here are two ways (including simplified versions) to play minor seventh chords with the bass note (also root) on the sixth and fifth strings respectively.
The half-diminished chords (minor 7th flat 5th) are among the most common passing chords in jazz (it can also substitute for minor 7th). Diagrams with the root note on the sixth and fifth strings respectively.
Both dominant ninths and minor ninths are pretty common in jazz. Here are suggestions for chords shapes to use with the root on the fifth string.
11th and 13th chords
Also common is eleventh and thirteenth chords. Here are suggestions of shapes. The root is the bass note.
For the advanced player, more options turn up by incorporate altered chords. For example, maj7(#11) is characteristic for modern jazz.
Common chord progressions in jazz
Here are some common jazz progressions in jazz.
The first is based on the Dorian mode:
Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7
The formula for the progression above is:
iim7 – V7 – Imaj7
This means that you can use the same chord formula in all keys. The Roman numerals tell which note it's in the scale. Small characters indicate minor.
This progression can be extended with a half-dim chord:
Dm7 - Dm7b5 - G7 - Cmaj7
The progression is still based on the Dorian mode (D Dorian), but for a guitarist that play scales over this progression may deviated on the half-dim chord and chose something like the C Dorian Bebop scale.
Another progression, with chromatic motion (a so-called tritone substitution):
Dm7 – Db7 – Cmaj7 (iim7 – bII7 – Imaj7)
Another common progressions can be written with the formula
iim7 – V7 – Imaj7 - IV7
Based on this formula is for example:
Bm7 – E7 – Amaj7 – D7
In jazz, the first chord in a progression is often not the I chord.
See a larger collection of jazz progressions.
Chord substitutions are very common in jazz and means that a chord change to another with the same root, for example Cmaj7 shifting to Cmaj9 or D7 shifting to D13.
The chord progression Cmaj7 - Am7 - Dm7 - G7 could sound slightly different with some substitutions. One way could be Cmaj7 - Am9 - Dm11 - G13.
Common in jazz is also the tritone substitution.
You could also play a 12-bar blues with the shapes above and include G7, C9 and D9. See more playing examples of 12 bar jazz-blues.
Rootless voicings refer to chords in which the root note is omitted (e.g. Cmaj7 without the C note). These are common when playing with a bass player (who takes care of the root notes). This type of voicing gives more possibilities for adding extensions and variate chords since there is one less note to include. with the shapes above and include G7, C9 and D9. See more playing examples of 12 bar jazz-blues.
Inversions are sometimes used in jazz. One example is the dominant 13 with bass note on the 5th strings. In a ii - V - I progressions for example:
Cm7 (8X888X – F13/C (X6776X) – Bbmaj7 (6X776X)
Notice the small movement between F13 and Bbmaj7.
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 choices 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 in the style of jazz, a great way is to play scales over chords (see the article "The relationship between chords and scales"). It's beneficial if you could play together with someone, otherwise, you could play over backing tracks.
In the common Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 progression, you could play three different scales over it. There are many possibilities and one way would be: D Dorian over Dm7, G minor blues pentatonic over G7 and C Lydian over Cmaj7.
Standard jazz songs with chords and lyrics
Performed by: Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald
Written by: George Gershwin
Album: Porgy and Bess (1959)
Em7 - Am7 - Em7 - Am7 - B7 - Em7 - Am7 - Em7 - G - A7 - B7 - Em7 (verse)
Lyrics together with chords (excerpt):
(Em7)Summertime, and the (Am7)livin' is (Em7)easy
Fish are (Am7)jumpin' and the cotton is (B7)high
Your daddy's (Em7)rich, and your (Am7)momma's good (Em7)lookin'
So (G6)hush little (A7)baby, (B7)don't you (Em7)cry
Cry Me a River
Performed by: Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and others
Written by: Arthur Hamilton
Album: The Barbra Streisand Album (1963)
Am9 - Am7 - Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7 - E7 - A7 - Fmaj7 - E7 (verse A section)
Lyrics together with chords (excerpt):
(Am9)Now you say (Am7)you're lonely(Dm7)
You cried (G7)the long (Cmaj7)night (E7)through
Well, you (A7)can cry me a river, cry me a river
(Fmaj7)I cried a (E7)river over you
Listen to jazz music to get more familiar with the style. Here are some great guitarists listed:
- Wes Montgomery
- Kenny Burrell
- Lenny Breau
- Joe Pass
- George Van Eps
You won't have any problems finding compilation albums with these artists.
If you want to go more into depth of this music style, see The Jazz Guitar Chords ebook with over 250 chord diagrams.
The jam tracks are for jazz guitar and involves only drums.
Jam tracks with bass and drums and with specified chord changes presentation can be accessed via the extra material that comes with The Jazz Guitar Chords ebook (see link above).