In this section, you will learn about jazz guitar playing and in particular learn some useful 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 include the following main sections:
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. More chords will follow further down the page. When playing chords in the jazz style, don't try to strum to much. Use controlled down strokes, or pluck the strings, and try to accomplish a clean tone.
maj7 (shape 1)
maj7 (shape 2)
m7 (shape 1)
* It is also common to use a standard barre chord (often with the highest string muted) for the m7 chord with bass note on the fifth string.
Are you unsure how to play a specific chord? If you play the "maj7 shape 1" with the bass note on third fret it would be a Gmaj7. And if you play the "maj7 shape 2" with the bass note on third fret it would be a 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).
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.
Drop 3 voicings
One of the main concepts here is drop 3 voicings. Drop 3 voicings refer to a chord in which the third note from the top is dropped down an octave. This also change the chord from a closed voicing to an open voicing. To better explain this, Cmaj7 can be used as an example. The closed voicing version of Cmaj7 (or Cmaj7/B to be strict) includes the notes C, E, G and B. In a closed voicing version, they could be stacked as B, C, E, G. To change this into an open voicing by the drop 3 concept the C would be dropped one octave, as the figure below illustrate.
Drop 2 voicings
The same concept is involved in drop 2 voicings. Drop 2 voicings refer to a chord in which the second note from the top is dropped down an octave. The closed voicing version of Cm7 includes the notes C, E, G and B. In a closed voicing version, they could be stacked as G, B, C, Eb. To change this into an open voicing by the drop 2 concept the C would be dropped one octave.
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
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 is 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.
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 is in the scale. Small numbers indicate minor; otherwise, it is major.
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)
Let’s take another one, based on the same formula with one chord added:
Bm7 – E7 – Amaj7 – D7
In both these cases the first chord in the progression is not the I chord, which is typical for jazz progressions. The first progression is in the key of C and the second in the key of A. 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.
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. Therefore, the regular barre chords isn't especially suited.
The movable chords in pictures below brings a jazzier sound than other typical chord versions. The shapes could be difficult depending on your ability to reach over the fretboard, for that reason simplified chords are presented as well, which by the way can sound equally good or even better in many situations.
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-diminshed chords (minor 7th flat 5th) are among the most common passing chords in jazz. 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.
Also common is eleventh and thirteenth chords. Here are suggestions of shapes. The root is the bass note.
Here is a chord progression to try using the shapes above
Bm7 – 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. 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 (that taking care of the root notes of the chords). This type of voicing gives more possibilities for adding extensions and variate chords since there is one less note to include.
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 chords 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 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, otherwise, you could play over backing tracks.
If we return to 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.
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 The Jazz Guitar Chords ebook (see link above).