Easy Jazz Chords

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

 

When first learning how to comp jazz chords, many of us are intimidated by the sounds and shapes of these four-note and beyond jazz chords, but they don’t have to be difficult to get under your fingers if you begin with the right shapes in your studies.

This lesson is designed to introduce you to the various families of jazz chords, with a focus on easy-to-play shapes, all with the root as the lowest note, in both a grid and chord progression layout.

By studying the chords in this lesson, you will not only introduce yourself to the world of jazz guitar chords, but you will learn how to apply them to chord progressions as well, getting you ready to jam with friends or comp along to your favorite backing track in no time.

Easy Jazz Chords Introduction

What exactly are jazz chords?

This is a tough question to ask, as many chords associated with jazz are also found in pop, classical, rock, and other musical genres. But, for the purposes of defining jazz chords, these are shapes that use at least 4 notes in their construction, so chords that go beyond the 3-note triad and include the 7th, 9th, 11th, and/or 13th.

This means that if you want to play a major chord in rock, you would normally just play the major triad, so playing G for a G major chord. But in jazz, if you want to play a major based chord, you would play G6, Gmaj7, G6/9, or another major chord that extends beyond the major triad.

As you will see in this lesson, these four notes often mean skipping intervals in the chord to make these shapes fit on the fretboard. For example, the notes for D9 are D-F#-A-C-E, but to make it easy to play on the guitar, you will leave out the A and just play D-F#-C-E.

In order to help you learn the construction of each chord in this lesson, the intervals for each shape have been written on the fretboard, which will help you understand how all of these chords have been constructed. As well, if the theory behind these shapes is a bit beyond you at this point, don’t let it hold you back. Start by learning to play these shapes, and the chord progressions below, and then keep working on chord theory, as it will come over time.

To begin, here are the easy jazz chords laid out on the fretboard for you to play through, and use as a reference guide for further study.

Easy Jazz Chords – Major Chords

The first set of easy jazz chords you will learn in this lesson are major based chords, which include maj7, 6, and 6/9 chords. These major jazz chords are often used at the Imaj7 chord in a major key ii-V-I progression.

 

easy jazz chords major

Easy Jazz Chords – Dominant Chords

You will now move on to working on easy dominant jazz chords, which will focus on 7, 9, and 13th chord shapes. These chords are used in jazz blues chord progressions, as well as the V7 chord in a major key ii-V or ii-V-I progression.

 

easy jazz chords dominant

Easy Jazz Chords – Minor Chords

In this section, you will work on minor family jazz chords, which include m7, m6, m9 and m11 chord shapes. Minor jazz chords are often used as the iim7 chord in a major ii-V or ii-V-I progression, as well as the Im7 chord in a minor ii-V-I progression.

 

easy jazz chords minor

Easy Jazz Chords – Diminished Chords

The next group of chords focuses on the Half-Diminished, written m7b5, and Diminished chords. Because there is only one easy shape per string set for these chords, you will only need to learn 3 m7b5 and 3 dim7 chords in this part of the lesson to get these shapes going in your playing.

m7b5 chords are used as the iim7b5 chord in a minor key ii-V and ii-V-I progression, while dim7 chords are often used as passing chords, such as Imaj7-#Idim7-iim7, or in place of a 7b9 chord, such as playing C#dim7 instead of A7b9 in your comping.

 

easy jazz chords diminished

Easy Jazz Chords – Altered Chords

The last set of chords that you’ll explore are Altered chords, which you will often see written as 7alt on lead sheets. These chords feature the b9, #9, b5 or b13(#5), or any combination of those notes.

Since we are looking at easy jazz chords in this lesson, you will only use one altered note per chord, but over time you might find yourself drawn to use two altered notes when playing these types of chords, such as 7(b9,b5) for example.

Lastly, these chords are often found as the V7 chord in a minor key ii-V or ii-V-I chord progression, which you will see in the chord progression examples below.

 

easy jazz chords altered

Major ii-V-I-VI Comping Patterns

Now that you have checked out these easy jazz chords on their own, it’s time to bring them together and apply them to common progressions as you use these chord shapes in a practical, musical situation.

To begin, here are three ii-V-I-VI chord progressions that use the shapes from this lesson in their makeup. After you have learned these initial examples, make sure to take them to other keys in order to practice them around the entire fretboard. You can substitute any other chord from the same family into these progressions in order to expand upon them in your studies. For example, if the chord is Cmaj7, you could play a C6 or C6/9 chord in its place as they are all from the same family of chords.

To start off, here is a ii-V-I-VI in C major that begins with the iim7 chord on the 6th string, and moves around the changes from that starting point.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 1

 

Next you will work out the same progression, but this time the iim7 chord is on the 5th string and you will move to the other chords from that initial chord.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 2

 

Lastly, here is a progression that moves around the fretboard a bit, which is something you might want to do when comping behind a soloist, beginning with the iim7 chord on the 4th string.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 3

Minor ii-V-I-bIII Comping Patterns

The final exercise in this lesson will feature three minor key chord progressions that use a number of the chords featured in the lesson above.

As was the case with the major key examples, feel free to expand upon these chord progressions by taking them to other keys, as well as substitute other chord shapes from this lesson into these progressions to take them further in your studies.

To begin, here is a minor ii-V-I-bIII progression that begins with the iim7b5 chord on the 6th string and works around the chords from that starting point.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 4

 

Next, you will begin with the iim7b5 chord on the 5th string and work your way around the progression from there.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 5

 

Finally, you will begin with the root of the iim7b5 chord on the 4th string, with the subsequent changes being closely related to that initial shape.

 

Listen & Play

easy jazz chords example 6

 

As you can see, jazz chords don’t have to be that intimidating, or sound way out there and strange, and they can also be fun to learn in the practice room.

After you have explored these shapes, and if you got stuck or have any observations on this lesson, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords




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  1. TuomasJan 14, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks for a good lesson!

    Since we are talking about beginner stuff, I would’ve liked to see instructions or tips on actually fingering these chords. As it would be a good idea for a guitarist to learn the chord fingerings usings mostly 4 different fingers to sounds the chords, some of them can be quite tricky for the uninitiated. Of course barre chords are the easy way out here, but we don’t want that, do we? 🙂

    Take for an example, a 1573-shaped dominant 7-chord with the root on 5th string: there is a considerable stretch needed for the 3rd and 4th fingers. The lower on the fretboard you voice the chord, the bigger the stretch, right?

    If possible, it would be great to have a lesson or tips on practicing the chords and the more demanding chord voicings, i.e. to bring the stretch abilities of the player to a whole new level 🙂

    Cheers!

    • Vítor VaralogaJan 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Hi,

      I completely subscribe Tuomas’ suggestions; chord figgerings would be mostly appreciated. I’ve been playing guitar for around 20 years, but only recently I dared to adventures in the worlds of Jazz and fingering can be quite tricky in some situations.
      Nevertheless, great job and keep up with the awesome lessons and tutorials!
      Thx.

      V.V.

  2. MarioJan 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing, you are the best website jazz. I’m learning to play this style of music and for many years, I had not found significant theoretical resources for learning.
    Thanks for include chord progressions to teach it, is a great learning tool.
    A million hugs my friends.

  3. Mark WilliamsJan 14, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    The lessons are very helpful and deeply appreciated. So far, I’ve understood everything, but these old hands are struggling to make some of the chords.
    Thanks again.

  4. Eric MJan 14, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    great lesson! Thanks so much for putting this together Dirk!

  5. PedroJan 14, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks very much for the lessons , please add a lesson on quartal harmony on the style of Ed Bickert.

    hugs

  6. DIEGO from ArgentinaJan 14, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you very much. You are awsome. Everything is very usefull in your website. Cheers.

  7. Donald k wilsonJan 14, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Great lesson, in spite of considering myself an intermediate player with decent rhythm and comping chops this lesson is a welcome refresher. It is too easy to slip into lazy or convenient fingerlings and lose track of the (available) alternatives.

    Thanks as usual , great material! Dkw

  8. AntonyJan 14, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Hey great lesson and it was exactly what I needed right now! But I noticed the G6/9 major chord does not contain the 3rd (B) but it does contain the 5th (D). I thought the 3rd was more important than the fifth because it provides the major quality. Is this something we should try to avoid if we can (i.e. by stretching the finger down to barre on the 3rd, 6th & 9th or moving the 5th down 3 frets)? Which voicing would be better for a jazz situation?

    • Matt WarnockJan 14, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks. That’s just a common voicing for that chord on guitar, though it doesn’t have the 3rd. The voicing that’s there is the most common for that shape, but you can add the 3rd in on the 5th string if you like. The problem with that is it tends to sound too muddy when you bring the 3rd in, too many low strings vs. high strings, and it can muddy the sound of the chord. So skipping the 5th string, and the 3rd in this case, solves that problem and still keeps the sense of the chord. Hope that helps.

      • AntonyJan 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm

        Cool that definitely makes sense. Thanks for the quick reply!

  9. TrigJan 14, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Well arranged and good fun. Cheers

  10. Ron DJan 15, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Great lesson…of course, all I KNOW are “easy” jazz chords. LOL!

  11. RolandJan 15, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Thank you for the lessons, they are so helpful. Chords and understanding how to form them are one of the fundamentals of playing Jazz guitar.

  12. GerardJan 15, 2015 at 3:53 am

    Can’t thank you enough for the treasure of putting these together. Blows my mind how good they are and the generosity. Thanks Dirk and all who add!

  13. CameronJan 15, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Great ,just what I needed.

  14. Claudio from Florence (Italy)Jan 15, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you very much. A great lesson. As indeed other. The best site of its kind online certainly.

  15. ERICK (Guatemala City, Guatemala)Jan 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for the Chords, I´ve Been reading many articles and books about music theory, but wasn´t able to get chords. Now, with this excelente chords that you uploaded I have more information for practicing what I have learned. Thank you very much Dirk!

  16. DocStringJan 15, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I can only thank you guys for sharing your knowledge on this challenging discipline of jazz music/guitar in the way that you do. No where have I seen such clarity and structure presented, not to mention the bag full of tips and tricks to make things easier where possible- the essence of any worthwhile instructional site. “FAN”-tastic and well done from a grateful enthusiast at the tip of Africa!

  17. Greg CarterJan 15, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    Excellent tutorial!Thank you.

  18. G.D. CormierJan 15, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Hello,

    You guys are the best, All your courses are very useful to me. Very nice work.

    G.D.

  19. Ronald LokakerJan 23, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Muito, muito bom! Parabéns! Very, Very Good!!!

  20. jamesFeb 7, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    hi can you explain or at least point me in the direction,of how you know on which beat to come in on,on singing/playing a tune.
    if you dont have the sheet music? never understood how you know this and never seen any explaination.
    feel a right dummy having to ask.!

    • Matt WarnockFeb 7, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      Hi James. Good question. It depends on the tune. If there’s a drum intro, or other intro, that can help you count along until the top of the tune starts. If there’s no real intro, then you can start right when the music begins. Not sure if that helps, but it’s the way I would think about it.

  21. DanFeb 8, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Great stuff lad’s, beating through timber in the wood shed.

  22. arthurJun 19, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Only managed to have a very quick look at these last night but looking forward to trying these .. I did try a couple but in latin time .. gorgeous!! More super stuff to learn and add to my guitar vocabulary!! Many thanks.

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