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