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Jazz Chord Progressions

 

 

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

 

 

Chord progressions are a succession of chords played one after another and during a specified duration. On this page you'll find the 10 most popular chord progressions in jazz, a list of songs that use similar chord progressions and the jazz guitarists who recorded these songs.

In this lesson you will learn how to recognize these progressions from a Roman Numeral standpoint, allowing you to quickly transpose them to other keys, as well as two different ways to comp through each progression on the guitar.

It's important that you learn to recognize these classic chord progressions and that you practice improvising over them, so grab your axe, turn up your amp and let's dig in to these 10 Must Know Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions!

Jazz Guitar Chord Progression 1 - ii V I Major

iim7 V7 Imaj7 %
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 %

 

The 2 5 1 progression is without any doubt the most popular chord progression in jazz. I'm not going to give you a list with songs that use this progression, since a jazz standard without a II V I is almost unthinkable. Some jazz standard chord progressions are nothing more then a series of II Vs.

It can be found in countless tunes, in all 12 keys, and with many different permutations, both rhythmically and harmonically. For this reason, it is the best place to start when working on solidifying and expanding your jazz guitar progressions repertoire.

Btw, the % symbol means you have to repeat the chord of the previous bar.

 

Here are two examples of how to play this progression in the key of C:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 1

 

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 1a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 2 - Rhythm Changes

Imaj7          vim7 iim7          V7 iiim7          VI7 iim7          V7
Cmaj7        Am7 Dm7         G7 Em7           A7 Dm7         G7

 

This chord progression is the first A of a Rhythm Changes.  'Rhythm changes' are a kind of chord progression that use the same chord changes as 'I've Got Rhythm', a song written by Gershwin in 1930.  People started using this progression to jam on and so many different melodies came into being that use the same chord changes.

 

A list of standards that use this progression:

Song Title Played By
Moose the Mooche Pat Metheny
Shaw Nuff Barney Kessel
Cheek to Cheek George Van Eps
Mean to Me Barney Kessel
Isn't It Romantic Tal Farlow
Long Ago and Far Away Earl Klugh

 

Built around the I-vi-ii-V progression, with a slight variation between the first and second two-bar phrases, this chord progression can be deceptively simple, which is why a lot of guitarists don't dig deep when exploring this progression. But, for those that do lift the hood and explore these changes with a bit more detail, you can learn new and creative ways of outlining these oft-used chords, taking your Rhythm Changes comping to new levels of creativity at the same time.

 

Here are two examples of how to comp through these changes to help get you started:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 2

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 2a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 3 - Descending ii V I

Imaj7 % (iim7 V7)
Cmaj7 % Cm7 F7

 

Imaj7 % (iim7 V7)
Bbmaj7 % Bbm7 Eb7

 

Imaj7
Abmaj7

 

This is also a very common jazz chord progression. Used in tunes such as "How High the Moon" and "Tune Up," descending major ii V I's are a commonly used harmonic device that can prove to be kind of tricky when first learning to navigate these chords.

There are 2 modulations in this progression:

  • The chords start in the key of C major.
  • They modulate to Bb major in the 3rd bar.
  • They modulate again in the 7th bar, this time to Ab major.

 

Song Title Played By
How High the Moon Joe Pass
Tune Up Wes Montgomery
Cherokee Tal Farlow
Joy Spring Joe Pass
One Note Samba Charlie Byrd
Solar Pat Metheny

 

When faced with descending harmonic patterns such as this, many of us simply repeat the same chords down two frets for each new key. While this can work, more advanced players will find ways to ascend up the neck as the chord progression descends, providing a nice harmonic contrast during these chords.

 

Here are two examples of how you could practice comping through these changes:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 3

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 3a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 4 - Dim7 Passing Chords

Imaj7            #I°7 iim7           #II°7 iiim7          VI7
Cmaj7          C#°7 Dm7          D#°7 Em7           A7

 

Heard in tunes such as "Cherokee," the use of Dim7 passing tones to connect the Imaj7 and iim7 chords, as well as the iim7 and iiim7 chords, in any chord progression are a commonly used and important harmonic device that can spice up the playing of any jazz guitarist.

Dim7 chords not only add harmonic tension to this progression, but the chromatic bass line helps to build tension, which is then resolved to the iim7 and iiim7 chords in the following downbeats.

 

Song Title Played By
Cherokee Tal Farlow
Have You Met Miss Jones Kenny Burrell
Joy Spring Joe Pass
But Beautiful Lenny Breau
Ain't Misbehavin' Django Reinhardt

 

To get you started, here are two ways that you could work on comping these important chords in your practice routine:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 4

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 4a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 5 - Take the A Train

Imaj7 % II7 %
Cmaj7 % D7 %

 

iim7 V7 Imaj7 %
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 %

 

These chords, which feature the cool-sounding and fun to play II7 chord, are mostly associated with the classic Ellington track "Take the A Train."

The movement from Imaj7 to II7 to iim7 is one that you will see in many different jazz guitar tunes, including the classic Bossa Nova track "Girl From Ipanema," and is therefore worth working on from both a comping and blowing standpoint.

 

Song Title Played By
Take the 'A' Train George Benson
The Girl from Ipanema Charlie Byrd
Desafinado Charlie Byrd
Mood Indigo Kenny Burrell

 

Here are two ways that you can work on these chords in the woodshed to help get them under your fingers and in your ears:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 5

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 5a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 6 - I to IV

Imaj7 (iim7          V7) IVmaj7
Cmaj7 Gm7          C7 Fmaj7

 

For anyone that has played the blues, you know that the movement from a I chord to a IV chord is a commonly heard sound in the jazz-guitar idiom. While you may be most familiar with this progression from a jazz-blues standpoint, you can also apply this progression to a major key situation such as the one seen in the examples below.

 

Song Title Played By
Satin Doll Tal Farlow
Cherokee Tal Farlow
Joy Spring Joe Pass
Have You Met Miss Jones Kenny Burrell
There Will Never Be Another You George Benson

 

Working on these two examples, in various keys, will help get this important sound into your ears and under your fingers, allowing you to confidently bring these changes to your jam sessions and gigs in no time:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 6

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 6a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 7 - IV to iv

Imaj7 I7 IVmaj7 ivm7
Cmaj7 C7 Fmaj7 Fm7

 

iiim7VI7 iim7V7 Imaj7
Em7A7 Dm7G7 Cmaj7

 

Used by countless jazz composers, compers and improvisers, as well as many pop musicians such as the Beatles to name buy one band, the IV to iv harmonic movement is one that every jazz guitarist needs to have under their fingers from both a comping and soloing standpoint.

The key to learning to play and hear this progression, is the movement from the IVmaj7 to the ivm7 chord.

 

Song Title Played By
Moose the Mooche Pat Metheny
Shaw Nuff Barney Kessel
All of Me George Benson
All the Things You Are Pat Metheny
There Will Never Be Another You George Benson

 

Here are a few ways that you could comp through this progression to help get you started:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 7

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 7a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 8 - Rhythm Changes Bridge (in Bb major)

III7 VI7 II7 V7
D7 G7 C7 F7

 

As we saw earlier, Rhythm Changes is a tune that is full of classic sounding, and must-know, chord progressions. Based off of the cycle of 5ths, the bridge to Rhythm Changes features four 7th chords moving up by a 4th with each new chord in the progression. Though there are only four chords, these changes can be tricky to master, and therefore are worth exploring.

To help you get started, here are a couple ways that you could practice playing the bridge to Rhythm Changes:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 8

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 8a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 9 - ii V I Minor

iim7b5 V7 im7 %
Dm7b5 G7 Cm7 %

 

Just like it's major-key cousin, the minor ii V I progression is found in countless tunes from many different composers and improvisers.

Featuring the ever-tricky 7alt chord, this progression can be a bit tougher to master than the major-key version we say earlier, which is why it's important to continue to develop your minor ii V I vocabulary even for more experienced players.

 

Here are a couple of examples to help you get started with comping through this important group of 3 chords:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 9

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 9a

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 10 - Stray Cat Strut

im7 im7/b7 bVI7 V7
Cm7 Cm7/Bb Ab7 G7

 

Heard in the classic tune "Stray Cat Strut," this minor-key turnaround is one that every jazz guitarist should have under their fingers. With a distinctive bass line, simple yet effective harmonic movement, and a swinging feel, these four chords can add spice to any plain minor-turnaround from a soloing or comping perspective.

 

To get you started, here are two ways that you could comp through this important minor-key turnaround:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 10

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 10a

 

 

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