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Jazz Guitar Chord Theory (part 5)

Now you know how to find the notes of a chord, but how do you translate this to the guitar?







For starters: here are 2 chord charts that will help you in the process.


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Chord Charts

The first thing you need to know is that not every chord tone is equally important:
  • 3 and 7 are the important notes of a chord because they decide the chord type. They are also important for voice leading.
  • The 1 is the least important note, because it is usually played by the bass player.
  • The 5 is not so important either and can be disturbing sometimes.
  • Tensions add color and interest to a chord, so it's preferable to use tensions instead of 1 and 5.

Another thing you need to know is that 1 half step equals one fret on the guitar.


Here's an example with chord diagrams, we'll start with a C: C E G (1 3 5)

Let's have a look at the chord diagram:

Guitar Chrod Chart: C

X15135:  C

from left to right (from low E string to high E string) we have:

  • X : the low E-string is not played
  • 1 : the 1 or root of the chord is played on the A-string
  • 5 : the 5th of the chord is played on the D-string
  • 1 : again the root, but now on the G-string
  • 3 : the third is played on the B-string
  • 5 : the 5th is played again, but this time on the high E-string

You see that it is ok to duplicate chord tones, like the 1 and the 5 in our example, but it may sound a bit sluggish.


This chord doesn't sound very jazzy though, so let's spice it up a bit and make it a Cmaj7 (1 3 5 7) by replacing the 1 on the G-string with the 7:


Guitar Chord Chart: Cmaj7

X15735:  Cmaj7

Instead of duplicating the root on the G-string, we exchanged it for the 7 of the chord.


Now let's add some color, let's make it a Cmaj9 chord (1 3 5 7 9):

Guitar Chord Chart: Cmaj9

X1379X:  Cmaj9

We exchanged the 5th on the D-string for the 3rd and we changed the 3rd on the B-string to a 9.

This Cmaj9 would be a nice chord if you're playing bossa nova, solo guitar or in duo setting, but if you play with a bass player and you don't want to get in his way, it's better to omit the root and to play on the higher strings only:


Guitar Chord Chart: Cmaj9/E

XX3795:  Cmaj9/E

Chord Inversions

Instead of playing the root of the chord, we now play the 5th on the high E-string.

A chord like this is called a chord inversion: a chord that doesn't have the root in the bass. There are three types of chord inversions:

  • First inversion: the 3rd in the bass.
  • Second inversion: the 5th in the bass.
  • Third inversion: the 7th in the bass.

In our example we have a Cmaj9 chord with the 3rd (E) in the bass, notated like this: Cmaj9/E

What do you need to do if you want to make this chord dominant? Simple, just look at the chord formulas: the 7 has to go a half step down (major is 1 3 5 7, dominant is 1 3 5 b7).

Have a look at the chord diagram, the b on the g-string has to become a b flat. The result is the first inversion of C9: C9/E

Guitar Chord Chart: C9/E

XX3b795:  C9/E


And if we want to make this chord minor? Starting from the dominant chord we have to lower the 3rd a half step (dominant is 1 3 5 b7, minor is 1 b3 5 b7). On the guitar this means whe have to lower the e note on the d-string half a step to an e flat. The result is the first inversion of Cm9: Cm9/E

Guitar Chord Chart: Cm9/E

XXb3b795:  Cm9/Eb


A great tool to help you with the constuction of guitar chords is the Guitar Chord Finder

Chord Construction Quiz

To conclude our tutorial I'll give you some chord construction exercises. Find the notes of the following chords (the solutions are on the next page):

For example:  Fm7: F Ab C Eb

Now it's your turn:

  • Gm7:
  • Abmaj7:
  • C#maj7:
  • A9sus4:
  • B7:
  • Edim7:
  • Gdim7:
  • D7b9:
  • D#m7b5:
  • Dmaj7:

  Part 6 of jazz guitar chord theory: solutions to the chord exercises



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