17 Easy Jazz Guitar Chords For Beginners

Jazz guitar chords can be complicated and as a beginner, it’s hard to know where to start. When first learning how to play jazz chords, many of us are intimidated by their sounds and shapes. But, jazz chords don’t have to be difficult to get under your fingers if you begin with the right shapes. The chord chart in this lesson features the 17 chord shapes that are essential when learning how to play jazz guitar.

This lesson is designed to introduce you to the various families of jazz guitar chords, with a focus on important, but easy-to-play shapes.

By studying the basic jazz 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.

 

What Are Jazz Chords?

This is a tough question to ask, as many chords associated with jazz are also found in pop, classical, rock, blues, and other musical genres.

Jazz chords are shapes that use at least 4 notes in their construction. These are chords that go beyond the 3-note triad and include the 7th, 9th, 11th, and/or 13th.

If you want to play a major chord in rock, you would normally just play the major triad, G for example.

If you want to play a major chord in jazz, you would play Gmaj7, G6, G6/9, or another major chord that extends beyond the major triads that are used as rock guitar chords.

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.

Here are the interval formulas for the five chord types you will be learning first:

  • Major 7th chords: 1 3 5 7
  • Dominant 7th chords: 1 3 5 b7
  • Minor 7th chords: 1 b3 5 b7
  • Half-Diminished 7th chords: 1 b3 b5 b7
  • Diminished 7th chords: 1 b3 b5 bb7

These formulas are explained in more detail in our chord theory tutorial, but knowing them isn’t a must at this time. You can learn jazz without knowing too much theory, although music theory can be a huge time-saver for learning jazz guitar.

Start by learning the basic chords and chord progressions below, and then keep working on chord theory, as it will be covered in other guitar lessons.

How to Read Chord Diagrams?

The red circle represents the root note (aka 1 or bass note) of the chord. The numbers in the black circles are the other chord tones.

On the chord charts below, all bass notes are C.

By moving these chord shapes up or down the guitar neck, you get other chords of the same type.

For example: move the chord shape of Cmaj7 two frets higher and it becomes a Dmaj7.

Movable guitar chords

The number underneath the chord diagram is the fret number.

In the example above, the starting fret is the 7th fret. This means you put your finger on the 8th fret on the lowest string, a finger on the 9th fret of the D-string, a finger on the 9th fret of the G-string, and finally a finger on the 8th fret of the B-string.

The numbers at the right side of each chord diagram indicate which fingers to use to fret the chord with your left hand.

Guitar chord fingerings
The x symbols at the left side of the chord indicate that those strings are not to be played. This means most of the chords in these chord charts cannot be strummed but must be played fingerstyle, with the thumb and first three fingers of your right hand.

Notice how each chord type only changes one note compared to the next chord type. This can help you memorize the chords and relate them to one another.

For example: Cmaj7 (first shape) and C7 (second shape) only have one different note (the flat 7). The same goes for C7 and Cm7 (the minor 3rd).

Hear how changing these notes alters the chord quality.

Guitar chord types

Jazz Guitar Chord Charts

The following chord charts show you the easy jazz chords laid out on the fretboard for you to play through and use as a reference guide for further study.

These must-know chord voicings are essential for any beginning jazz guitarist and the minimum requirement to learn jazz standards. If you memorize every chord shape and practice them well, you will be able to play the chord changes of most jazz standards.

Learning jazz chords is best done by playing songs and practicing the chord progression exercises that are below the jazz chord chart. When you have these exercises under your fingers, start playing other chord progressions.

 

Jazz Chords with the Root Note on the 6th String

Jazz guitar chords with root on the 6th string

 

Jazz Chords with the Root Note on the 5th String

Jazz guitar chords with root on the 5th string

 

Jazz Chords with the Root Note on the 4th String

Jazz guitar chords with root on the 4th string

Click here to download these chord charts as an infographic.

How To Practice Jazz Guitar Chords?

The most fun and effective way to practice jazz guitar chords is playing chord progressions and jazz standards.

Below are four exercises that will get these beginner guitar chords under your fingers.

 

Jazz Guitar Chords Exercise 1 – Kenny Burrell

This vamp in the style of Kenny Burrell is a good exercise to practice minor and major 7 chords.

In this exercise, you will learn three common chords, beginning with F9 (bar 17):

F9 chord

The next two are E7#9 and E7b9, which are often played in succession (bar 19 and 20):

E7 altered chords

 

Minor Blues Jazz Guitar Vamp in the Style of Kenny Burrell

 

Kenny Burrell Minor Blues Chords Vamp

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chords Exercise 2 – Diminished Chords

This chord progression exercise introduces a new, but common diminished chord shape (here with G# as the root):

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progression Exercise

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Exercise 2

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chords Exercise 3

in this exercise, you will be playing a series of 2 5 1 progressions using a simple rhythm so you can concentrate on the chords.

 

Backing Track

Listen & Play Along

Beginner chords example 1

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Exercise 4 – Walking Bass

This exercise combines the beginner guitar chords from above with a walking bass line.

 

Rhythm Track

Listen & Play Along

Beginner chords example 2

 

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Exercise 5

This chord exercise over a common chord progression includes diminished chords.

Backing Track

Listen & Play Along

Beginner chords example 3

 

More Easy Jazz Guitar Chords

When you’re ready with the 17 chords from the chord charts above, it’s time to learn some more chord shapes and chord types.

 

Major 7th Chords

Here is a chord chart with 9 major chord voicings, 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 Guitar Chords - Major Chord Chart

 

Dominant 7th Chords

You will now move on to working on dominant jazz chords, which will focus on 7, 9, and 13th chord shapes.

Some of these chord shapes you will already know as they are common blues guitar chords.

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 Guitar Chords - Dominant Chord Chart

 

Minor 7th Chords

In this section, you will work on minor jazz guitar 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 Guitar Chords - Minor Chord Chart

 

Minor 7b5 Chords (aka Half-Diminished Chords)

The next group of chords focuses on minor 7b5 chords, also called half-diminished chords and written m7b5.

Because there is only one easy shape per string set for these chords, you will only need to learn 3 m7b5 voicings.

Half diminished chords are used as the iim7b5 chord in a minor key ii-V progression.

 

Easy Jazz Guitar Chords - Half Diminished Chord Chart

 

Diminished 7th Chords

Diminished chords are often used as passing chords, such as in the chord progression Imaj7-#Idim7-iim7.

They can also be used in place of a 7b9 chord, such as playing C#dim7 instead of A7b9.

 

Easy Jazz Guitar Chords - Diminished Chord Chart

 

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. 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.

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 Guitar Chords - Altered Dominant Chord Chart

Major 2-5-1 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 jazz progressions.

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 Along

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 Along

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 Along

easy jazz chords example 3

Minor 2-5-1 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 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 Along

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 Along

easy jazz chords example 5

 

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

 

Listen & Play Along

easy jazz chords example 6

 

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.

If you want to learn how to play jazz guitar chords step-by-step, check out our best-selling eBook, The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords.

 

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

 

 
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204 thoughts on “17 Easy Jazz Guitar Chords For Beginners”

  1. Alex

    Thanks a lot, this is seriously good and probably the best stuff I found over all internet for beginners. I myself as a blues/rock guitar player for over 15 years couldn’t benefit more to expand my horizons with all this great information from your blog and pdf lessons. Thank you sir, you’re awesome Dirk. Cheers!

  2. Richard

    What a great lesson, such an excellent way to learn chords and progressions. Exactly what I am looking for. Spent most of the evening going through the progressions. Your lessons are super, keep em comming 🙂

  3. pedro

    saludos cordiales,por favor no se ingles tiene alguna herramienta para tradusir al español,gracias aprecio su atencion.

  4. Ogagaoghene

    Do the books come with CDs for each of the exercises given in the books?

  5. Babalawo

    Are these lessons you post included in the Jazz courses you are selling?

    1. Matt Warnock

      Hey, no there are similar lessons but all of our eBooks are unique content only available in those books. cheers.

  6. Sunnydick

    Please post more of this to my email. Its really helpful

  7. ROCKY G

    Hey Dirk I’m a 70 yr old white head and learning to jazz it up. I really appreaciate the tips and tricks THANKS BIG TIME.

  8. Nate

    I’m just starting out and have found this lesson to be a great tool to get me learning some chords without having to sit and just memorize chord charts! Would you more experienced guys out there recomend using a pick or finger picking when starting out with jazz guitar. I feel like the above exercises are easier with fingers, but I feel like most jazz guitarists use a pick. What are your thoughts? I have a background in guitar, just new to jazz.

    1. Michael

      Many jazz guitarist use finger style. Suggest a listen to the late Charlie Byrd as a premier example.

  9. Steve Meyer

    Hi Dirk,
    This makes me want to come back for more! Entertaining good stuff.
    Steve

  10. arthur

    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.

  11. doug garceau

    Great lesson on comping too.I’ve played these chords for years and you still came up with a voicing I haven’t used.Bravo!

  12. simon.b

    Great lesson once again – the backing tracks are also good for practising solo’s too

  13. Christopher John Bridgman

    Wearing my accessibility ‘hat’ I am always on the look-out for praiseworthy sites that present clear, easy to read and unambiguous content. This particular chord chart is so well presented (even to the extent of making the orientation of the chord windows obvious by representing the thickness of the strings) that I would like to offer you a ‘pat on the back’ for the thought that went into assembling the page not only for clear-sighted but also for visually impaired prospective users. The fact that the lesson is probably the bet introduction to jazz chording I have found on the Internet is a welcome bonus!

  14. Les Copeland

    You guys are wonderful. the formats that you present are all so easy to understand and laid out in such a logical manner. I look forward to every Email i recieve from you. It is a joy! Keep up the excellent work. All the best to you from Vernon British Columbia Canada

  15. phume

    your input to the jazz guitar world Dirk is highly appreciatable, but for us in the part of the world with no easy access on the internet, does not offer much help.

  16. Germano

    Proprio quello di cui avevo bisogno…

  17. Dan

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

  18. james

    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.!

    1. Matt Warnock

      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.

  19. Bob

    Thanks Dirk
    This is a lesson I really needed to start playing jazz.
    By the way, I come from the Dallas area & we have another Dirk here (Mavericks).

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