Jazz Chord Progressions

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.

The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary

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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 into these 10 must-know jazz guitar chord progressions!

Here’s a list of the 10 jazz chord progressions in this lesson:

 

Chord Progression List

  1. Major ii V I – The most common progression in jazz
  2. Rhythm Changes A – From the Gershwin song I’ve Got Rhythm
  3. Descending ii V Is – 2-5-1 progression with descending modulation
  4. Diminished 7 Passing Chords – Diminished chords used to connect diatonic chords
  5. Take The A Train Changes – With the II7, that is also used in Girl From Ipanema
  6. I to IV – 2-5 progression to the IV, often used in a jazz blues
  7. IV to IVm – The IV minor chord is used in countless standards as well as pop songs
  8. Rhythm Changes Bridge – Progression based on the cycle of fifths
  9. Minor ii V I – The minor version of the famous ii V I
  10. Stray Cat Strut – A famous minor-key turnaround

 

Easy Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions
 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progression 1 – ii V I Major

 

Dm7G7Cmaj7%
iim7V7Imaj7%

 

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 of 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 than 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

 

Cmaj7 Am7Dm7 G7Em7 A7Dm7 G7
Imaj7 vim7iim7 V7iiim7 VI7iim7 V7

 

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 TitlePlayed By
Moose the MoochePat Metheny
Shaw NuffBarney Kessel
Cheek to CheekGeorge Van Eps
Mean to MeBarney Kessel
Isn’t It RomanticTal Farlow
Long Ago and Far AwayEarl 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. This 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 often-used chords, taking your Rhythm Changes comping to new levels of creativity.

 

Here are two examples of how to play 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

 

Cmaj7%Cm7F7
Imaj7%(iim7V7)

 

Bbmaj7%Bbm7Eb7
Imaj7%(iim7V7)

 

Abmaj7%Abm7Db7
Imaj7%(iim7V7)

 

This is also a very common jazz chord progression. Used in tunes such as “How High the Moon” and “Tune Up,” descending major 2-5-1s 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 TitlePlayed By
How High the MoonJoe Pass
Tune UpWes Montgomery
CherokeeTal Farlow
Joy SpringJoe Pass
One Note SambaCharlie Byrd
SolarPat 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

 

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

 

Heard in tunes such as “Cherokee,” the use of diminished 7 passing tones to connect the Imaj7 and iim7 chords, as well as the iim7 and iiim7 chords, in any chord progression is 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 TitlePlayed By
CherokeeTal Farlow
Have You Met Miss JonesKenny Burrell
Joy SpringJoe Pass
But BeautifulLenny Breau
Ain’t Misbehavin’Django Reinhardt

 

To get you started, here are two ways that you can work on comping these important chords:

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 4

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 4a

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 5 – Take the A Train

 

Cmaj7%D7%
Imaj7%II7%

 

Dm7G7Cmaj7%
iim7V7Imaj7%

 

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 The Girl From Ipanema, and is therefore worth working on from both a comping and soloing standpoint.

 

Song TitlePlayed By
Take the ‘A’ TrainGeorge Benson
The Girl from IpanemaCharlie Byrd
DesafinadoCharlie Byrd
Mood IndigoKenny Burrell

 

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

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 5

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 5a

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 6 – I to IV

 

Cmaj7Gm7 C7Fmaj7
Imaj7(iim7 V7)IVmaj7

 

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 TitlePlayed By
Satin DollTal Farlow
CherokeeTal Farlow
Joy SpringJoe Pass
Have You Met Miss JonesKenny Burrell
There Will Never Be Another YouGeorge 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 Minor

 

Cmaj7C7Fmaj7Fm7
Imaj7I7IVmaj7ivm7

 

Em7A7Dm7G7Cmaj7%
iiim7VI7iim7V7Imaj7%

 

Used by countless jazz composers and improvisers, as well as many pop musicians such as the Beatles, the IV (major) to iv (minor) harmonic movement is one that every jazz guitarist needs to have under his 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 TitlePlayed By
Moose the MoochePat Metheny
Shaw NuffBarney Kessel
All of MeGeorge Benson
All the Things You ArePat Metheny
There Will Never Be Another YouGeorge 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

 

D7G7C7F7
III7VI7II7V7

 

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 of ways that you can practice playing the bridge to Rhythm Changes (in Bb major):

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 8

 

 

Jazz guitar chord progression 8a

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 9 – ii V I Minor

 

Dm7b5G7Cm7%
iim7b5V7im7%

 

Just like its 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 tougher to master than the major-key version we saw 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

 

Cm7 Cm7/BbAb7 G7
im7 im7/b7bVI7 V7

 

Heard in the classic tune “Stray Cat Strut,” this minor-key turnaround is one that every jazz guitarist should have under his 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.

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

 

 

Download this lesson as a PDF:

PDF DownloadJazz Guitar Chord Progressions PDF

 

 

Easy Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions

  • Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS says:

    I am not sure if some readers have heard of DON CARLO GESUALDO (a very chromatic composer from the Renaissance period).
    Try improvising on this chord progression: Emajor7-Cminor7-Gmajor7-Efalt minor7 etc…
    I composed my own jazz song using this idea (JUNE IN STRANGEVILLE).

  • wb says:

    in this progression…

    Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 3 – Descending ii V I

    Cmaj7 % Cm7 F7
    Imaj7 % (iim7 V7)

    Bbmaj7 % Bbm7 Eb7
    Imaj7 % (iim7 V7)

    Abmaj7 % Abm7 Db7
    Imaj7 % (iim7 V7)

    the V7 chords are actually the IV7 chord listed and in the progressions. curious if that is a typo or a “chord substitution” i read about. i’m a beginner.

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi WB, Cm7-F7 is the ii V of Bbmaj7. If you count up from Bbmaj7 you’ll notice that the F7 comes on the 5th step. The same goes for the following ii Vs.

  • Elvic Kongolo Birkebein says:

    Hi! what tempo are you using? 🙂

  • Stamatiskap says:

    Guys…I am thrill by the work you post and give to any of us!
    (Guitarist from Athens Greece!)

  • Jonny says:

    I’m subscribed to your newsletter but can’t work out how to get this lesson in printable pdf like you say is poss. Would welcome any advice,

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Jonny, at the bottom of the lesson is a “Print & PDF” button.

  • inlandbott says:

    Hi,

    I’ve noticed that when referring to the II V I Minor progression that the “one” chord is not denoted as a minor roman numeral. Shouldn’t it be
    II V i?

    I purchased your “Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords” PDF and am working through that book and have noticed the same inconsistencies. Most of the time the one chord is denoted with a “I” and sometimes with a “i”, e.g., pages 162 and 163, respectively. Would you mind clarifying when you have a chance?

    thnx!

  • Greg DiGiorgio says:

    Wow, oh, wow Dirk. Thanks again!!!

  • rolo santillan says:

    genial

  • Carlos says:

    hi there, i am wondering in the sixth progression ( I to IV), which i suppose the iim7 acts as a passing chord so i just let it be..

    I was thinking if it was a mistake or maybe it’s possible both ways, because it appears as I iim7 V7 IV and instead of G7 the progression plays C7 which will be I7 .

    I will be glad if someone can resolve my answers or otherwise if an error exists which one is the correct way of playing that progression?

    Thanks in advance

    • Raz Elmaleh says:

      I was also confused at first, and thought there’s some mistake. Then I noticed that in the second bar, the iim7 and V7 are in parentheses, and understood: they act as a II + V relative to the *final* chord, of IV. Relative to the initial chord (Imaj7), they would in fact be a vm7 and I7.

  • Ralph Cox says:

    Look forward to learning from the lessons.

  • Aidan Gribbin says:

    Superbly comprehensive guys. Thank you so much.

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