Joe Pass Chords – Essential Lines and Concepts

Joe Pass is often considered as the greatest jazz guitarist who ever lived. The ability to play in solo, duo, and ensembles with ease, as well as move between single notes, bass lines, and chords, made him a true virtuoso. When studying his playing, one concept that is essential to spend time on is Joe Pass’ chord concepts.

By studying classic Joe Pass chords and chord phrases, as well as breaking down the concepts behind those lines, you will begin to bring a Joe Pass vibe to your own jazz harmony.

In this lesson, you’ll break down 5 classic Joe Pass chord licks, analyze the concepts behind those licks, and learn how you can take these lines and concepts into your own comping and chord soloing.

How to Practice Joe Pass Chords

As well as learning the Joe Pass chord licks below, you will want to take them further in order to get the most out of your studies with this material.

To help you dig deep into these lines and the concepts behind them, here are six ways that you can practice Joe Pass chords:

• Learn the lines in the given key.
• Move the lines to other keys.
• Apply the lines to your comping/chord soloing over standards.
• Work the lines at various tempos.
• Apply the concepts behind each line to your playing.
• Write your own lines using the concepts of each example.


Joe Pass Chords 1

This first Joe Pass chord line features a classic walk-up phrase over a ii V I chord progression in F major.

The chords walk up both diatonic and chromatic shapes, creating interest and movement in the line over the common chord progression.

Check out the following chords:

• Bbmaj7 is used as a rootless Gm9 chord
• Bdim7 is used as a passing chord between Bbmaj7 and C7
• Em11b5 is used as a rootless C13 chord
• Gdim7 is used as a rootless C7b9 chord


As you work through these chord lines, take any concept or sub that you like, such as playing Bbmaj7 over Gm7, and expand upon that chord concept.


Listen & Play Along

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Joe Pass Chords 2

In this next chord phrase, you’ll see diatonic chords used for each change in the progression. A typical Joe Pass bassline and rhythm are used to create interest.

The line uses chromatic notes to connect the chord you’re on, to the next chord in the progression in a typical Joe Pass fashion.

You can see an example of this with the C# connecting the Fmaj7 to D7alt chord in the first bar of the line.

The 8th-quarter-8th rhythm for each chord is something you’ll find in Joe’s playing, especially his solo guitar output.


Listen & Play Along

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Joe Pass Chords 3

In this chord phrase, you’ll use a very typical concept that Joe uses to outline minor ii V I chord progressions.

The first chord is Dm7b5, and Joe plays Dm7b5 for that chord change.

Then, over G7alt, you move the Dm7b5 chord up a minor 3rd to Fm7b5.

When doing so, you get the following intervals:


Fm7b5 Chord F Ab B Eb
1 b3 b5 b7
Fm7b5 Over G7alt F Ab B Eb
b7 b9 3 b13


From there you move down to Ebmaj7 over Cm7, creating a rootless Cm9 chord in the process.

If this concept is a bit over your head for now, no worries, learn the phrase and practice applying it to your comping and chord-soloing.

If you’re able to grasp the concept with confidence, practice applying it to your comping and chord soloing over jazz standards.


Listen & Play Along

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Joe Pass Chords 4

Another common Joe Pass rhythm is the triplet, with the bass notes on the first and last note of the triplet and the chord placed on the middle beat.

You can see an example of this over a descending ending in F major below.

Though you might not use this progression very often, you can take the concept out of this line and apply it to your playing, especially when ending a tune.

After you’ve learned the example, take any tune you’re working on and play each chord with the triplet bass-chord-bass rhythm to apply this concept to other musical situations.


Listen & Play Along

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Joe Pass Chords 5

This final Joe Pass chord example is a more advanced ii V I phrase in C major.

Take your time with this line, as it will pose some technical challenges.

Notice the rising chords in the first two beats, followed by the repeated chords to finish out the line.

Playing a chord twice, such as from the second half of bar 1 to the second half of bar 2, is characteristic of Joe’s playing and something you can take into your own comping and chord soloing ideas.


Listen & Play Along

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Do you have questions or feedback? Let us know by leaving a comment below…


The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

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35 thoughts on “Joe Pass Chords – Essential Lines and Concepts”

  1. Jeffrey Cook

    Met pass at Dante’s in 71, finally got him to sit down with me after a year of begging whenever he played on Monday, guitar night at Dante’s. I was 19 and helped him around his Van Nuys home from time to time for lessons.
    His early published chord books displayed chords completely out of context and he told me they were useless, always keep the root, fifth or third in the bottom unless you’re walking a phrase through a chord melody.
    He also said, “There’s no such thing as a bad note.”

  2. Ken

    I’m still amazed nobody made a book on just Joe Pass chord phrases….theres a millon books on lines…but we need Joe pass chord phrases

  3. John

    I’ve been following you for years. Best site on the internet for jazz. Thanks for the knowledge.

  4. Dona

    My teacher turned me onto this site. He’s uh lets say “very picky” when it comes to other lessons and transcriptions. This is by far the most generous and best jazz guitar site online.Just wanted to say thanks for all of these free wonderful lessons.

    1. Dirk Laukens

      Hi Dona, that’s a nice compliment, thanks!

  5. Jim Caudill

    I was working in a guitar booth at the NAMM show in Anaheim in ’92 (’93?), across from the D’Aquisto booth. Joe and Jimmy D. were great friends, and as Joe came down the aisle to Jimmy’s booth, heard me playing all by my lonesome. He sat down, grabbed a guitar, and we played Stompin’ At The Savoy! Well, he played and I shook, would be more accurate. He said, “sounds good, man”. He could have embarrassed me at any minute, but he was only interested in the music. It was obvious his health was failing by then. What a memory!

  6. JUAN

    excelente., gracias por tanta ayuda Juan

  7. Paul JM

    Great lesson, Dirk. Thank you again. Though I have to admit, some of the 4 fret stretches (e.g. Em11b5) are a little tough for me!

  8. danilo angulo

    Muy interesante este material que me han enviado. Muy util para el estudio. Estoy Agradecido.

  9. Paul

    I think I wrote “he can’t play well any more” and I meant to sy I csn’t

  10. Paul

    He’s great — but can’t play well any more so I can’t do it

  11. Frank


    Working so beautifully for vocal accompaniment.

    Dank je wel.

  12. JTLA

    Great presentation and series for all aspiring guitar players. There are so many great guitar players and styles and even more teachers and types of presentations since the
    internet joined the game. Your selections are compact, well illustrated and perfect for assimilating the history of the jazz sound. Thanks for your contribution in helping me
    “channel’ what he knew, in search for my own style.

  13. ROCKY G

    I am one of the lucky ones who was able to catch JOE PASS live 3 times in concert. once up close and personal in a very small venue that will last in my memory cells after all else has faded away. I really enjoy your Joe Pass lessons. Keep them coming.

  14. ron cardoza

    i really enjoy your lesson.THANKS.what i would like to see is grid diagram on the’illustrate easier and can memorize better.

  15. Rodger Clemons

    Another outstanding effort Dirk. Thanks so much for the lessons. Joe Pass was an amazing musician, I saw him once in Okla City a long time ago. You could have heard a pin drop when he was playing. Needless to say he was fantastic that night. I’ll never forget it.

    1. Dave T

      I saw Joe Pass in Tokyo in the late 70s to a packed auditorium. When he came out on stage it was just him, his guitar and a small amp. When he played the audience was 100 percent attentive. Between songs the applause was as if it was his last song of the night. It was a moving experience, where I understood how a single person, albeit virtuoso, can command a large audience. I saw him a second time on my college campus in ’84; the experience was just the opposite. The room was noisy and gave him no respect. I am ashamed to this day that I did not stand up and call the room to order. I felt bad for him… I don’t know why he didn’t pack up and call it a day.

  16. Richard

    Thanks so much for your online lessons and instructional interactive e-books. I am a much better jazz guitarist because of them and enjoy all your lessons immensely.

  17. Greg

    In example 3, Fm7b5 over G7alt, which is more correct, to think of the Eb as a b13 or #5?

    1. Matt Warnock

      Hey Greg. Either will work. I prefer b13, but that’s just how I visualize that chord. Go with what works for you. Cheers.

  18. Larry

    Thank you very much for the wonderful lesson….I am going to print it and try to assimilate it into my playing…Larry (Ireland)

  19. Júnior

    Very nice….
    Thank you, dude

  20. Manlio

    Le tue lezioni mi aiutano tantissimo nella mia conoscenza dello strumento e del suo linguaggio. Grazie Matt.

  21. Jonathan

    Great lesson! I’m obsessed with Joe’s playing, and you really present his “good stuff” so pedagogical (his own books is quite messy). I love the way he uses the most common chord voicings to build this panorama of harmony and colour. Genius, to say the least!

  22. Angelo Fraietta

    Very nice. Keep up the good work

  23. Steve Buzalsky

    Very nice indeed, a Joe Pass lesson book would be a wonderful addition to your lesson collection……hint hint!!

    Thanks very much!

  24. Steve

    You know, Joe pass certainly didn’t invent the cords, but he sure could put them together like no other guitar player.

  25. Miguel Angel

    Fantastic! Thank you!

  26. Ross

    This is excellent help. Top quality and totally authentic.

    Please keep this standard a coming.

    I’ll be checking the site for more of this quality.

    Thank you.

  27. Brian

    For me this lesson fills in some blanks, for sure. Such a good teaching method you guys have. Thanks much. I will look for ways to repay the favor.

  28. Harry

    I’ve been looking for this kind of sound. Thanks

  29. Jeffrey

    Very, very nice! Thank you!

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