Shell Jazz Guitar Chords (For Beginners)

Shell Chords (aka guide tone chords) are the most basic jazz guitar chords and are essential knowledge for every jazz guitarist. Having a good understanding of shell chords will make it easier for you to learn more complex chords later on.

Shell chords only contain 3 notes:

  1. The 1, also known as the root.
  2. The third: 3 in major and dominant chords, b3 in minor chords.
  3. The seventh: 7 in major chords, b7 in dominant and minor chords.

The third and seventh are the most important notes of a chord because they define if a chord is major, dominant or minor.

Shell jazz guitar chord chart & infographic



How To Use Shell Chords?

Shell chords are often used in a walking bass accompaniment. Here is an example on the standard All The Things You Are:


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All The Things You Are walking bass


Also check out this other chord chart for beginners: 17 Essential Jazz Guitar Chords


The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar 3 eBook Bundle

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64 thoughts on “Shell Jazz Guitar Chords (For Beginners)”

  1. Jim Donovan

    Dirk, Thanks for your great lessons. May be a stupid question, but on the C7 shell section about adding an extra note you show #11, 5, and Bb13. Why is the 5th not an 11th making the chord a C11? The first 5th of that C7 chord is string 5 fret 9. Your depicted 5th is in a higher octave. Isn’t it?

    1. Jim Donovan

      Disregard. It was a stupid question. The C11 extends the 4th (4+7=11), not 5th. A keyboard often helps to answer questions.

  2. Kevin Anderson

    4 on 6 lee ritenours version.
    Can you transcribed his version?

  3. Alex M Merola

    Nice walking bass accompaniment…thanks

  4. Patrick w Yakovich

    I like it!!

    Much less wandering required to find a subject and study it

  5. Dave W

    Great chord info here Dirk, thank you so much for this material. I’m glad I finally found this site. I’ve been away from guitar for a few years, and this site will help immeasurably!

    1. Dirk Laukens

      Thanks for the feedback, Dave! Let me know if you have questions…

  6. Mike C.

    What are you using for software to make the chord/scale diagrams?

  7. Donn

    Right hand needs some licks or anything that will give enough movement with my thumb and index finger to become smoother. Thanks donn

  8. Jeff Mahoeny

    I am brand new to the jazz guitar, but not new to jazz. With this course, I can already see that I have the tools I need to get underway!! THANK YOU!!


  9. Clement britto

    Sir, the lesson was great, easy to understand and to get started with jazz.

    1. Dirk Laukens

      Thanks for the feedback, Clement!

  10. Antoine

    I think you want four flats in “all the things you are” (Ab). Thanks for doing this!

  11. Arthur

    Very, Very helpful,simplier impossible, this is very clear.
    thanks a lot

  12. TYGER

    please i’m anxious to see this book. When will it be ready ?

  13. Vince

    I am studying your intro to jazz blues course and I’m trying to learn chord voicings.
    Can you tell me if your ebook is available. At the end of the above exercise you stated: A note about printing: I realise these big chord charts are hard to print, that’s why I’m compiling them in an ebook for easy printing. I’ll let you know when the ebook is finished


  14. ronert Arrington

    I like the two note power chords. Improvising do we play chords or notes first?

  15. Paul Lavaud

    I am very grateful to you for showing these basic Jazz Chords shapes for beginners, which I did not know. It is indeed powerful stuff. Thank you. This is where I need to begin personally. Learn new chords shapes which I believe will be a good start and also for any individual who wish to learn to play Jazz style. Thank you again.

  16. Lungisa John Williams

    Powerful stuff. Wow. Thank you

  17. Dana

    Great stuff! I just bought three note voicings and beyond, based on your recommendation here, and this lesson is the perfect accompaniment, if you will excuse the pun, to that book. Thank you so much for sharing all this!

  18. Stanley Churchill

    This is my starter, after finger exercises, along with the scale that goes with each shell chord. As a beginning jazz player, this has helped with my understanding of musical structure and also has increased my “feeling” for my fret board. I have also found that it helps with my understanding of what is going on as I learn/practice some of the licks.

    Thanks guys!!!

  19. abol

    Thanks for the shell jazz guitar chords.I am a beginner and this will help me.

  20. Odin

    you are a saint Dirk, thank you so much!

  21. Sunda

    Thanks for sharing your knwoledge for free. it really helps me and God bless you

  22. Teris Martinos

    This was exactly what I was looking for! Thank you man!

  23. griphonii

    Shell chords are exceedingly important in any type of rhythm section for lots of reasons. One, eliminates mush and competition. Three books: George Van Eps, Ted Greene and Carlton Johnson (Freddie Green type).

  24. eric

    As always very interesting and explained in a clear and simple way! tnx

  25. Joey

    Thanks for all the things 😉

  26. kenny

    Hi DIRK,many thanks for the shell chords…i like the simplicity of your lessons,already applying them in my playing,aspecially with chord-melody arrangements….many,many thanks Dirk……..KENNY East London.South Africa…

  27. Warren

    Appreciate your efforts on this subject. Great for me, I can make changes pretty quickly of these simpler shapes. I have hope of actually keeping up with most arrangements.

  28. Chris

    It took me a minute to orient myself – I think standard chord charts are rotated 90 degrees clockwise (so the strings go north/south and low e is left-most).

    Other than that brief confusion on my part, it was really cool! Thank you!

  29. jimm

    Excellent…how come when I learned “Guitar” guitar, no one told me these things. But with Jazz Guitar, you gottta know it ALL! Very cool – very intimidating! Someday I’ll attempt Jazz, for now I’m trying to figure out the CAGED system!

  30. raulz

    Thanks a lot Dirk for this awesome lesson.
    I have a question: If we build 3 note jazz chords (1,3,7),how can we construct the beautiful diminished (m7b5) chords?

    Warm regards and thanks again.


  31. Sharon Kathleen Johnson

    The walking bass guitar example could benefit from being played much more slowly. It’s beautiful but rushed?

  32. Anup Bharvani

    Very very useful info…thanks!!!

  33. Bill

    As always Dirk, great lesson, lessons like this help so much.

  34. David Fernandez

    Dirk, yours is the first online Jazz tutorial that not only tells but SHOWS you how. Starting with your free Jazz Guitar Cord Book and now this shell cords all I can say is a big THANK YOU to you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge. I am an intermediate player (average) who mostly plays by ear who, until three weeks ago did not know what a ll V l meant. But now when I play a cord progression I am delighted to KNOW what I am playing. It is very satisfying and empowering. Also your Jazz Guitar Gazette- Premium is excellent because they’re in bite size pieces and I would recommend this tutorial to anyone out there who’s been looking for a good teacher. The material I have so for will last me for a very long time. Once again thank you.

  35. Ray

    Brilliant lesson Dirk. Just what my 76 year old fingers need, none of those nasty stretches. I appreciate all of your lessons, but for me this is the most useful.

  36. Yinghui Wan

    this is really cool stuff. cause i am from china, and in my country, we don’t have this kind information, thanks for your sharing. cheer up…

  37. Dennis

    Very useful information. Thanks a lot!

  38. Nick Australia

    Hi Dirk
    What’s the chance you can show the chords orientated for left handed players also?
    Thanks for the great work and inspiration to all us beginners . Cheers mate

  39. Loren

    I love these things – use them often. Many of what I’ve been calling “shell chords” are inversions other than 1-3-7, though. _Many_ of them, for example, are 5-3-7. A form that Freddie Green used, and Django and many others, is 3x23xx = C7. The 5th is in the bass, w/no root. Similarly, 5x35xx functions as Dm7, no root, 5th in bass (or F major, 3rd in bass, no root.) And so on.

    I’m just wondering whether a “shell chord,” as you define it, is going to have the 1-7-3 chord tones, in that order…. I realize that this is what you say, but was this intentional?


  40. Silverfoxx

    Hi Dirk
    Thank you for another useful lesson. I like
    the sample on my wife’s favourite song
    “All the Things you are “

  41. Joseph Beggy

    Valuable information. Thanks.

  42. Wilhelm Lutersz

    AMAZING ! You continue to provide exemplary tutorials, especially for beginners. Clear, and concise. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to the e-book.

  43. Mike Meier

    Very nice. Very valuable. I look forward to purchasing the ebook.

  44. Slowfingers

    Dirk- Fantastic lesson! Really great…You are treasure and I hope Belgium appreciates you as much as the Jazz Guitar community does!
    As a beginner, so often jazz lessons are presented, for example: Here is a scale/arpeggio/ solo,or whatever.. and learn it in all keys until you can play it in your sleep, up and down the fretboard and then come back and we’ll go to the next step….
    Ah… um… that might take quite a while…. and who really does this?

    That is why your lesson is effective… its not like this…

  45. Art

    Thank you so much! Wish you were around decades ago. I’ve spent so much money on other books and dvd’s, you are one of the best. There are not many. Keep up the great work.

  46. rob

    Dirk love your lessons and all thanks man ! Rob!

  47. mississippi

    Wow, very nice lesson.

  48. jstringz

    This lesson is very ok, i really love it its really gonna help my jazzy touches

  49. Armando

    Again very clear lesson. Done for a working musician easy to understand, and usefull to apply to the next gig.

    Love your hints.


  50. Willie Byrd

    I would like to purchase a jazz chords and licks on a DVD where how can I buy them on the lead guitar.please contact me back to let me know how.

  51. Avi Jaman

    Obviously a labor of love on your part. KUDOS!

  52. sam

    Thanks for the shell jazz guitar chords.I am a beginner and this will help me.

  53. Larry6string

    Awesome Thanks. I use the major chord voicings over m7 ie Ab over Fm7 and minor chord voicings over the maj 7,ie Gm over Ebmaj7 and also the 3 9 & b7 triads over the dominant chords. I like your use of G#o7 vice C+7. Thanks again Dirk. Larry

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