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:


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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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

  1. Odin

    you are a saint Dirk, thank you so much!

  2. Sunda

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

  3. Teris Martinos

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

  4. 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).

  5. eric

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

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.


  11. Sharon Kathleen Johnson

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

  12. Anup Bharvani

    Very very useful info…thanks!!!

  13. Bill

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top