Take the A Train Jazz Guitar Chord Study

When learning how to comp over ii V I chord progressions, many of us struggle when taking exercises and chord shapes that we’ve learned in our technical workout and apply these ideas to a practical, tune-based situation. One of the best tunes that you can use when transplanting chords and comping concepts from the technical to comping side or your playing is Take the A Train.

With long chord changes, mostly one or more bar long each, and a focus on only a few keys throughout the song, Take the A Train provides a nice bridge progression to connect your technical and practical comping exercises.

In order to provide an example of how you could apply common chord shapes and comping concepts to this tune, below you will find a one-chorus chord study over the chord changes to Take the A Train.

This chord study features common shapes such as drop 2, drop 3 and 4th voicings, as well as popular comping concepts such as diatonic chord substitutions and chromatic approach notes.

Dig into this chord study and when you have it under your fingers, try working out your own etude using the concepts found in the example below as you explore these ideas further in your own comping workout.

The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary


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What’s in This Take the A Train Jazz Guitar Chord Study

As you will see when you begin studying the chord etude below, there is text written under every chord in the tune.

These labels are in reference to common chord shapes and harmonic substitutions being used to build this Take the A Train chord study.

To help you translate these labels, here are short definitions for each of the text labels in the chord study at the end of this lesson. Check them out and feel free to come back and reference them as you work through the chord study.


4th Chords: these chord shapes are built by stacking two fourth intervals on top of each other (such as C-F-Bb) rather than traditional 3rds (such as C-E-G).

Drop 2 Chords: built with the interval structure 1-5-7-3, with the inversions derived from that starting point, drop 2 shapes are some of the most commonly used chords in jazz.

3 to 9 Chords: in these four-note jazz guitar chords, the root has been replaced by the 9th, forming the interval structure 3-5-7-9. This allows you to outline the changes without playing the root at the same time.

13#11 Chords: in these shapes, the 13th and/or 9th have been added to the original 7#11 chord shapes. This is a common chord color that you can add to any 7 or 7#11 shape in your playing.

Approach Chords (App.): these are chords which approach the next diatonic chord in the tune by either a half step below or half step above that resolution chord.

b7 Sub Chords: with these shapes, used over dominant 7th chords, you are playing a maj7#11 voicing from the b7 of the chord. An example is Bbmaj7#11 over C7. When doing so, you are outlining the 3rd, b7th, 9th and 13th of the underlying C7 sound.

So What Chords: these are four-note fourth chords based on the 5-note shapes that Bill Evans used for the melody of So What.

Freddie Green Chords: three-note chord shapes that often feature the Root, 3rd and either the 6th or 7th of the underlying chord, often used by Freddie Green in his work with the Count Basie Orchestra.

Chord Subs: these chord substitutions are either taken from the diatonic key, such as walking up Fmaj7 to Gm7 and Am7 over a static Fmaj7 chord, or half-step approaches to the next chord such a Gm7-Db7-C7. These shapes are labeled as their chord name only in the study to save space on the page.

Drop 3 Chords: Along with drop 2 chords, drop 3 shapes are some of the most commonly learned and applied shapes in jazz guitar. Built from the interval structure 1-7-3-5 and its inversions, these shapes work well when focusing on bass notes in your playing.

Take the A Train Jazz Guitar Chord Study

Take the A Train Guitar Chord Study_0001 (2)


Take the A Train Guitar Chord Study_0001 (3)


Take the A Train Backing Track

To help you work this chord study, here is a short backing track using only bass and srums that you can play this chord study with, as well as go over your Take the A Train chord and single-note ideas in the practice room.




Do you have any questions about this Summertime Guitar Chord Study? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.


The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

  • Vincent Parrella says:

    Matt,I love the way you teach and play,I have learned so much from you over the past year,I havent been this excited over music in the longest time,I have playing for 30 years,But only Jazz for about 10 years,without your teaching i dont know if i would have the excitement that I have GOD BLESS.

  • milkmannnv says:

    I continue to improve in this style, thanks to you.After working on various chord scales and inversions up and down the fretboard & such for the last year,these etudes came at just the right time for me and have really helped my comping over jazz standards,and have given me lots of jazz rhythmic comping ideas and opened my ears a little more to diatonic,4th’s and altered chord substitution.Great job,thank you.

  • Miguel Hernandez says:

    Thank you very much Matt Warnock you rock!

  • Miguel Hernandez says:

    Does anyone know the difference between 4th chords and so what chords because in measure 9 there is a so what chord which also has the description of a 4th chord so how are we suppose to know if is a 4th chord or a so what chord?

    • Matt Warnock says:

      Hey, the b7 sub is when you have a 7th chord, like G7, and you play a maj7#11 chord from the b7, F, of that chord. So if you see G7 you play Fmaj7#11, or if you see C7 you play Bbmaj7#11. That’s all.

    • Matt Warnock says:

      Hey, both chords are built the same way here, in 4ths, but it’s the movement that matters for the label. 4th chords can be used anywhere from the scale, but So What chords are specifically from the 3rd and 2nd scale degree of the key, moving down by a tone like the opening chords to the song. So here they are Em7-Dm7 in 4ths. Hope that helps.

  • Miguel Hernandez says:

    Hi im having trouble understanding the b7sub chord can anyone explain how does it work naybe some examples please and thank you!!

  • Ivan says:

    Hey Matt, quick question… Are you playing the first set of drop 2 chords off of the cmaj7 thinking of the 6th (Am7) as the first set of 4th chords are played off the Cmaj7’s 3rd. Does that make sense? It’s how I was visualizing it.

    • Matt Warnock says:

      Hey yeah for me Cmaj7 and Am7 and pretty much the same chord sound, depending on what the bass note is doing at the time. So if I have C in the bass I would move between Cmaj7 and Am7 to get some variety over that change. Hope that helps.

  • mark says:

    hi matt ,great tuition

  • Loren says:

    Are the 7#11 chords (where the #11 is on the first string) – are these “cross-barre” chords? My fingers are short and I can’t easily grab some of them otherwise. The Maj7#11 – X35452 – I see no way except a cross-barre for this one. A D7#11 – x5x574 – I can cross-barre, *or* if I’m playing fingerstyle, I can retroflex the fist joint of my middle finger, barring x555xx, but not picking the G note on the 4th string. This leaves enough fingers to easily grab the other notes.

    Any comments or thoughts guys? Help Monk.

  • nocturnal_n says:

    Lovin’ everyone of these gems! Audio trax rawk! Please consider for future study – Night in Tunisia, Autumn Leaves, ‘Round Midnite, etc!!!

    Thx N

  • bigbillie says:

    this article contains very interesting, and usable detail! being a lifetime guitarist
    (59yrs) there is ALWAYS a different approach to comping, chord progs, substitutions,etc. that makes my guitar experience still interesting and endless!
    love it! great stuff. thank’s

  • Denis YON says:

    Voici de longues heures de travail en vue… ! Merci Matt !

  • Jerome says:

    Really interesting
    Thank you so much

  • DEON PAUL says:


  • oeblio says:

    Thanks for putting this up. Especially like the acoustic bass backup track.

  • Valeria Gomes says:

    Thank you! Very nice!

  • Kenny says:

    Hey Matt,

    As I mentioned elsewhere I love this lesson (and all the materials you provide online. I use them regularly). I would love more lessons like this, especially the first 2 lines which has really opened my world to new inversions to use for comping.

    In the last A section, the drop 3 chord with the #11 on the high e string seems very difficult to finger, especially when the tempo is even moderately fast. Is this a voicing you use often? Any trick to it that I’m missing?

    (and just to be the annoying pedant guy, the last chord in that line I think you meant to label Eb7, not Ebm7, unless I’m missing something obvious which is entirely possible).

  • dan says:

    Hi Matt, great subs and lesson – always enjoying your articles!
    How are you making such great sounding backing tracks – a program, a ready file or hungry basement-prisoned musicians? Thanks for a short answer.

    • Matt Warnock says:

      Hey, I use Band in a Box, great program!

      • dan says:

        thanks Matt, I will check it out. Have a nice weekend!

  • Lou says:

    Good stuff! This type of lesson is what helps me expand my ability in this style of music. Thanks!

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