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How To Play Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords

When learning how to play jazz guitar chords, being able to comp with different chord voicings, chord qualities and in different keys is an invaluable skill that can raise the level of your playing and help you out of a lot of tricky situations.

In this lesson we’re going to explore applying Lenny Breau chord voicings, in 4 positions, to a Jazz Blues Chord Progression in two different keys, to enhance your knowledge of Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords.

Learning how to play these fun and cool sounding chords will not only expand your vocabulary, bringing some of that Lenny Breau harmonic flavor to your comping and chord soloing, but it will also allow you to get that jazzy quality to your chords without having to play big, 5 and 6-note voicings.

So grab your axe, crank up your amp and let’s dig in to these Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords Studies.


Click to download the PDF of this lesson.



What Are Lenny Breau Jazz Guitar Chords?


Before we learn each of these 4 jazz guitar chord studies, let’s get a clear idea of what I mean when I say Lenny Breau Chords on the guitar.

Lenny was one of the most versatile compers and chord soloists of his or any era, and a large part of this success and his unique sound was his ability to take small, two and three-note chords and make great sounding music from these easy to handle shapes.

The basis for these voicingss are two notes, the 3rd and the 7th of each chord in the underlying progression, and it’s here that we’ll focus our attention in today’s lesson.

In trying to emulate the sound of piano chords on the guitar, Lenny decided that the best way to do this was to use 3rds and 7ths as the foundation for his guitar voicings, rather than the root a many other guitarists were doing at the time.

This gave him a unique sound, and it opened up a lot of harmonic space that he could then explore further when he added extensions on top of these easy to play two-note chords.

To emulate this in our own study, each of the chords in the following 4 chord studies has both the 3rd and 7th as well as one “color” tone added on top, either the 5th, 9th or 13th.

As you work through the different chords in the studies below, make sure to notice where the 3rd and 7th are for each chord that you are playing.

By recognizing these notes you will not only benefit from getting these studies under your fingers, but you will be able to take Lenny’s approach to chords and apply it to other voicings, progressions and tunes that you are working on in the practice room.


Further Reading



Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords Practice Tips


There are a number of ways that you can approach these chord studies in the practice room in order to get them under your fingers and the sound of each chord in your ears.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to practice these chords in order to get the most out of your time spent on them in the woodshed.

You don’t have to apply all of these ideas every day that you work on a chord study, which would be too daunting of a task.

What I like to do is print out lists like this, place it on my music stand, and then each day pick one idea to focus on as I work through the chord studies in my jazz guitar practice routine.

Here is the list:



Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 1


In this study, you’ll be starting with the 7th-3rd-13th on the Bb chord and then shifting to each chord in the progression, with as little movement as possible, from there.

As you move from one chord to the next, notice how the 3rds and 7ths stay as the lowest two notes of each voicing, but that they become inverted from one chord to the next, the 7th and 3rd of Bb move to the 3rd and 7th of Eb for example.

This is an important voice-leading movement as it allows you to move from one chord to the next without jumping around the neck as you do.


Click to hear the audio for this example.


Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 1


Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 2


The next example uses the exact same notes as the previous one, but now we have moved over to the 5th-4th-3rd string set.

Lenny liked to apply these chords to the 5-3 and 4-2 string sets, and sometimes even to the 6-4 string group, but for many people the low strings sound too muddy when using these three-note chords.

So, start by working these ideas on these 2 string sets first, as this will open up your neck while getting these chords under your fingers at the same time.


Click to hear the audio for this example.


Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 2



Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 3


We’ll now return to the 4-2 string group, but this time we’ll move to the key of F and invert the lowest two notes of each chord, so now you start with 3rd and 7th on the F chord and move around each chord from there.

Notice that even though you are starting with the 3rd and 7th inverted, as compared to the first two chord studies, the voice leading movement is the same.

The 3rd and 7th of F become the 7th and 3rd of Bb and so on as you move throughout the progression in the same manner that you saw in the previous 2 examples, just inverted.


Click to hear the audio for this example.


Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 3



Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 4


To finish up, we will take the same notes from the previous example and apply them to the 5-3 string group, following the same voice-leading principles that we have used for every example in this lesson.

At this point you should have a good grasp of these chords and how they function over an F and Bb blues progression.

So, try taking these chords to other keys of the blues as well as other tunes that you are working on in order to get the most out of these voicings in your practicing and playing.


Click to hear the audio for this example.


Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords 4



I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson. I’m a big fan of Lenny’s playing and his approach to playing chords on the guitar.

Though they may seem simple, as they only have 3 notes in each voicing, these chords can go a long way in bringing that authentic jazz sound to your comping and chord soloing, without having to learn big, bulky chords around the neck.


Did you enjoy this lesson, have a comment or a suggestion? Post it in the Lenny Breau Jazz Blues Chords thread at the MWG Forum.

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  1. Rodger Clemons, October 9, 2014:

    Thank you Lenny Breau, Thank you Matt Warnock! I’d give you both a big hug around the neck if I could. Outsanding!

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