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Drop 3 Chords – Charts, Exercises, and Licks

Drop 3 chords are used by many legendary jazz guitarists in their playing, and are some of the first voicings players learn when exploring jazz rhythm guitar.

From Joe Pass, to Wes Montgomery, to Pat Metheny, drop 3 chords are found in the comping, chord melody, and soloing of the best in the business.

For this reason, drop 3 chords are some of the most important chord shapes that you need to learn in the woodshed.

Though they’re essential, drop 3 chords need to be treated with care due to the timbre they create on the guitar, especially on the lower strings.

Drop 3 chords work well for duo and solo guitar, but they can be muddy when used with a bass player.

For this reason, most players use drop 3 chords when playing solo or duo without a bass player.

Then, they use drop 2 chords or other voicings when there’s a bass player in the ensemble.

Make sure to learn both drop 2 and drop 3 chords to make sure you’re ready for any rhythm jazz guitar situation.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how build, play, and apply drop 3 chords to jazz harmonic situations as you bring these classic chords onto your fretboard.

 

 

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What Are Drop 3 Chords

 

One of the most common questions I get from guitarists about jazz chords is:

 

“I know about these shapes, but how do you build a drop 3 chord?”

 

Drop 3 chords are built by taking the 3rd highest note in a closed position chord and lowering it by an octave.

This is how drop 3 chords get their name, because the 3rd note in a closed position chord has been “dropped.”

Here’s how that transition looks on the fretboard to visualize drop 3 chord construction.

Notice that each drop 3 chord has a string skip between the lowest two notes.

This string skip is what differentiates drop 3 from drop 2 chords, which are played without any string skips.

 

drop 3 chords 1

 

When you drop the 3rd note of any closed-position chord by an octave, you produce the following intervals for each inversion.

 

  • Root Position – R-7-3-5
  • 1st Inversion – 3-R-5-7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-3-7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – 7-5-R-3

 

These formulae works for any chord type you can think of, you just alter the interval qualities to fit that chord type.

For example, a root position drop 3 7th chord is built R-b7-3-5, a m7 chord would be R-b7-b3-5, etc.

The intervals change to match the chord you’re playing, but the order of the intervals remains the same.

To take these shapes onto the fretboard, take a look at 8 different drop 3 chords for all common chord qualities.

Each of these groups of drop 3 chords is written in C.

Make sure to move them to other keys in your jazz guitar practice routine.

 

 

 

 

Drop 3 Maj7 Chords

 

To begin, here are 8 different Cmaj7 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-7-3-5
  • 1st Inversion – 3-R-5-7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-3-7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – 7-5-R-3

 

Here are four inversions of Cmaj7 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

drop 3 chords maj7 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords maj7 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 7th Chords

 

Here are 8 different C7 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-b7-3-5
  • 1st Inversion – 3-R-5-b7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-3-b7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – b7-5-R-3

 

Here are four inversions of C7 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

drop 3 chords 7 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords 7 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 m7 Chords

 

Here are 8 different Cm7 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-b7-b3-5
  • 1st Inversion – b3-R-5-b7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-b3-b7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – b7-5-R-b3

 

Here are four inversions of Cm7 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

drop 3 chords m7 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords m7 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 m7b5 Chords

 

Here are 8 different Cm7b5 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-b7-b3-b5
  • 1st Inversion – b3-R-b5-b7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-b3-b7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – b7-b5-R-b3

 

Here are four inversions of Cm7b5 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

 

drop 3 chords m7b5 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords m7b5 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 dim7 Chords

 

Here are 8 different Cdim7 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-bb7-b3-b5
  • 1st Inversion – b3-R-b5-bb7
  • 2nd Inversion – b5-b3-bb7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – bb7-b5-R-b3

 

Here are four inversions of Cdim7 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

 

drop 3 chords dim7 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords dim7 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 mMaj7 Chords

 

Here are 8 different CmMaj7 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-7-b3-5
  • 1st Inversion – b3-R-5-7
  • 2nd Inversion – 5-b3-7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – 7-5-R-b3

 

Here are four inversions of CmMaj7 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

 

drop 3 chords mMaj7 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords mMaj7 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 7#11 Chords

 

Here are 8 different C7#11 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-b7-3-#11
  • 1st Inversion – 3-R-#11-b7
  • 2nd Inversion – #11-3-b7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – b7-#11-R-3

 

Here are four inversions of C7#11 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

 

drop 3 chords 7#11 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords 7#11 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 Maj7#11 Chords

 

Here are 8 different Cmaj7#11 drop 3 chords, which have the interval structure:

 

  • Root Position – R-7-3-#11
  • 1st Inversion – 3-R-#11-7
  • 2nd Inversion – #11-3-7-R
  • 3rd Inversion – 7-#11-R-3

 

Here are four inversions of Cmaj7#11 with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

drop 3 chords maj7#11 1

 

You can also play these drop 3 chords with the lowest note on the 5th string.

 

drop 3 chords maj7#11 2

 

 

 

Drop 3 Chords Exercise 1 – Qualities

 

The first drop 3 chord exercise uses chords that are only one note different from other shapes, and moves between these chords on the fretboard.

This means that you start with chord A, then change one note to form chord B, then repeat that process for the progression.

Here’s an example that covers 5 different chord types in one progression.

Play these chords using drop 3 shapes in C, before moving to other keys on the fretboard.

As well, you can use any string set, and any inversion, to outline these shapes, just stick to the same one for each exercise.

If you play the first Cmaj7 chord as a 1st inversion with the root on the 6th string, keep that outline as you then move to other chords in the exercise.

This means that you play every chord as a 1st inversion with the lowest note on the 6th string.

 

drop 3 chords guitar 1

 

Here’s an example of that chord progression using drop 3 chords from the 6th string in root position.

 

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 1

 

drop 3 chords guitar 2

 

 

Here’s another progression that I like to use where the second chord is built by altering one note from the first chord shape.

 

drop 3 chords guitar 3

 

Again, begin with this fingering before taking this exercise to other inversions, string sets, chord qualities, and keys.

 

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 2

 

drop 3 chords guitar 4

 

 

Lastly, here’s another chord progression you can use to learn and memorize various types of drop 3 chords in the practice room.

 

drop 3 chords guitar 5

 

Here are sample fingerings to get you started with this exercise.

 

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 3

 

drop 3 chords guitar 6

 

Once you’ve worked through these progressions in various keys, inversions, and string sets, come up with your own progressions to work drop 3 chords.

 

 

 

Drop 3 Chords Exercise 2 – Major ii V I VI

 

This exercise adds practical application to your practice routine, as you outline major ii V I VI changes using drop 3 voice leading.

When doing so, you begin on any iim7 drop 3 chord, and then move to the closest V7 chord, Imaj7, and VI7b9 chord from there.

Here’s how that looks on the guitar.

 

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 4

 

drop 3 chords turnaround 1

 

When following this voice leading, you always use the following inversions for each chord.

 

  • R-2nd-R-1st
  • 1st-3rd-1st-2nd
  • 2nd-R-2nd-3rd
  • 3rd-1st-3rd-R

 

This order of inversions is the same for major and minor ii V I vis, so it’s worth memorizing as you take this exercise further.

Once you’ve worked out this example, move to other inversions of Dm7 on the 6432 strings.

Then, move to different keys on that string set, and onto the 5321 string se,t before applying these shapes to a full jazz song.

 

 

 

Drop 3 Chords Exercise 3 – Minor ii V I VI

 

You will now repeat the previous exercise with minor key ii V I vi chords.

Once you have these shapes down in various keys and on both string sets, take them to a tune such as Autumn Leaves, which has both major and minor ii V I changes.

 

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 5

 

drop 3 chords exercises 2.1

 

 

 

Drop 3 Chords – Major ii V I VI Licks

 

Apart from working chord progression with inversions, you can expand your playing by practicing drop 3 chord licks.

Here are 3 major ii V I VI progressions that use drop 3 shapes to outline each chord.

Work these phrases in C major to begin, before taking them to all 12 keys from there.

In this first ii V I VI lick, you’ll use steady quarter notes and inversions to outline the progression.

Notice how each chord moves to the closest inversion of the next chord, which is smooth voice leading.

You don’t always have to move to the closest next chord, but it’s an effective skill when comping over jazz progressions.

 

Backing Track 2516 C Major Short

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 6

 

drop 3 chords guitar 7

 

Here, you use a syncopated rhythm to create interest.

Notice the chords in the first bar, Dm7-Fmaj7-F#dim7-G7.

This is a standard ii-V variation that jazz guitarists use to create movement in their lines.

Next time you’re playing a ii V progression, play iim7-IVmaj7-#IVdim7-V7 to bring movement to your jazz guitar comping.

 

Backing Track 2516 C Major

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 7

 

drop 3 chords guitar 8

 

The final example places drop 3 chords on the & of 2 and 4 in each bar.

This is a popular jazz guitar rhythm pattern, one that you can take out of this example and use to create interest in other situations.

The key is not to rush each attack, which is easy to do when only playing upbeats.

Go slow, work with a metronome, and count each bar to ensure you’ve got the rhythm nailed before increasing the tempo.

 

Backing Track 2516 C Major

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 8

 

drop 3 chords guitar 9

 

 

 

Drop 3 Chords – Minor ii V I Phrases

 

To expand drop 3 chords further, here are 3 minor ii V I chord licks.

As was the case with major ii V I’s, work these examples in the given key before taking them to other keys from there.

The first pattern uses quarter notes on beats 2 and 4 of each bar to outline a minor ii V I in C.

Playing on 2 and 4 is a common jazz guitar rhythm, and one that you can apply to any tune you’re comping over.

 

Backing Track 251 C Minor Short

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 9

 

drop 3 chords guitar 10

 

Here’s a steady quarter-note pattern that uses inversions and descending chromatic chords to create interest.

In the second bar you have a typical dim7 phrase, where rather than playing two inversions of dim7, you connect them chromatically.

Here, you have Fdim7 played over G7alt, sounding a G7b9, which descends chromatically until you reach the next inversion.

Use this chromatic connection approach to bring new life into your dim7 inversions.

 

Backing Track 251 C Minor

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 10

 

drop 3 chords guitar 11.1

 

 

This final phrase uses a bossa nova guitar pattern that you can add to your comping.

It also prepares you for the bossa nova pattern used in the Blue Bossa study below.

Go slow and count through each bar to make sure you’re playing the correct rhythms.

To bring an authentic Brazilian feel to the phrase, keep everything quiet and then accent the last two chord punches in each bar.

 

Backing Track 251 C Minor

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 11

 

drop 3 chords guitar 12

 

 

 

Drop 3 Blue Bossa Chords

 

Here’s a comping study that you can learn over the chord progression to Blue Bossa.

Besides using drop 3 chords, this study uses a popular bossa nova rhythm for guitar that challenges your picking hand.

Because the rhythm is challenging, take your time with the first two bars.

Once you have the rhythm down over Cm7, continue on from there.

Go slow with this study and work it with a metronome before getting it up to speed with the audio tracks below.

 

Backing Track blue bossa drop 3 chords backing

Click to hear drop 3 chords guitar 12

 

 

drop 3 chords guitar 13.1

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