How to Play The Most Common Jazz Guitar Shapes
When learning how to play jazz guitar, one of the most important skills you can develop is to be able to visualize jazz guitar fingerings for chords, scales, arpeggios and licks in relation to each other on the fretboard, allowing you to easily move from one to another without having to jump around the neck or use awkward fingerings.
In this lesson, we’ll be looking at ways in which you can learn to relate single-note material to different chord shapes on each string set across the neck by working out the most common jazz guitar shapes for chords, scales and arpeggios.
For the written examples, I have used a Drop 2 C7 Chord for the basis of the material below, but make sure you take these ideas to other chord qualities such as Maj7, m7 and m7b5, as well as to other chord types, such as Drop 3 and Drop 2 and 4 chords in order to get the most out of these exercises in your practice routine.
As well, I have used one Bebop jazz guitar lick as an example in this lesson, but you can apply any and all licks you know or are working on in the practice room to these different shapes across the neck.
To check out more Bebop Scale Licks for jazz guitar, check out my article “How to Play Bebop Scale Licks for Jazz Guitar.”
So, grab your guitar, turn up your amp and let’s dig into to visualizing jazz guitar fingerings for chords, scales, arpeggios and licks on the fretboard!
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes – Fingerings Info
In order to keep things simple, and allow you to move quickly between these different fingerings in a real-time jamming or gigging situation, I have kept the scale, arpeggio and lick shapes to one-octave in length.
This will allow you to see the single-line shapes in direct relation to the string-sets used to build each chord in the examples below.
If you would like to take things further, extending these shapes to two-octaves in length, feel free to use longer single-note shapes that you know, or simply connect two one-octave shapes in order to produce a longer single-note fingering if you feel the need for a longer shape in relation to any particular chord fingering.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes – 6-5-4-3 String Set
The first string set that we’ll look at is the bottom four strings, the 6-5-4-3 string set.
Though jazz guitarists sometimes avoid using chords, scales and arpeggios on the bottom strings because they can sound muddy depending on what guitar and strings you use, I think it is worth spending time on this string set as it will open up the low end of your guitar for when you need it in your solos and comping.
Here is a C7 Drop 2 Chord on the low four strings, as well as the related arpeggio, Dominant Bebop Scale and an example Bebop Jazz Guitar Lick related to that chord fingering.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes – 5-4-3-2 String Set
The middle string set is a more popular choice for comping and soloing fingerings on the guitar, since these strings tend to be the “sweet spot” for range, tone and timbre in the jazz guitar idiom.
Because of this, most jazz guitarists tend to know their chord shapes, arpeggios, scales and licks much better in this area of the neck than in others.
Even so, it’s worth working out chord, scale, arpeggio and lick fingerings in relation to each other in this area to make sure you can go from one to the other in your playing without having to jump around the neck or to another string set if you don’t want to.
Here is a C7 Drop 2 Chord on the middle four strings, as well as the related arpeggio, Dominant Bebop Scale and an example Bebop Jazz Guitar Lick related to that chord fingering.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes – 4-3-2-1 String Set 1
When working with the top-four strings, we can look at two different chord shapes and build arpeggios, scales and licks around both of those shapes.
The first chord shape that we can take a look at is a root-position Drop 2 chord on the top four strings, in this example a C7 chord.
The top-four strings of the guitar tend to get used a lot for chord soloing, chord melody and improvising, so being able to visualize chord shapes in relation to arpeggios, scales and licks, will make it much easier to develop your ideas, single-note or chord base, on this string set.
Here is a C7 Drop 2 Chord on the top four strings, as well as the related arpeggio, Dominant Bebop Scale and an example Bebop Jazz Guitar Lick related to that chord fingering.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes – 4-3-2-1 String Set 2
The last string set that we’ll look at in this lesson is the second version of the top-four strings.
In order to ensure that you have a scale, arpeggio and lick shape on all possible string-sets, you can also play a second-inversion Drop 2 chord on the top-four strings, and then build your single-note shapes from the root on the third string of that chord voicing.
Being able to see the root note of a chord that isn’t the lowest note of a voicing, and then building scales, arpeggios and licks around that root note, is an important and necessary skill for any jazz guitarist to have, and so it is worth exploring this concept further in the practice room as you dig deeper into these shapes on your guitar.
Here is a C7 Drop 2 Chord in second inversion on the top four strings, as well as the related arpeggio, Dominant Bebop Scale and an example Bebop Jazz Guitar Lick related to that chord fingering.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes Practice Guide
Now that you have checked out the different Jazz Guitar Fingerings based around Dominant 7 Drop 2 Chords, you can take these ideas further in your practice routine in order to build the skills necessary to visualize these important shapes across the neck, in different keys, over common chord progressions and tunes as well as with different chord and scale qualities.
Here are some ways that I like to practice the above shapes in my jazz guitar practice routine.
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes Technical Exercises
- Practice one string set with a metronome in all 12 keys
- Practice all four string sets in one key with a metronome at different tempos
- Run all four string sets in each of the 12 keys along with a metronome
- Apply different licks to each of the four shapes and work those along with a metronome
- Work out the chord, scale, arpeggio and lick shapes for Maj7, m7, m7b5, mMaj7 and 7alt chords, repeating the above exercises for each one.
- Repeat the above exercises using Drop 3 Chords as well as Drop 2 and 4 Chord Voicings
Common Jazz Guitar Shapes Improvisational Exercises
- Improvise over a one-chord vamp, say C7, using only 1 string set to build my lines
- Improvise over a one-chord vamp and mixing all four string sets for that chord to build my lines
- Repeat the above two exercises in 12 keys
- After learning the Maj7 and m7 jazz guitar fingerings for Drop 2 chords, improvise over a ii V I chord progression in 1 key, focusing on 1 string set to derive material for my lines
- Repeat this exercise in 12 keys
- Repeat the above 2 exercises using 4 jazz guitar fingerings, separately at first, then combined to derive material for my lines
- Apply these shapes to tunes I was working on, using one or more string sets to derive material for my lines
- Repeat the above exercises with Drop 3 and Drop 2 and 4 Chord Voicings
As you can see, not only will learning jazz guitar fingerings for chords, scales, arpeggios and licks allow you to quickly move between these different melodic and harmonic shapes on the guitar, but they will allow you to visualize chords and chord progressions across the neck in different keys as you begin to take these shapes into your technical and improvisational studies.
What do you think about these jazz guitar fingerings? Share your thoughts in the Learning Common Jazz Guitar Shapes thread at the MWG Forum.