How to Play Jazz Blues Chords [8 Chord Studies]
Jazz blues is the most important form to study when learning how to play jazz guitar.
The jazz blues progression is not only the basis for many of the greatest songs in jazz, it’s also one of the most popular standards called at jazz jam sessions.
Because of these reasons, knowing how to build and play jazz blues chords is an essential skill that every jazz guitarist need to have in their repertoire.
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking:
“Wow, jazz blues is really important, but I don’t have a clue how to play it on guitar.”
In this lesson, you’ll learn how to take a 12 bar blues progression, then with a few slight changes, build and play a jazz blues chord progression.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll not only now what a jazz blues is, you’ll have enough chords under your fingers to confidently comp through a jazz blues tune in a jam.
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Blues Chords Variations
If you’ve already studied blues or jazz blues songs on guitar, you’ll have noticed that there are different ways to play these progressions on guitar.
To keep this lesson focused on how to play a jazz blues chord progression by altering 12 bar chords, you’ll play one variation of these changes.
In this lesson, you’ll work from the most basic 12 bar changes up to the most popular jazz blues chords.
12 Bar Blues Chords
The first step to building a jazz blues chord progression is to learn, or review, the 12 bar blues chord progression.
12 bar blues chords will act as the foundation for every other blues chord progression.
As their name suggestions, 12 bar blues chords have a 12-bar form, which will be the case for every blues chord progression you study in this lesson.
There are also three chords in a 12 bar blues chord progression:
- I7 – G7
- IV7 – C7
- V7 – D7
Because these chords are the I, IV, and V, of the key you’re in, a 12 bar blues can also be called a I IV V blues progression.
Also, you’ll notice that all three chords in a 12 bar blues are dominant 7th chords.
Dominant family chords, such as 7th, 9ths, and 13ths, are the fundamental chords used in a 12 bar blues.
As you progress towards the jazz blues chord progression, you’ll start to introduce altered and minor family chords.
But, for now if you can play a 7th chord, you can play the blues.
Here’s a 12 bar blues progression in the key of G so you can see how those three chords relate to the 12-bar form.
There’s also a backing track, bass and drums only that you can use to hear this progression and to practice the chord studies that you’ll learn below.
12 Bar Blues Backing Track 12 Bar Blues Backing Track
12 Bar Blues Guitar Chords – Beginner
To help you take the 12 bar blues chords onto the fretboard, here are guitar chords that you can learn and play when jamming on this chord progression.
This first study is geared towards guitarists that are new to blues chords, but have played other shapes such as barre chords in your studies.
Lastly, you’ll use the same rhythm in each bar to begin, for this and every blues chord study in this lesson.
Once you can play these chords from memory with the given rhythm, jam the chords over the backing track and start to alter the rhythm in your comping.
This’ll help you memorize the chords with any easy rhythm pattern before being more creative with these 12 bar blues chords in your practice and jamming.
Click to hear 12 Bar Blues Beginner
12 Bar Blues Guitar Chords – Intermediate
For those guitarists that have already begun to study jazz guitar chords, you can learn this more advanced 12 bar blues chord study.
In this study, you’ll use rootless chords, as well as a few extensions such as 9ths and 13ths in the progression.
The rhythm is a bit more advanced than the previous 12 bar blues chord study, but it is still pretty static.
Again, use this rhythm to learn the chords, memorize the shapes, and then begin to alter the rhythm as you take these blues chords to the backing track in your studies.
Click to hear 12 Bar Blues Intermediate
Quick Change Blues Chords
After learning how to play a 12 bar blues, you’re ready to begin adding chords to that 12-bar form as you progress towards a jazz blues progression.
In this 12-bar blues progression, you’ll still only use three chords, I IV V, but will be playing more of those chords in the progression.
As you can see and hear in the example below, you’re now playing a IV chord in bar 2, and a V chord in bar 12 of the progression.
Because you are quickly moving from I to IV and back to one again at the start of the form, this progression is often called a “quick change blues” progression.
Take a listen to this new blues progression, and comp along to the backing track if you feel ready using the chords you learned in the 12 bar blues studies.
When you’re ready, you can learn the two quick change blues studies below as you begin to expand your chord knowledge over this popular blues progression.
Quick Change Blues Backing Track Quick Change Blues Backing Track
Quick Change Blues Guitar Chords – Beginner
Here is a quick change blues chord study that you can learn and apply to your blues jams on guitar.
Again, the rhythm is repetitive to help you get these chords under your fingers.
But, once you’ve memorized the shapes, and the new progression, jam along with the backing track and start to alter the rhythm as you expand on these chords in the practice room.
Click to hear Quick Change Blues Beginner
Quick Change Blues Guitar chords – Intermediate
For the more advanced guitarists, here’s a quick change blues study that uses rootless chords, extensions, and other intermediate clues comping techniques.
As with any study in this lesson, learn the chords first from memory.
Then, when you’re ready, jam them over the backing track and begin to alter the rhythm, leave chords out, and add chords in, as you personalize this blues chord study.
Click to hear Quick Change Blues Intermediate
ii V I Blues Chords
You’ll now begin to add chords to the 12 bar blues progression as you create the most popular chord progression in jazz, ii V chords.
When adding in a iim7 chord to the quick change blues progression, you’ll replace the V7 chord in bar 9 and at the start of bar 12 with a iim7 chord.
When doing so, you’ll form a iim7-V7 two-bar progression in bars 9 and 10.
As well, you’ll create a one-bar iim7 V7 progression in bar 12 of the blues form.
The ii V progression can be found in countless Jazz standards, including the jazz blues progression.
By adding in the iim7 chord, you’ll start to hear a jazz sound creeping into the 12 bar blues chord progression.
Here are the chords that you’re now going to use when playing the ii V I blues chord progression on guitar.
- iim7 – Am7
- IV7 – C7
- V7 – D7
If you already know how to play a m7 chord on guitar, put on the backing track below and jam along with this ii V I blues chord progression in G.
Not to worry if you don’t know how to play m7 chords just yet.
Take a listen to the progression below, and then you’ll learn how to play m7 chords on guitar in the ii V I blues examples below.
Here’s a ii V I progression and backing track to give you an idea of how these chords look on paper in a 12-bar form, and how they sound when played by a rhythm section, bass and drums only.
ii V I Blues Backing Track ii V Blues Backing Track
ii V I Blues Guitar Chords – Beginner
To begin taking these ii V blues chords onto the guitar, here’s a chord study that you can learn and practice in the woodshed.
Pay close attention to how that iim7 chord sounds as compared to the I IV V chords that you’ve learned in previous studies.
This progression will start to sound less like a Chicago blues and more like a jazz blues when played on guitar.
Because of this, it’s important to know how those two sounds differ in order to know when to use a I IV V and when to use a ii V blues in your blues jams.
Click to hear ii V Blues Beginner
ii V I Blues Guitar Chords – Intermediate
For the more experienced guitarists, here’s a ii V blues chord study that you can study and add to your comping repertoire in the practice room.
As is the case with the more advanced studies in this lesson, you’ll be using extensions such as 13th chords to outline the ii V I blues chords on guitar.
Though you may already be familiar with these more advanced chords, still pay attention to how the iim7 chord changes the overall sound of the blues compared to the I IV V chords you learned earlier.
Being able to hear the difference between these two blues progressions will allow you to know when to use one or the other in a jam or gig situation.
Click to hear ii V Blues Intermediate
Jazz Blues Chords
After adding in the iim7 chord to your 12 bar blues chords, you’re ready to bring one more new sound into these changes to form the full jazz blues chord progression.
The final chord that you’ll add to your blues chords is the VI7b9 chord, an E7b9 in the key of G as you can see below.
This chord appears in bars 8 and 11 of the jazz blues chord progression and helps lead the chords from the I7 to the iim7 chord in your playing.
The VI7b9 chord is also the V7b9 chord of the iim7 chord, which acts to transition between the I7 and iim7 chords in a jazz blues progression.
Here’s how that works in the key of G.
- In the key of G, the iim7 chord is Am7
- The V7b9 chord of Am7 is E7b9
- The VI7b9 chord in the key of G is E7b9
- E7b9 helps transition G7 to Am7 with a cadence
This may sound a bit technical or theoretical for now, and that’s OK.
The most important, and practical, thing to know for now is that whenever you have a I chord followed by a iim7 chord, you can add in a VI7b9 chord between those changes to make the transition smoother in your comping.
Here are the full jazz blues chords that you’ll now be using in the studies below.
- I7 – G7
- iim7 – Am7
- IV7 – C7
- V7 – D7
- VI7b9 – E7b9
Check out these changes in a lead sheet below, and listen to the track to hear how they sound when played by a rhythm section.
If you already know how to play an E7b9 chord on guitar, then jam along to the track.
If not, all good, you’ll learn that chord shape in the studies below.
Jazz Blues Backing Track Jazz Blues Backing Track
Jazz Blues Guitar Chords – Beginner
You’re now ready to learn a jazz blues chord study on the guitar, taking the VI7b9 chord to the fretboard in your playing.
This chord can sound a bit harsh when you’re first studying jazz guitar chords.
So, take your time with this chord study, learn it as written, and then experiment with the rhythm over the backing track as you personalize this study in your playing.
Click to hear Jazz Blues Beginner
Jazz Blues Guitar Chords – Intermediate
To finish your study of the jazz blues chord progression, here’s a chord study for the more experienced guitarists to learn in your practicing.
Though you are playing one or more chords in just about every bar in the progression, notice how smooth these chords move between each other on the fretboard.
This is key when playing jazz blues chords on guitar, not jumping around the fretboard as you move between chords.
If you’re jumping around the neck all the time, you’ll have a jagged sound to your jazz blues chords.
As well, you have a bigger chance of flubbing a chord by jumping around, especially at faster tempos.
So, the more chords you add to a jazz blues progression, the more important keeping those chords close together on the fretboard becomes.
Click to hear Jazz Blues Intermediate
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