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How to Play a Jazz Blues Chord Progression

One of the fundamental skills to becoming a jazz guitarist is a solid understanding of and ability to play over a jazz blues chord progression.

This set of chords is the basis for many different tunes, both blues and standards, and it is one of the most commonly called tunes in jam sessions or on gigs.

Because I often get questions from students and readers about what exactly is a jazz blues chord progression, I decided to lay out this common form in an article that starts with the basic I-IV-V blues and works its way up to the full jazz blues progression.

Check out these chords, from both a comping and improvising standpoint, having a good grasp of the jazz blues chord progression is an essential tool for any jazz guitarist to have down in their playing.


jazz blues guitar



Basic Jazz Blues Chord Progression


In this first example I have laid out the “basic blues” chords that are the basic outline of the traditional blues genre.

These are the fundamental chords that you would find in early blues tunes, which also have their own set of variations such as the V7-IV7 addition in bars 9 and 10.

From here we will change one chord at a time to build up to the jazz blues progression, and the various jazz blues chord substitutions, so having a strong understanding of this form is important as you move towards internalizing the jazz blues progression.




Quick Change Jazz Blues Chord Progression


The first addition is in bar 2, the Bb7 (IV7), and it is often referred to as the “quick change” progression as there is a quick chord change between bars 1 and 2, and bars 1 and 3.

This is a tough change to navigate when first working on the jazz blues as the chords, and keys, change quickly.

So go slow with this one when working on arpeggio licks and scale lines through these first four bars of the blues.




Jazz Blues Chord Progression – ii-V Chords


As many of you already know, jazz guitarists love to use ii-V progressions whenever we can.

It’s part of what makes jazz sound like jazz. So, it is not surprising that we find a ii-V progression not once, but twice in the 12-bar jazz blues form.

Both times use the same chords, Gm7-C7 (ii-V in the key of F), and you can find them in bars 9 and 10 as well as shortened to fit both chords into bar 12.

Bar 12 is a tricky spot in a jazz blues, mostly because the chords move so quickly.

So again, take your time when practicing these two chords as they can often be the make or break moments in any jazz blues guitar solo.




Jazz Blues Chord Progression – #IV Chord


Another cool, yet tricky, chord that jazz guitarists use when playing the blues is the #IV diminished chord that is added in to the fifth bar.

Here, the chord is often used to create a smooth melody line in the bass as you can move from IV7 to #IVdim to I7/V, or in the key of F, Bb-B-C in the bass.

When navigating the #IVdim chord in a soloing context be sure to check out both the Whole-Half Diminished Scale, as well as the diminished 7 arpeggio.

Both provide plenty of practice room material, and can help you get through this tricky change smoothly, creating interesting lines at the same time.




VI7b9 Chord – Full Jazz Blues Chord Progression


The final chord we need to add in order to build the full jazz blues progression is the VI7b9 chord that is found in bars 8 and 11.

This chord acts as both the VI chord in the home key, in this case D7b9 in the key of F, as well as the V7b9 of iim7, which is the chord that follows it in both of these instances.

To improvise over this chord, the best option is the Half-Whole Diminished Scale, but you can also use a diminished arpeggio starting on the b9, or even the fifth mode of the Harmonic Major Scale if you like that sound.




So there you have it, we’ve moved from the basic blues to a full jazz blues chord progression.

As there are many variations on these chords, depending on the style of jazz blues you’re playing and the musicians you’re playing it with it is a good idea to have this progression down in your playing so that you are ready for any deviations that get thrown at you on the bandstand.


Do you have a favorite variation on the jazz blues, or a favorite blues head that you like to play over these changes? If so, please share it in the comments section below.

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  1. sailor, April 17, 2012:

    ii-v…in meas 4???

  2. Matthew Warnock, April 17, 2012:

    Sailor, people use the ii-V in bar 4, but that’s an option and not everyone uses it, for example I don’t ever use that change as part of a basic blues progression

    So those chords are available, but they are additions to the basic form and not really part of the basic jazz blues progression. They sound great, and can be used if you dig that sound, or you could use a bII7 of IV in that bar, which is the addition I would use most often.

  3. Phil, April 17, 2012:

    I like Charlie Parker’s variation: playing maj7 chords as the tonic

  4. Matthew Warnock, April 17, 2012:

    For sure Phil, great variation. I like the descending ii-V’s that he uses as well in bars 2-8, great progression!

  5. Jackson Ordean, July 12, 2012:

    I’m new to the scene, just started this year with Clay Moore although I’d looked at Emily Remmler teaching vids for some time (like falling in the pool and having to swim or drown)

    For a final cadence, and similar to what I like to play in the rest of the pattern, I like Gm9, 3rd pos with the 1/2 bar, 9 on the high e, backstroking the 5th, D (reminiscent of a Ravel interval; then Cb9 backstroking the b7 which leads nicely to the 1st pos FM7 (let go the middle finger to drop a b5 if you like the dissonance).

    An alternate is to play C7#9 (2nd pos), especially if you played C7b9 previously, then stroke the b9 which leads like butter into the FM7

    Fun to move around the neck and play 2 or 3 positions for each chord, smooth leading only, too. I’m stoked to get this progression down – I’ve had pieces of it for a long time, but now it’s gelling. Thanks, Matt! BTW, you gotta be the most giving teacher out there. I have you on RSS and I’m always hitting ‘don’t mark read(!)’ {;^)

  6. zzz, July 15, 2012:

    ur book sux

  7. Matthew Warnock, July 15, 2012:

    Thanks for sharing those changes Jackson, great stuff. Glad you like the article and the site. The Jazz Blues progression comes up so often, it’s just one of those progression you need to have under your belt. But once you do it’s very fun to play and blow over

  8. Jackson Ordean, July 15, 2012:

    Sorry to hear you’re hurtin’ so badd, zzz. May God bless you richly in all spiritual things from which all good things come!

    Take care.

  9. mississippi, July 23, 2012:

    Sometimes we eat our own words. Were you high or drunk on your comment. Of course we here don’t expect you to reply.

  10. mississippi, July 23, 2012:

    Matt, I’m not all too familiar on how to play these chords. Can you come up with a chord chart on how to play them. Thanks.

  11. Matthew Warnock, July 23, 2012:

    Hey, you can find all of these chords in many different forms at this link, my Jazz Guitar Resource Page.


  12. Matthew Warnock, July 23, 2012:
  13. Brad DeLong, July 23, 2012:

    Hi Matt –

    Wow! You’ve got so much great material, I don’t know where to start. Scales, I guess, but there’s so much other great stuff to get distracted by. I’m on the Jazz Blues Chord Progression page right now. (BTW, I think the two links to the “Half-Whole Diminished Scale” and the “fifth mode of the Harmonic Major Scale” are reversed. Not a big deal but that’s how they came up on my Mac.)

    My main problem is finding someone to practice Jazz with. I’m in a small town and am in a small country-western-folk group but I’d like to get into Jazz. I just finished an on-line Jazz Improv course that was way above me technically but I learned a lot and want to put it into practice. I’m delighted to find your website and books that are guitar-oriented. But now I need to find a few Jazz musicians who will tolerate an entry-level guy.

    Thanks for all your hard work.


  14. Matthew Warnock, July 23, 2012:

    cool Brad, glad you are enjoying the site! I’ll check the links and see what’s up from my end. Hope you find someone to jam with. It can be tough, but if you can find someone, then it’ll be a great boost to your playing. Cheers

  15. Open Mike, November 6, 2012:

    Could someone post a list of familiar tunes which use this “Full Jazz Blues Progression”? I doesn’t have to be in F; any key is fine. Thanks in advance.

  16. jimmy, February 12, 2013:

    in measures 7 and 8 i like to descend chromatically with dominant chords. giving them two beats each, this takes you from the F7 to the D7(b9) right on time.

    it’s a pretty busy addition to the changes, and works best for me when i’m playing unaccompanied or when i’m backing up a single soloist (without a band). having said that, if you are playing with a band and the bassist or the pianist happens to do it, it’s one of those things that’s very easy to hear, so you can jump right on it, too!

  17. Brian Toth, May 4, 2013:

    Nice way to step it through from the basics to fuller changes. Good presentation.

    I like an F7-Ab13 (tritone for Dalt) – Dbmaj7 – Gbmaj7 turnaround. with the F note dominant throughout. Or almost the same progression but using the C as the dominant note – Am7-Ab7-DbM7-GbM7b5.

  18. Alex, July 31, 2013:

    Why is the I chord a dom7 rather than maj7?

  19. Matt Warnock, July 31, 2013:

    Hey Alex. In a blues the tonic chord is a 7th chord, that gives the blues it’s characteristic sound. So the I chord is I7, not the Imaj7 you might see in a major based song. Hope that helps.

  20. Alex, July 31, 2013:

    Thanks Matt! So there’s major, minor, and “regular” blues, connoting a major, minor, and dominant 7 on the I chord, respectively? In a regular blues, how should we think about the discrepancy between the (in the key of F) E natural in the key signature and the Eb in the I chord?

  21. Matt Warnock, July 31, 2013:

    Hey, a Major blues is the one with the I7 chord in it, a Minor blues has the Im7 and a “Bird Blues” has a Imaj7, those are the three main types of blues in jazz. Hope that helps clear things up!

    If you see an F7 chord, it always has an Eb, don’t worry about the key signature. The chord you are playing over overrides the key signature when soloing.

  22. Alex, August 1, 2013:

    Thanks again for getting back to me- I can’t get over what a great resource you’re providing for us jazz newbs (not to mention our more advanced friends). If I can squeeze one last followup question in:
    Given the I7 and IVb9 (instead of Imaj7 and iv7), this structure doesn’t lend itself to noodling around in a major-scale box. This create some subtle difficulties for the beginner, forcing us to learn the chord shapes and giving us some avoid notes. The question is, do you advise that we avoid this dilemma by incorporating enharmonic scales- using (in and F blues) the F blues scale over an F7-Bb7 transition, or the D blues scale over F7-D7, for example? Or is this a lazy way out that the beginner should avoid?

  23. Matt Warnock, August 1, 2013:

    Hey Alex. I would start with the F blues scale over the entire tune. Then, from there I would look at picking one chord to play the arpeggio over, and the rest play the blues scale. So just focus on one chord at a time to outline directly, and the rest use the F Blues scale. Then build up from there. Cheers.

  24. Khaled, September 15, 2013:

    Very useful ! thank you !! Is there any backing tracks recommended to practice these progressions ?

  25. Matt Warnock, September 15, 2013:

    Thanks! If you have Spotify all of the Aebersold Blues backing tracks are on there, which are great. As well, you can just search on YouTube for Jazz Blues Backing Track as a lot of people have uploaded good tracks that you can use to practice with.

  26. Nick, September 24, 2013:

    I’ve heard of, but never seen, something called MJQ changes, or Milt Jackson changes. Have you ever heard of them. If so, how odo they go?

    BTW, Bird changes are “Blues for Alice?”

  27. Matt Warnock, September 24, 2013:

    Hey Nick, I’ve not heard of MJQ changes, but yes Bird Blues is Blues for Alice.

  28. Mike C., May 19, 2015:

    I have a question about Sub V’s. I’m looking at the progression starting from measure 8. Let’s assume that we change the ii-7 to II7. Now we have D7–>G7–>C7–>F7.

    On one hand, I’ve heard that these secondary dominants should just use the scale of the tune(F Mixolydian) with the guide tones altered to fit the chord of the moment. So, D7 would use D, Eb, F#, G, A, Bb, C = DMixolydian(b9, b13). The G7 would get G Mixolydian, C7 would get C Mixolydian.

    However, I’ve also heard that sub V’s should take Lydian Dominant. If we used Ab7 as the sub V for D7, and gave it Ab Lydian Dominant, we end up with D7(alt.). Same with the sub V for G7, Db7.

    I can hear Emily Remler possibly doing this kind of thing, but obviously B.B.(R.I.P.) would stick to the simplest way out and keep as close to the original key as possible.

    What’s your take on secondary dominants? Sub V’s?

  29. Matt Warnock, May 19, 2015:

    Hey Mike. I take an all of the above approach, I would study the various options you have and then let your ears decide in the moment which one you want to use. This could include:

    1. Tonic blues scale
    2. Major blues scales
    3. Triad pairs
    4. Altered pentatonic scales
    4. Mixolydian
    5. Dominant Bebop
    6. Altered Bebop
    7. Lydian Dominant
    8. Phrygian Dominant
    9. Altered
    10. 5th Mode Harmonic Major
    11. Mixolydian b13
    12. 2nd Mode Melodic Minor
    13. Half Whole Diminished
    14. Whole Tone

    So there are tons of options to just from, maybe start with one inside sound and one for colorful sound, like tonic blues scale and Lydian Dominant, and practice with those two to give your ears a chance to work them out and allow you to organically apply them in the moment when soloing.

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