How to Play Jazz Blues Chords [8 Chord Studies]
Jazz blues is the most important form to study when learning to play jazz guitar.
The jazz blues progression the basis for many of the greatest songs in jazz, and it’s the most popular form called at jazz jam sessions.
Because of this, knowing how to play jazz blues chords is an essential skill that every jazz guitarist needs to have down cold.
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 learn how to take a 12 bar blues, make a few changes, and turn it into a jazz blues progression.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll have enough chords under your fingers to confidently comp through a jazz blues tune on any jam session.
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Jazz Blues Chords – Click to Jump Down
- Blues Chord Variations
- 12-Bar Blues Chords
- Quick Change Blues Chords
- ii V I Blues Chords
- Jazz Blues Chords
- Wes Montgomery Jazz Blues Chords
Blues Chord Variations
If you’ve already studied blues or jazz blues, you probably noticed that these genres share a name, but have different chords.
This lesson is focused on how to play a jazz blues chord progression by altering the 12-bar blues chords.
12 Bar Blues Chords
The first step to building a jazz blues progression is to learn, or review, the 12 bar blues chord progression.
12 bar blues chords act as the foundation for every other blues chord progression in this lesson.
As the name suggestions, 12 bar blues chords have a 12-bar form, which is the case for every blues progression you study in this lesson.
There are also three chords in a 12 bar blues chord progression, here in the key of G:
- 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.
Also, 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 into the jazz blues chord progression, you 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 to see how those three chords relate to the 12-bar form.
There’s also a backing track to hear this progression and practice the chord studies that you’ll learn below.
12 Bar Blues Backing Track 12 Bar Blues Backing Track
12 Bar Blues Chords – Beginner
To help you take the 12 bar blues chords onto the fretboard, here are chords that you can play when jamming on this progression.
This first study is geared towards guitarists that are new to blues chords but have played other shapes, such as barre chords.
You use the same rhythm in each bar to begin, for every chord study in this lesson.
Once you can play these chords with the given rhythm, jam over the backing track and alter the rhythm in your comping.
Click to hear 12 Bar Blues Beginner
12 Bar Blues Chords – Intermediate
For those guitarists that have already begun to study jazz guitar chords, here’s a more advanced 12 bar blues chord study.
In this study, you use rootless chords, as well as extensions, such as 9ths and 13ths.
Again, use this rhythm to learn the chords, and then alter the rhythm as you take these chords to the backing track in your studies.
Click to hear 12 Bar Blues Intermediate
Quick Change Blues Chords
After learning a 12 bar blues, you’re ready to add chords to that 12-bar form as you progress towards a jazz blues.
In this 12-bar progression, you only use three chords, I IV V, but will be play more of those chords.
As you can see and hear in the example below, you now playing a IV chord in bar 2, and a V chord in bar 12.
Because you quickly move from I to IV and back again at the start of the form, this progression is called a “quick change blues.”
Take a listen to this progression and comp along to the backing track using chords you learned in the 12 bar blues studies.
When you’re ready, learn the two quick change blues studies below as you expand your chord knowledge over this popular blues progression.
Quick Change Blues Backing Track Quick Change Blues Backing Track
Quick Change Blues Chords – Beginner
Here’s a quick change blues chord study that you can 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, jam along with the backing track and alter the rhythm as you expand on these chords in the practice room.
Click to hear Quick Change Blues Beginner
Quick Change Blues Chords – Intermediate
For the more advanced guitarists, here’s a quick change study that uses rootless chords, extensions, and other intermediate comping techniques.
As with any study in this lesson, learn the chords from memory first.
Then, jam them over the backing track and alter the rhythm, leave chords out, and add chords in, as you personalize this chord study.
Click to hear Quick Change Blues Intermediate
ii V I Blues Chords
You now add chords to the 12 bar blues as you create the most popular chord progression in jazz, ii V I.
When adding in a iim7 chord to the quick change blues, you replace the V7 chord in bar 9 and the start of bar 12 with a iim7.
When doing so, you form a iim7-V7 two-bar progression in bars 9 and 10.
As well, you create a one-bar iim7 V7 progression in bar 12.
The ii V progression can be found in countless jazz standards, including jazz blues tunes.
By adding in the iim7 chord, you start to hear the jazz sound creeping into the 12 bar blues progression.
Here are the chords that you’re now using when playing the ii V I blues progression on guitar.
- iim7 – Am7
- IV7 – C7
- V7 – D7
If you already know how to play a m7 chord, put on the backing track and jam along with this ii V I blues 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 they sound when played by a rhythm section.
ii V I Blues Backing Track ii V Blues Backing Track
ii V I Blues Chords – Beginner
To take 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 compared to the I IV V chords that you’ve learned previously.
This progression starts to sound less like a Chicago blues and more like a jazz blues.
Because of this, it’s important to know how those two sounds differ 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 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.
As is the case with the advanced studies in this lesson, you use extensions such as 13th chords to outline the ii V I blues.
Though you may already be familiar with these chords, pay attention to how the iim7 chord changes the overall sound of the blues compared to the I IV V chords.
Hearing the difference between these two blues progressions allows you to know when to use one or the other in a jam situation.
Click to hear ii V Blues Intermediate
Jazz Blues Chords
After adding in the iim7 chord, you can bring a new sound into these changes to form the full jazz blues progression.
The final chord that you add is the VI7b9 chord, E7b9 in the key of G.
This chord appears in bars 8 and 11 of the jazz blues and leads the chords from the I7 to the iim7.
The VI7b9 chord is also the V7b9 chord of the iim7, which transitions 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, and that’s OK.
The most important thing to know is that whenever you have a I chord followed by a iim7 chord, you add a VI7b9 between those changes to make the transition smoother.
Here are the full jazz blues chords.
- I7 – G7
- iim7 – Am7
- IV7 – C7
- V7 – D7
- VI7b9 – E7b9
Check out these changes and listen to the track to hear how they sound.
If you already know how to play an E7b9 chord, 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 Chords – Beginner
You’re now ready to learn a jazz blues chord study, taking the VI7b9 chord to the fretboard.
This chord sounds harsh when you’re first studying jazz guitar chords.
So, take your time with this study, learn it as written, and then experiment with the rhythm as you personalize this study in your playing.
Click to hear Jazz Blues Beginner
Jazz Blues Chords – Intermediate
Here’s a jazz blues chord study for experienced guitarists.
Though you’re playing one or more chords in almost every bar, notice how smooth these chords move on the fretboard.
This is key when playing jazz blues chords, not jumping around the fretboard as you move between chords.
If you’re jumping around the neck all the time, you have a jagged sound.
As well, you have a bigger chance of flubbing a chord by jumping around, especially at fast tempos.
So, the more chords you add to a jazz blues, the more important keeping those chords close together on the fretboard becomes.
Click to hear Jazz Blues Intermediate
Wes Montgomery Jazz Blues Chords
The king of jazz blues guitar, Wes Montgomery was a master of comping and chord soloing over this essential jazz form.
If you want a challenge, here’s a chord solo in the style of Wes Montgomery to learn and add to your soloing.
These chords can also be simplified and used to comp over any jazz blues tune, or you can take out a phrase here and there to add to your chord repertoire.
However you study these chords, have fun with them, and use them to bring a bit of Wes to your next jazz blues jam.
Backing Track jazz-blues-guitar-f-backing-wes
Click to Hear wes-chord-solo-jazz-blues
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