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Jazz Guitar Chords – The Ultimate Guide

Jazz guitar chords are both essential tools for any jazz guitarist to have under their fingers, and the cause of much mystery to the uninitiated player.

There seems to be a never-ending number of chords to learn to even get started with comping and chord melody playing.

While the mountain ahead of you may seem tall and steep, this doesn’t have to be the case.


With the right practice routine, an understanding of how jazz guitar chords function, and some cool-sounding shapes under your fingers, you too can comp over jazz standards with confidence.

In this in-depth guide, you’ll learn how to practice, play, break down, and apply jazz guitar chords over essential jazz chord progressions.

By studying the material in this lesson, you’ll build your jazz chord vocabulary in no time.


Free Jazz Guitar eBook: Download a free Jazz guitar PDF that’ll teach you how to play Jazz chords, chord progressions, solo over Jazz chords, and walk basslines.




Contents (Click to Jump to Any Section)




How to Use This Guide


As you can see by the table of contents, there’s a lot of information to cover in this lesson.

To help you organize this material, here are practice guidelines that you can follow when studying jazz guitar chords.



Keeping a Practice Room Focus


While it may be tempting to jump around, learning a few progressions or chords here and there, the best way to study this material is to keep focus in the practice room.

Start by picking a single chord progression to work on.

Then, read about that chord progression and begin to practice the chord studies below.

Work those studies from memory in the given key, then take them to other keys around the fretboard.

Study them at various tempos, and when ready, apply those shapes to other tunes and musical situations in your studies.

If you’re a beginning jazz guitarist, you don’t have to learn every beginning chord study before moving on to the intermediate versions.

That’s perfectly fine, but you can also work one progression at both the beginning and intermediate level back to back.

When you’ve worked through two or three of the chord progression studies, you’ll be ready to jump down and learn one of the jazz standard chord studies.

With those full tune studies, it’s best to learn them in the order presented, as they get progressively more difficult as you go.

In regards to the chord progression studies, you can jump around, but the best way to work that material is in the given order.

Lastly, and most importantly, no matter how you tackle this material, have fun with it!



Picking Hand Variations


The last item to cover before practicing this material is your picking hand.

And, more specifically, how to use your picking hand to play these jazz guitar chords and progressions.

There are three ways to play any of the chords in this lesson, or any jazz guitar chords in general, and all can be used successfully in different musical situations.

These picking variations are:



If you’re used to using a pick to play single notes, then working on flat-picking and hybrid pick (pick and fingers) is probably the best course of action.

This’ll give you two options, strumming and plucking, to sound any chord in a progression.

As well, when playing chords that contain a string skip, such as Drop 3 shapes, you’ll find it easier to use hybrid picking compared to flatpicking.

If you’re a fingerstyle jazz guitarist, then working these chords with your fingers to pluck them, and using your thumb when you want to strum, will provide you with those same two variations.

No matter which option you choose, make sure to have two variations of that picking attack, one plucked and one strummed.

This’ll give you enough technique to tackle any progression, and provide variety when needed in our comping lines and phrases.

Now that you know how to organize and approach the material in this lesson, you can start your journey into jazz harmony by learning exactly what jazz guitar chords are.




What Are Jazz Guitar Chords


Before you take this material to the fretboard, you might be asking yourself:


“What exactly is a jazz guitar chord?”


While there’s no definite jazz guitar chord, there are types of chords that jazz composers and musicians use in their writing and performing.

When playing rock and pop music, or most other musical genres, you’ll mostly play three-note triads when it comes time to play chords on the guitar.

This means playing C, Dm, A, Bm, etc., with the odd 7th or m7 chord throw in.

When playing those same chords in jazz, musicians prefer to use extensions beyond the triad to include four, five, and six-note chord shapes.

This would mean playing those same chords as Cmaj7, Dm9, A7b13, and Bm11.

So, while there isn’t a definitive jazz chord, or set of jazz chords, you can think of this as a guideline.

Jazz chords, unless specified, include extensions beyond the triad, including 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th based chord voicings.

Though these extended chords may be new to you, after working on the material in this lesson, you’ll be able to confidently apply those chords over progressions.

As well, your ears will start to recognize these extended chords as sounding as natural in your playing as an open C chord.

When that happens, then you’re really playing jazz guitar chords, with confidence and authenticity.




How to Read a Jazz Lead Sheet


Here’s where the biggest confusion happens when learning how to play jazz guitar chords and play jazz standards on guitar.

So, I’m going to clear this confusion up for you before going any further in the lesson.

When first learning jazz guitar chords, many players believe that you’re only supposed to play the chord that you see on the lead sheet.

If you see G7, you only play a G7 chord.

If you see G7b9, you only play a G7b9 chord.

But, this isn’t how jazz works.

As a guitarist, you’re expected to use other chords beyond those in the lead sheet changes to make your comping sound hip, and fit this style of music.

This means seeing a Cmaj7 chord and playing C6, or seeing G7 and playing G13.

It can also mean seeing Cmaj7 and playing Em7, or seeing G7 and playing Bdim7 for more advanced guitarists.

Now that I’ve blown that door wide open, which is a good thing, let’s break this down further to make it easier to apply this concept to any jazz standard you’re playing in your studies.

To understand how to see one chord and play another, you’ll need to take a look at the main families of jazz guitar chords.

Then, you’ll be able to swap out these chords for each other.

As long as you stay within the same family, for now, you’ll be cool.



Major Chord Family


These chords are all based on the major triad and maj7 chord, and are found on the Imaj7 and IVmaj7 chords in a major key.

When playing a jazz standard, you can usually move between these chords without much trouble.

I say usually because the maj7#11 and its variations might cause too much tension for some players, while others may enjoy this tension.

The only way to figure out if you dig that tension is to experiment.

Just make sure you experiment at home first before taking these chords to a jam situation.


  • Maj7
  • Maj9
  • Maj6
  • Maj6/9
  • Maj7#11
  • Maj9#11
  • Maj6#11


As you can see, you have quite a number of options to choose from when it comes to the major family of chords.

When learning any chord study below, make a mental note of which variations you like the best.

That way, you’ll be able to apply them further in your studies with confidence and an ear for those chord variations on the fretboard.



Dominant Chord Family


Moving on to dominant family chords, there are just as many options with these chords as applied to lead sheets.

And you’re not even going into altered dominant chords yet.

For this reason, dominant 7th chords are some of the most fun, yet most difficult, chords to navigate in a jazz chord progression.

Here are the chords that you can use when you see a 7th chord in a lead sheet.

Again, the 7#11 chords will be a bit tense, so test those out at home before bringing them onto the bandstand.


  • 7
  • 9
  • 13
  • 7#11
  • 9#11
  • 13#11
  • 7sus


The last chord, 7sus, is technically part of the suspended family of chords.

But in jazz it’s most often applied to the V7 chord, or other dominant chords, and that’s why it’s included as an option here.



Minor Chord Family


As you dig into minor family chords, you’ll find you have fewer options, as there isn’t a #11 version of these chords to navigate on the guitar.

When you see a m7 chord on a jazz standard lead sheet, you can use the following minor chord options.


  • m7
  • m6
  • m9
  • m6/9
  • m11


Though they have fewer options than dominant or major family chords, there are some very cool colors in the minor family.

Chords such as m11 and minor 6/9 will expand your comping colors immensely, and bring a jazz vibe to any progression you play.



Altered Dominant Chords


You’ll now take a look at 7alt chords.

This is one of the most confusing chord symbols because it’s often not used as a specific chord, but as a catchall for any altered sound.

Then, you the performer are required to figure out which 7alt option you’ll play on the guitar.

While there are a number of 7alt options, you only have two notes that can be altered, the 9th and the 5th.

This can seem simple, but it causes even more problems as sometimes the b5 is written #11, or other times the #5 is written b13.

It’ll take some time to learn how to interpret a 7alt chord correctly in your comping, so start today.

And, if you get stuck and don’t know which chord to play, look at the melody.

Often the melody will contain a few altered notes, dictating which ones you’ll use in your Jazz guitar chord voicings.


  • 7b9
  • 7#9
  • 7b9b5
  • 7b9#5
  • 7#9b5
  • 7#9#5


On the guitar, those are about all the options you have for a practical 7alt jazz guitar chord.

Pianists can bring more options to the table, but we do just fine with our six strings and these 7alt chord on the guitar.



Diminished Chord Family


The final family to look at is the diminished family of chords.

This family contains dim7 and m7b5 variations, both diminished and half-diminished chords.

Though these chords function differently in jazz chord progressions, they both contain the diminished triad, so are grouped together here.

To begin, if you see a dim7 chord symbol on a lead sheet you can play.


  • dim7
  • dimMaj7


Then, if you see m7b5 on chord sheet you can play.


  • m7b5
  • m11b5


There are a few other options for m7b5 chords, such as m9b5, but they tend to be indicated in lead sheets as they’re only used in specific musical situations.

Now that you’ve worked out how to read a jazz lead sheet, and understand the various families of chords, you’re ready to explore the essential jazz rhythms that you can use to play these chords on the guitar.




7 Essential Jazz Rhythms


When learning any of the chord progression studies in this lesson, you’ll notice that they’re all written out with a simple rhythm pattern.

This is to make it easier to learn and read the chord shapes, as well as leave the rhythms up for your interpretation.

To help give you an understanding of how to practice rhythms over these jazz chord progressions, you can study the following essential jazz rhythms in your practice routine.

When doing so, you can learn any chord study below.

Then, once it’s memorized, work that same progression through these different rhythms to get a feel for how you can vary the rhythms in your comping.



Half Time Feel


The first must know jazz guitar rhythm is the half-time feel.

This rhythm is based on the half note in each bar of 4/4 time, which you can move around from that starting point.

Here’s a sample half-time rhythm over a Dmaj7 chord.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 1



jazz guitar chords 1


You can also place the second chord on the 4th beat of each bar, or other beats as long as you maintain the half-note accent within the bar.

Here’s an example of that second approach to half-time rhythms.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 2



jazz guitar chords 2


Once you can play these two examples, begin to experiment with other variations as you keep the half-note accent, but place chords on different beats within the bar.



Freddie Green Rhythm


Probably the most famous rhythm guitarist in jazz, Freddie Green even has a rhythm named after him.

Freddie Green style comping, from a rhythmic perspective, means playing one chord on each quarter note in a bar.

From there, you put a slight accent on beats 2 and 4 to increase the swing feel.

Here’s an example of the Freddie Green rhythm that you can learn and apply to any progression in this lesson.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 3



jazz guitar chords 3



Charleston Rhythm


Here’s one of the most common rhythms in jazz, the Charleston rhythm.

Named after the tune and dance from the 1920s, the Charleston is a dotted quarter note followed by an 8th note.

Here’s example of that rhythm to check out and apply to your jazz guitar chords practice routine.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 4




jazz guitar chords 4.2


You can also place the Charleston rhythm on other beats within the bar.

An example of this is moving it over by an 8th note, as you can see here.

From there, experiment with playing the Charleston rhythm on any 8th note within a bar.

Moving a rhythm around like this is a great way to come up with new rhythm ideas without leaving the original rhythm in your comping.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 5



jazz guitar chords 4.1



Upbeats on 1 and 3


Here is a syncopated (offbeat) rhythm that you can use to raise the interest level in your jazz guitar comping.

When playing on the & of 1 and 3, you might tend to rush these chords.

So, make sure to work slowly with a metronome first.

Then, slowly speed up the tempo from there as you become more comfortable with this rhythm in your playing.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 6



jazz guitar chords 5



Upbeats on 2 and 4


You can take the previous rhythm and push it over by a beat to play on the & of 2 and 4 in each bar.

When doing so, you’ll need to decide on what chord to play on the & of 4.

Technically it’s still in bar 1, for example.

But, you might want to use that attack to anticipate the next chord that falls on the downbeat of bar 2.

Try both and see what you think.

You will probably end up using both in different situations; so let your ears decide as to what chord you want to place on that beat.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 7



jazz guitar chords 6



Dotted Quarter Notes


This is a favorite rhythm of jazz guitarist Jim Hall, among others, who used it in many of his classic jazz recordings.

Dotted quarter notes can be chained together to cover one, two, or three bars before they repeat back on the first beat of any measure.

An extension of the Charleston rhythm you learned earlier, this extended jazz guitar rhythm can take some time to get comfortable in your playing.

Go slow, try playing dotted quarters for a bar or two at first, and then when you’re ready extend them out to three or four bars from there.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 7



jazz guitar chords 7



Bossa Nova Rhythm


The final rhythm that you’ll study is a Bossa Nova rhythm.

When jamming on Bossa tunes, many guitarists not born in Brazil will fake a Bossa rhythm.

While you may be able to do a convincing job in a pinch by faking a Bossa, it’s best to get an authentic Bossa Nova guitar pattern down when jamming in a jazz situation.

This first pattern is a favorite of guitarist Joao Gilberto, and can be used for any Tom Jobim style Bossa tune, such as Corcovado, Girl From Ipanema, Meditation, etc.

Make sure to keep everything quiet, except the very last attack on the & of 3 in each bar, that should be accented a bit.

This will give you that cool, laid-back Brazilian swing feel when applied to any chord progression.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 8



jazz guitar chords 8


Here’s a second version of the Bossa Nova rhythm that you can work on as you master the first version.

In this Bossa rhythm, you’re anticipating the next chord by playing the top 3 notes on the & of 4 before the next down beat.

This is easy to understand, but tricky to get down, as you’ll naturally want to play that chord with the bass note on beat one.

For that reason, make sure you’ve got the first Bossa Nova rhythm fully under your fingers before you attempt them pattern in your studies.


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 7



jazz guitar chords 9


With a firm grasp on important jazz guitar rhythms, you’re ready to move on to studying the 10 most popular jazz chord progressions on your instrument.




Must Know Jazz Chord Progressions


Before you learn how to play jazz guitar chords on the fretboard, take a minute to look through each of the 10 essential jazz chord progressions that are used in this lesson.

The other option, which is cool as well, is to skip down to the chord studies below.

Then, after you’ve picked one to work on, pop back up here and read the background on that particular chord progression.

That way you’ll not only learn how to play chords over these must know progressions, but you’ll understand how they’re built and why they’re used so often in jazz standards.

Lastly, there are backing tracks for every progression, both here and again down in the chord study sections for you to practice with.

These backing tracks use drums and bass only to allow you to comp over those progressions without interference from a piano part.

If you know some jazz guitar chords already, feel free to start trying out these progressions with the backing tracks as you read about them.

But if not, no worries.

Just learn the examples below and then come back to the backing tracks when you have those chords under your fingers and are ready to apply them to a comping situation.



Major ii V I


The first progression is the most popular of them all, the major ii V I chord progression.

Found in too many jazz standards to list here, jazz wouldn’t exist without these three chords, at least not in the form we know and love.

Built from the 2nd, 5th, and 1st chords of the major scale, the ii V I is a cadence progression.

This means that the iim7 chord wants to move forward, in this case to the V7 chord.

Then, the V7 chord creates a bit of tension that feels like it wants to resolve, which it does to the tonic chord, Imaj7.

So, you can think of any ii V I progression as:




In the progressions below, you’ll see the two most common durations for a ii V I progression, labeled long and short.

The long progression is four bars long, while the short progression is half that length, two bars.

As you study jazz standards further, you’ll find that the ii and V are often played on their own.

Studying ii V I’s will not only prepare you to play those exact chords, but the ii V variation as well.


Major ii V I Backing Track – Long 251 C Major Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 10



Major ii V I Backing Track – Short 251 C Major Short Backing Track


jazz guitar chords 11




Minor ii V I


The other side of the most popular chord progression in jazz is the minor ii V I progression.

These three chords come from various minor family scales, which is why they’re often more difficult to solo over than the major ii V I chords.

From a soloing standpoint, the iim7b5 chord comes from the natural minor scale, while the V7alt chord comes from the harmonic minor scale.

Then, to resolve the progression, the Im7 chord is either from melodic minor or Dorian, depending on your musical tastes.

Before you start to play this chord progression, just a reminder about V7alt chords.

Though the chord is writing E7alt, that doesn’t automatically imply the altered scale, or a full altered chord.

You have the choice to play E7b9, E7b9,b13, E7#9, E7#9b13, etc. in both your chords and solos.

Because of this, it can take some time to know where and when to use those chords in your comping patterns.

Study the examples below, and over time you’ll develop a sense for where each of these 7alt chord variations will fit into your comping vocabulary.

Lastly, as was the case with the major ii V I, there are both long and short versions of the minor ii V I progression, which you can see below.


Minor ii V I Backing Track – Long 251 Am Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 12



Minor ii V I Backing Track – Short 251 Am Short Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 13



Major I VI ii V


Often referred to as a “turnaround” progression, I VI ii V is found in many jazz standards, often at the end of a section or full tune.

The name turnaround refers to the fact that these four chords “turn around” the tune back to the tonic chord.

As well as turning tunes around, these four chords are also found in the A section to rhythm changes, one of the most popular forms in Jazz history.

You’ve already studied three of these chords, the ii, V, and I, but the VI chord is new.

In a diatonic major key, the vi chord is minor.


In jazz, we prefer to use the VI7b9 chord in its place.

The reason for this is that the VI7b9 chord is also the V7b9 of the iim7 chord.

So, in the key of C, A7b9 is the V7b9 of Dm7, the iim7 chord in that key.

As you learned earlier, this creates tension over the VI7b9 chord that is resolved down to the iim7 chord in the progression.

Give it a try, listen to the backing track, and learn the examples below to hear how this progression, long and short versions, sounds on the guitar.


Major I VI ii V Backing Track – Long C Turnaround Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 14



Major I VI ii V Backing Track – Short C Turnaround Short Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 15



Minor I bIII ii V


The next progression is the minor key turnaround, which is actually very diatonic compared to the major key version.

In this case, you’re adding a bIIImaj7 chord to the ii V I progression that you just learned.

When doing so, you’ll be turning any chord progression or tune back to the tonic minor chord.

As you’ll see in the chord studies below, the bIIImaj7 chord is often played as a maj6 chord, which is a quasi-inversion of the Im7 chord.

But, for now, just know that these four chords make up the short and long minor turnaround chord progression.

Then you can take that knowledge to the guitar with the backing tracks and chord studies in this lesson.


Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track – Long Am Turnaround Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 16



Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track – Short Am Turnaround Short Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 17



Backdoor ii V


The next progression stretches out over 8 bars and is found in jazz standards such as Lady Bird, where it’s heard in the A section of the tune.

This progression starts on the tonic chord, and then uses a ivm7 and bVII7 chord progression to turn back around to that same tonic chord.

This ii V progression resolves from behind, or from the “back door” of the Imaj7 chord, hence the name.

The ii V, ivm7 to bVII7, is borrowed from the tonic minor key, which is why it looks a bit out of place, but sounds cool when played over a tune.

In the tonic minor key, Am for example, you have both a ivm7 and bVII7 chord.

With the back door ii V progression, you’re simply “borrowing” those chords for a moment to create a new chord progression.

This type of progression is called modal borrowing.

It might sound complex, but for now just know that if you’re in a major key you might see a few chords from the minor key thrown into the mixture.


Backdoor ii V Backing Track Backdoor ii V Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 18



Take the A Train


Taken from the A section of one of the most famous jazz standards, this 8-bar phrase outlines the opening changes to Take the A Train.

While there isn’t much going on for 6 of these bars that you haven’t seen before, it’s the D7 chord that’s interesting and new.

The II7 chord, referred to as two dominant, is a classic jazz chord that you’ll find in many other jazz standards, including the ever-popular Girl From Ipanema.

This chord is a secondary dominant, which means it’s the V7 chord of the V7 chord in the given key.

In the key of C, the V7 chord is G7, and D7 is the V7 of G7.

This creates a bit of tension that is then resolved down through the iim7 chord to the V7 chord and eventually to the Imaj7 chord.

As well, when you study the chord examples below, you’ll discover that the D7 chord is often played as D7#11 in this progression.

Again, this is a new chord sound that you’ll need to practice to get under your fingerings and into your ears as you progress in your jazz guitar studies.


Take the A Train Backing Track A Train Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 19



Rhythm Changes Bridge


Moving on, you’ll now look at the bridge to rhythm changes, which features a dominant cycle progression.

Here, you’re running a series of secondary dominant chords, as you did with Take the A Train only now in a series of V7’s.

When doing so, you create the progression III7-VI7-II7-V7, with each chord being the V7 of the next chord.

Not only is this progression important to know because of its relationship to rhythm changes, but it’s a great vehicle for testing new dominant chords.


Rhythm Changes Bridge Backing Track Rhythm Changes Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 20



Jordu Cycle


Related to the progression that you just studied, you can think of the Jordu cycle (found in the bridge section of the tune Jordu) as a sped up, extended rhythm changes bridge.

This dominant cycle starts on the tritone chord, Ab7 in this key of D major, and runs a series of secondary dominant chords from that starting point.

These secondary dominants then resolve down to the Imaj7 chord in the fourth bar of the progression.

If you’re new to jazz guitar chords, make sure to work this progression slowly at first, then speed it over time as you gain confidence with these fast-moving changes.


Jordu Cycle Backing Track Jordu Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 21



All The Things You Are


The last 8 bars to All the Things You Are is built from a common chord progression, and is worth taking a closer look at in your studies.

Starting on the IVmaj7 chord, the progression then runs down a ivm7, iiim7, biiidim7 progression before running the ii V I to end the changes.

The move from IVmaj7 to ivm7 is very common in jazz, and so working on ATTYA this way will not only help you comp over that jazz standard, it’ll prepare you for other tunes as well.

As well, there’s a biiidim7 chord in this progression, one of two popular uses of the dim7 chord in jazz.

The first is described here, and the second is used heavily and explained further in the intermediate chord studies below.

In this instance, you’re using the dim7 chord as a passing chord between iiim7 and iim7.

Whenever you have two chords a tone apart like this, iiim7 and iim7, you can connect them with a passing dim7 chord, such as biiidim7.

Give this progression a try with the backing track, or by learning the chord studies below.

It’s a classic progression from an important jazz standard, and it’ll open new doors in your jazz guitar chord studies.


All the Things You Are Backing Track ATTYA Backing Track



jazz guitar chords 22



Giant Steps


The final essential jazz chord progression is a doozy.

Giant Steps is looked upon as the pinnacle of chord progressions in the jazz world, and often used as a litmus test for any up and coming player’s blowing and comping chops.

While soloing over Giant Steps takes a lot of work to sound good, comping over the tune is much more accessible for players of all levels of experience.

The chords to Giant Steps are based on three main maj7 chords, Bmaj7-Ebmaj7-Gmaj7.

These chords are built from the B augmented triad, with each note in that triad getting a maj7 chord, B-D#(Eb)-Fx(G).

From there, you add in a V7 chord before each of those three maj7 chords to form the full chord progression.

Sounds so simple when you look at it that way.

If only it was that easy to play on guitar.

While it will pose a challenge, even to comp these changes, with time and some slow practice you’ll be able to comp with confidence over these difficult changes.


Giant Steps Backing Track Giant Steps A Section Backing Track


jazz guitar chords 23





Beginner Jazz Guitar Chords


The following 10 exercises are designed to help beginning jazz guitarists build chord vocabulary and apply this vocabulary to popular jazz chord progressions.

With a focus on introducing you to new Jazz guitar chords, and keeping with the beginning level, these shapes are all root-based chords.

As well, the rhythms for each chord study are written in whole or half notes to make it easier to read and learn in the beginning.

Once you can play any of these chord examples from memory, jam them over the backing tracks and start to alter the rhythms.

From there, you can alter your picking hand attack, and add slides and other devices to personalize these beginner jazz guitar chords in your routine.

As well, any of these chords can be taken to other progressions and jazz standards in your studies.

So, learn the examples below, work them at various tempos and in different keys, and then bring them to other tunes as you begin to grow your jazz guitar chord vocabulary.



Major ii V I


To begin, you’ll learn how to comp over the most important jazz chord progression, the major ii V I.

In this example, you’ll learn to play Drop 2 chords (bars 1, 2, and 4), as well as Drop 3 chords (bar 2).

The key takeaway from this comping sample is in bar 4.

Here, you’re playing a Cmaj9 chord over a Cmaj7.

As these chords are both from the major family, they can be interchanged in your jazz guitar comping.

The best place to do that when beginning is when you have one chord for a long time.

This Cmaj7 chord does just that, as it’s one chord for two whole bars in the progression.


Major ii V I Backing Track 251 C Major Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 10



jazz guitar chords 24



Minor ii V I


In this minor key progression, the second most popular group of jazz guitar chords, you’ll learn Drop 3 chords (bars 1, 2 and 4) as well as apply the “Hendrix chord” shape to bar two of the phrase.

Bar 2 is an important group of chord shapes to check out.

Here, you’re moving from E7#9 (Hendrix chord) to an E7b9.

When doing so, you outline the E7alt chord, and create movement in your chords at the same time.

Then, you resolve that b9, F, down to the E, 5th, of Am7.

The last bar of the phrase features an Am6 chord shape.

Again, as these chords both belong to the minor family, they can be interchangeable in your playing.


Minor ii V I Backing Track 251 Am Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 11



jazz guitar chords 25



Major I VI ii V


For this major turnaround chord progression, you’ll use Drop 3 shapes (bars 1 and 3), the Hendrix chord over bar 2, and a new chord in bar 4.

Bar 4 uses a G9 chord over G7.

Because they’re both part of the dominant family of chords, you can move between these two chord types in your comping.

This movement, between the Drop 3 Dm7 and G9 chords is essential learning for any jazz guitarist.

This chord combination can be found in the comping of many legendary players.

As well, the smooth movement between each shape is easy to play on the guitar.

So, make sure to take those two shapes out of the example below and work them in other keys and over tunes in your studies.


Major I VI ii V Backing Track C Turnaround Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 12



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Minor I bIII ii V


You’ll now take chord shapes that you’ve seen before and apply them to a new chord progression, in this case a minor key ii V I.

Though there aren’t any new shapes here, you’ll need to work hard on the transition between the Am7 and Am6 chords in bar one, just as you did with the 7#9 to 7b9 chords that reappear in bar four.

If you find it beyond your technique to nail those chords right now, don’t sweat it.

Pick the first chord shape from each bar and work the progression that way.

Then, pick the second chord from each bar and work the changes that way as well.

After they’re comfortable separately, you can then combine all of the chords in the example below to form the entire progression.


Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track Am Turnaround Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 13



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Backdoor ii V


With this chord study, you’ll be adding in a 13th chord in bar four and a maj6 chord in bars 2 and 6 of the progression.

Otherwise, you’ve seen these chord shapes before, just not over this particular progression.

If you have a 7th chord, such as the Bb7 Drop 3 shape in bar four, you can raise the 5th of that chord to form a 13th chord shape.

As well, if you have a maj7 chord shape, like the first chord in bar one, you can lower the 7th by 2 frets to form a maj6 chord shape.

Both of these chords, 13th and maj6, are essential jazz guitar chords, and adding them to your tool belt will help bring a jazz sound to any progression you play.


Backdoor ii V Backing Track Backdoor ii V Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 14



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Take the A Train


In this progression, the first 8 bars of Take the A Train, you’ll be introduced to an important jazz guitar chord type, the 7#11 chord.

You can see this chord in bar four of the progression, in this case sounding a D7#11 over the D7 chord in the tune.

To build a 7#11 chord shape, you simply take any 7th chord you know, lower the 5th by one fret, and you’ve got a 7#11 chord.

By altering chords you know, which you’ve done in just about every study so far, you’ll expand your chord knowledge without having to learn any new shapes in the process.

This’ll maximize your time in the woodshed and give you new chord shapes to add to your jazz comping phrases at the same time.


Take the A Train Backing Track A Train Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 15



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Rhythm Changes Bridge


This rhythm changes bridge chord study will challenge you by using two different chord shapes in each bar.

When you have a longer chord rhythm, such as one chord every two bars, you can bring more shapes into play over those chord changes.

If you find it too difficult to nail all of these chords at once, not to worry.

Pick the first chord shape for each chord type, one per chord, and start there.

When that’s comfortable, move on to the second chord shape for each chord change.

Repeat that exercise until you’ve worked all four chord-shapes for each change separately.

Then, begin to combine two, then three, and finally all four shapes over the chord progression.

This’ll help you learn to play the chord study, but do it in a systematic way that builds up in easy to practice steps.


Rhythm Changes Bridge Backing Track Rhythm Changes Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 16



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Jordu Cycle


The next chord study will pose a challenge for any beginning jazz guitarist.

With two chords per bar, these changes move by very quickly.

When playing fast-moving chords such as these, running repetitive shapes can help you outlined the progression and take it easy on your hands on the fretboard.

In this case, you’ll alternate 9th and 13th chords as you make your way through the Jordu bridge chord progression.

Even though you’re repeating chords, and making it easier on yourself, you’ll still want to go slow when first learning this study.

After you can do it slowly, smoothly, and from memory, then start to increase the tempo to raise the intensity with this exercise.


Jordu Cycle Backing Track Jordu Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 17



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All The Things You Are


One of the most common progressions in jazz, starting on the IVmaj7 chord and working down to the Imaj7 chord is essential practicing for jazz guitarists.

Not only will this chord study introduce you to this important progression on the guitar, but you’ll also add the dim7 chord to your vocabulary at the same time.

Dim7 chords don’t pop up as often as the other jazz chords you’ve seen so far.

But, when they do, you’ll want to be ready to nail that chord in your comping.

As well, there’s a CAGED Eb7 chord in the last line of the study.

This type of chord is great for when you need the root note as the melody note in any 7th chord, and should be added to your chord vocabulary going forward.


All The Things You Are Backing Track ATTYA Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 18



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Giant Steps


Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no, Giant Steps is not a beginning jazz guitar standard.

Before you skip ahead, soloing over Giant Steps is very difficult, even for intermediate or advanced players.


Using the chord progression to study shapes is an effective way for any guitarist to work on comping in the practice room.

Even beginners.

So, try out the chord study below, at a slow tempo.

Even start with no tempo at first.

Switching between these chords, which move in non-traditional intervals, will help you develop coordination and smoothness in your chord transitions.

Though you may never jam Giant Steps on a gig, it’s a great progression to use as a practice vehicle no matter what level you’re at in your development.


Giant Steps Backing Track Giant Steps A Section Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 20


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Intermediate Jazz Guitar Chords


For those guitarists that have worked through the beginner jazz guitar chords in this lesson, or are coming here with more experience, you’re ready to dive into intermediate chords and concepts.

The focus of this section will be rootless jazz guitar chords.

These shapes are essential for any jazz guitarist to learn, and the more you study them, the more you realize just how often great players used them in their comping.

Each example below will either introduce a new concept, such as contrary motion, rootless chords, and chord substitutions.

While the focus for the beginner jazz guitar chords exercises was to introduce new voicings, here you’re shifting your attention to concepts.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t new chord shapes to learn in these examples.

It’s just that the discussion will center around more advanced comping concepts and their application to popular jazz chord progressions.

Make sure to learn each example in the give key, and then move it to other keys around the fretboard.

As well, play the examples over the backing track from memory, and apply them to tunes you’re working on to hear them in musical situations.

From there, you can begin to alter the rhythms, add in slides, change your picking attack, etc. to make these progressions more personalized in your studies.

So, have at it.

These concepts will take some time to become comfortable in your playing, so there’s no better time to start working on them than today.



Major ii V I


To begin your intermediate level jazz guitar chords study, you’ll apply rootless chords to a major ii V I progression.

When doing so, you’ll start with a rootless Dm9 chord, where you play Fmaj7 over Dm7 to form that sound on the guitar.

Whenever you have a m7 chord, you can play a maj7 chord from the b3 to form a rootles m9 chord sound.

From there, you’re using some classic jazz voice leading to create a G13 sound over G7.

Here, you’ll lower the b7 from Dm7, the note C, by a half step.

When doing so, you create a rootless G13 chord shape.

As well, you can think of the G13 rootless shape as being an Fmaj7#11 chord over G7.

You can play a maj7#11 chord shape from the b7 of any dominant chord to create a rootless 13th chord sound in your playing.

To finish the progression, you’re playing Em7 over Cmaj7 to create a rootless Cmaj9 sound.

Playing a m7 chord shape from the 3rd of any maj7 chord will produce a rootless maj9 chord sound.


That’s a lot of material packed into four short bars.

To help you organize those thoughts in the practice room, here’s a summary of what you just learned.


  • Rootless m9 = maj7 from b3 of m7 chord
  • Rootless 13th = maj7#11 from b7 of 7 chord
  • Rootless maj9 = m7 from 3 of maj7 chord


Now that you’ve got a bunch of new theory concepts to check out in your comping over Standards, you can hear and play those concepts by learning the example below.

Start in one key, then work it to other keys and finally apply it to jazz standards that you’re working on in the woodshed.


Major ii V I Backing Track 251 C Major Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 21



jazz guitar chords 34



Minor ii V I


In the next chord progression, you’re applying similar concepts to what you just learned, only this time in a minor key.

Starting at the end, a Cmaj7 chord is being used to create a rootless Am9 sound in those two measures.

Over the first chord, you’re playing a root-position Bm7b5 followed by a Bm11b5 chord shape.

Keeping things simple in that bar.


The interesting part comes in second bar.

Here, you’ll be taking those same Bm7b5 and Bm11b5 shapes and playing them from the b7 of E7alt.

This means that you’re playing Dm7b5 and Dm11b5 over E7alt.

When doing so, you bring out an E7(b9,b13) and E7(#9,b13) sound over that bar in the progression.

There are two ways to think of this concept.

The first is to think of playing m7b5 and m11b5 chords from the b7 of a dominant chord to create an altered sound.

Secondly, if you have a minor ii V progression, you can play the iim7b5 chord, following by those same shapes a minor 3rd higher to form the V7alt chord in that progression.

This is how you get the Bm7b5-Dm7b5 shapes over Bm7b5 and E7alt in the example below.

Here’s a quick summary of those concepts that you can use as a reference going forward in your studies.


  • m7b5 and m11b5 shapes work well together
  • Rootless 7alt = m7b5 and m11b5 from b7 of chord
  • Playing iim7b5 then iim7b5 up a minor 3rd outlines minor ii V changes


Time to take these concepts to the fretboard.


Minor ii V I Backing Track 251 Am Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 22



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Major I VI ii V


Continuing your study of rootless jazz guitar chords, you’ll now apply those shapes to a major turnaround chord progression.

In the first bar, you’re using Am7 over Cmaj7 to create a C6 sound.

You can play a m7 chord from the 6th of any maj7 chord to produce a rootless 6 sound.

Then, in the second bar you’re playing Gm11b5 over A7alt, which you saw in the previous section.

This altered chord is followed by Bbdim7 being played over A7, which creates an A7b9 sound in that bar.

Playing a dim7 chord from the b2 of any dominant chords produces as 7b9 sound over that chord change.

To finish the progression, you’re using Bm7b5 and Bm11b5 over G7.

When doing so, you’re bringing out rootless G9 and G13 sounds in your playing.

Using m7b5 and m11b5 chords from the 3rd of any dominant chord creates rootless 9 and 13 sounds over that chord.

To help you summarize these concepts, here’s a quick reference list to study further.


  • Rootless 6 = m7 from 6 of maj7 chord
  • Rootless 7b9 = dim7 from b2 of 7 chord
  • Rootless 9 = m7b5 from 3rd of 7 chord
  • Rootless 13 = m11b5 from 3rd of 7 chord


Armed with this new information, you’re ready to hear and play these concepts through the major turnaround example below.


Major I VI ii V Backing Track C Turnaround Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 23



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Minor I bIII ii V


Moving on to a minor turnaround progression, you’re going to apply previously learned concepts to this new progression.

Each chord features rootless shapes that you’ve learned in last few progressions, only in a minor key in this example.

This is a turning point for most guitarists when studying jazz guitar chords.

In the beginning, especially at the intermediate level, it can seem like there are endless concepts and voicings to learn and discover.


Once you get into it, you realize that, practically speaking, there aren’t that many concepts and voicings that you have to learn to sound good with jazz guitar chords.

The hard part is taking this handful of concepts, and essential jazz chord shapes, and being able to apply them to any tune you learn.

It’s even more difficult to apply them when sight-reading.

So, as you move forward in your development, don’t worry about learning too many more theoretical concepts in your studies.

Instead, focus on applying the concepts you already know to as many musical situations as you can on the guitar.


Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track Am Turnaround Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 24



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Backdoor ii V


Again, in this backdoor ii V jazz guitar chord study, you aren’t learning any new concepts, but you’re working on new combinations of chord voicings.

When learning this example around the fretboard, pay attention to the second chord voicing used Bb7.

This rootless Bb13 shape, Abmaj7#11 over Bb7, was a favorite chord voicing of both Ed Bickert and Joe Pass.

Though it may look simple on paper, this one shape will bring an authentic jazz sound to your comping and chord progressions.

If you only get one thing out of this example, make it that voicing.

Then, bring that shape to as many 7th chords as you can in your playing to begin integrating it into your jazz guitar comping phrases over tunes.


Backdoor ii V Backing Track Backdoor ii V Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 25



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Take the A Train


The crux of this progression, as you learned earlier, is playing a D7#11 chord over bars three and four of Take the A Train.

Here, you’re playing a rootless D9 chord, F#m7b5 from 3rd in bar 3 of the progression.

In bar four, you’re lowering the 5th of D, A, by a fret to highlight the #11 interval in that chord, G#.

This is a great example of altering chords you know to form new shapes in your comping.

You don’t always have to learn shapes for new chords in tunes you’re studying.

In fact, you’re better off not learning new chords.

Instead, take shapes you already know, alter them by one or at most two notes, and you’ve got enough chord vocabulary to outline the new chord changes.

This helps with both practice room time management and fretboard visualization at the same time.


Take the A Train Backing Track A Train Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 26



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Rhythm Changes Bridge


In the example below, you’ll be working across the entire fretboard as you focus on covering a lot of ground when comping over the rhythm changes bridge.

When you have a longer harmonic rhythm such as you do here, with two bars per chord, you can move around the fretboard more in your comping.

A good rule of thumb when comping over any tune is:

When the chords are busy play simple. When the chords are simple, be busy.

This’ll allow you to create interest in your comping when the progression is straightforward.

Then, when the chords are moving by fast and furious, you can lay back, outline the chords, and let the changes create interest for you.

Eventually you’ll be able to do both, play complex chords over fast chord progressions.

But, in the meantime, you can use this guideline to help you maximize your jazz guitar comping lines over standard chord progressions.


Rhythm Changes Bridge Backing Track Rhythm Changes Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 27



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Jordu Cycle


Here’s an important jazz guitar chord concept to explore over the Jordu cycle progression.

When playing descending cycles, such as Jordu or a Tune Up, one of the most interesting approaches to take is to play ascending chords.

This contrary motion creates a bit of surprise with the listener, as they’re expecting descending chords and your comping an ascending line.

While it’s a great concept to explore, it’s easier said than done.

Moving up the fretboard like this takes a solid knowledge of chord shapes and inversions on your part.


With time and practice you’ll be applying contrary motion to your jazz guitar chords with ease and confidence.


Jordu Cycle Backing Track Jordu Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 28



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All The Things You Are


Again, you aren’t using any new concepts in this All the Things You Are comping study, but are applying known concepts to a new progression.

Here, you’ll use rootless chords to outline most of the chords in the progression.

This approach can be helpful with a progression such as this, especially in the first four bars.

Here, the chords don’t have a lot of movement, the root notes only moving down 3 frets in four bars.

So, to create interest, you can bring rootless chords into the mix, adding color to a progression with minimal movement.


All The Things You Are Backing Track ATTYA Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 29



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Giant Steps


The final intermediate Jazz guitar chord example applies rootless shapes to the first half of Giant Steps.

Rootless chords can be tough when applied to a fast-moving chord progression such as this.

So, take your time with this example and work on memorizing it in your studies.

From there, begin to apply rootless chord shapes to your Giant Steps comping phrases.

Even if you use only one per chorus, over time you’ll build your skill set to where you can play every chord in the progression as a rootless chord shape.


Giant Steps Backing Track Giant Steps A Section Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 30


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Jazz Standards Chord Studies


To finish up your jazz guitar chords exploration, here are five chord studies that you can learn over classic jazz standards.

Each study will use chord voicings, rhythms, and other concepts that you learned previously in this lesson.

And, to make it more beneficial, there are some new shapes in there to challenge you even further in your playing.

When working on any study in this section of the lesson, here are a few suggestions on how to practice each standard to get the most out of your time in the practice room.


  • Learn the studies as written
  • Memorize them and play along with recording
  • Play along with backing track only
  • Jam on backing track with chords from the studies
  • Apply those chords to other standards and progressions


As you work through these jazz guitar chord studies, you’ll reach a point where you have a study memorized and you want to make it more personal on the fretboard.

When doing so, there are a number of ways that you can begin to expand these chord studies to make them your own.

Here are a few examples of how you can alter any chord study to bring a personal touch to these chords and phrases.

As well, these techniques will help set you up to bring any chords and chord lines in these studies to other tunes, keys, and progressions in your playing.


  • Slide into chords from a fret below or above
  • Change your picking attach – strum, pluck, mixed
  • Fingerpick the chord shapes
  • Break the chords up into bass-middle-melody notes
  • Leave some chords out or add new chords in


Now that you know how to learn each chord study, and how to begin taking these chords and phrases into your own playing both on these tunes and over other jazz standards, you’re ready to learn these 5 chord studies on the guitar.



F Jazz Blues Chord Progression


In this chord study, you’ll apply the Freddie Green rhythm to the F jazz blues chord progression.

Beyond the rhythm, you’ll want to check out bars 7 through 10.

In bars 7 and 8, you have four descending chords that are often played over that section of a Jazz Blues tune.

Then, in bars 9 and 10 you have inversions mixed in with root-position chords over the ii V progression, Gm7-C7.

With these inversions, you’re using the bass notes to lead up to the next chord in the progression.

Again, this is something this is common in jazz blues standards, as well as over any ii V and ii V I chord progression that you come across in your comping.


F Jazz Blues Backing Track F Blues Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 31



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Summertime Chord Progression


Moving on, you’ll now be mixing in root-based chords and rootless chords as you comp over the jazz standard Summertime.

When working on the first half of the study, you’re playing rootless chords for each change in that section.

To help you take these chords into other aspects of your playing, visualize the root note even though it’s not being played.

For example, in bar one you would picture the D on the 5th string, 5th fret as being the closest root note for those chords.

This’ll help you with transposing and applying these Jazz guitar chords to other standards and chord progressions in your playing.

Lastly, the rhythm is based on the two Charleston variations that you learned earlier.

And, for good measure, there are a few & of 1 and 3 rhythms thrown at you as well.


Summertime Backing Track Summertime Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 32



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Blue Bossa Chord Progression


Here, you’ll be applying the two Bossa Nova rhythms that you learned in this lesson to both halves of the tune Blue Bossa.

Blue Bossa is one of the most commonly called jam session tunes in the jazz idiom.

But, even though it’s so popular, many guitarists tend to fake a Bossa rhythm when jamming on this tune.

To help you nail an authentic Bossa Nova rhythm in your next jam session, learn the chords below with the given rhythm.

Then, to take it further in your studies, play the rhythm in the first half all the way through until it’s comfortable.

From there, learn the rhythm is the second half of the study all the way through.

This’ll give you two authentic Bossa rhythms to apply to this Brazilian jazz standard the next time you encounter it in a jam session.


Blue Bossa Backing Track Blues Bossa Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 33



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Sunny Chord Progression


In this funk-jazz classic, you’ll learn how to apply rootless three and four-note chords to a full tune as you nail this Sunny chord study.

When comping with a piano or organ player in your group, guitarists have to be careful not to step on their toes with your chord shapes.

The best way to do that is to play smaller, more rhythmic chord lines and let the piano be more colorful with their larger voicings.

This study demonstrates that approach over the Sunny chord progression.

As well as using rootless chords, you’re playing a lot on the & of 2 and 4, using Charleston rhythms, and applying dotted quarter notes to the tune.

All of which combine for a highly syncopated, and cool sounding, chord study.

Because of this high level of syncopation, using a metronome at a slow tempo is a good practice strategy when first learning this chord study in the woodshed.


Sunny Backing Track Sunny Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 34



jazz guitar chords 47



Giant Steps Chord Progression


The final chord study might scare off a few guitarists, especially beginners, as Giant Steps is legendary for it’s high level of difficulty in the Jazz world.

But, don’t run away just yet.

While it’s very difficult to solo over Giant Steps, especially musically, the chord progression is a great vehicle for working fast-moving chord changes on guitar.

So, even if you’re a beginner, give this chord study a try.

You may never jam this tune on a gig, but working through the changes in a study like this will help you develop both right and left-hand coordination on the guitar.

In the study itself, the rhythm is very straight ahead.

This is because the chords move so fast, especially at quicker tempos, that keeping the rhythms simpler is a good place to start.

Once you get these chords memorized, and comfortable, then begin to experiment with adding other rhythms to this Giant Steps chord study.

Lastly, the chords were chosen to move from one to the next with as little movement as possible.

This type of voice leading is tough to learn at first, as you have to have nailed inversions in your playing.

But, over time voice leading chords will make playing tough chord progressions and faster tempos that much easier.


Giant Steps Backing Track Giant Steps Backing Track


Click to hear jazz guitar chords 35


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