How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Scales
When learning to play jazz chords, such as Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings, many of use use strict memorization to learn each chord shape, or run them up and down the neck in inversions, which is a very good way to internalize the shapes and sounds of a single chord type such as Maj7 or m7 separate from any other harmonic context.
But, since most of us are strapped for time as it is, there are several ways that we can practice all of the different basic chord voicings, Maj7, 7, m7 and m7b5, at the same time, without getting too much on our plate and becoming overwhelmed.
One way that I like to use, and that I got from guys like Ben Monder and Mick Goodrick, is to practice Jazz Guitar Chord Scales across the neck using the different voicings that I want to learn in that particular practice routine.
So what exactly is a jazz guitar chord scale?
It’s basically just taking the notes of any scale, say C Major, and then adding a chord on top of each of those notes. Here are the notes in the C Major Scale:
C D E F G A B C
Now, let’s add a chord to each of those notes and voila, we have a jazz guitar chord scale!
Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5 Cmaj7
So, the next step is to take these chords and learn them on the guitar, so let’s dive in and check out how to apply Jazz Guitar Chord Scales to our practicing, chord soloing and comping ideas.
In the examples below I have used Drop 2 chords on the middle four strings to demonstrate how to build, practice and apply chord scales to your playing.
But there are many other chord voicings that you can apply this technique to so feel free to take any/all chords that you know and build a chord scale out of those voicings, with all of their related inversions. Here are some of my favorite voicings (click the link to see chord charts for each chord type):
As well, for the purposes of space, I’ve only run these jazz guitar chord scales through the C Major Scale, but, make sure to practice these and any chord scale in all 12 keys, as well as with any/all other scales that you are working on in your practice routine.
Some of my favorite scales to practice chord scales with are (click the link to see fingering charts for each scale type):
Alright, enough chatting, let’s dig in and get these chord scales under our fingers and into our ears.
The first example shows a C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scale using Drop 2 voicings on the middle four strings, using all root-position chords.
Notice how the chord scale is basically four different major scales moving up the neck at the same time.
There is one on each of the four strings, on the 5th string we have a C Major Scale starting on C, on the 4th string we have a C Major Scale starting on G, on the 3rd string we have a C Major Scale starting on B and on the 2nd string we have a C Major Scale starting on E.
This isn’t necessary to understand or think about when learning and using chord scales, but it is a nifty side effect of this approach and something that could be explored more for improvisational, compositional and arranging purposes if you want to dig deeper into this extra layer of theory.
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Root Position
Now that we have learned the C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scale using Drop 2 chords in root position, let’s dive into the first inversion of this scale.
So, all we are going to do is use chords that start with the 3rd, so for Cmaj7 that would be E, and then move up to the next chord in the scale, sticking with the first inversion for each chord.
One thing that I like to do is start any chord scale on the lowest possible chord that I can grab on the neck, so for instance, in the next example, the first inversion chord scale, I start on G7, since B is the lowest fretted note in C Major on the 5th string, then I build the chord scale up from there.
For me, this is a good way to expand my knowledge of the neck, but also get me away from always seeing scales and chord scales from the root up, which might cause me to focus too much on the root in my playing since I’ve practiced starting and stopping on it in my daily routine.
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales First Inversion
We’ll now move on to the second inversion jazz guitar chord scale, so each chord will have the 5th in the bass, such as the B that anchors the first Em7 chord in the scale.
Again, I’ve started on the lowest note in the C Major Scale and moved up from there, in this case it’s the B that then harmonizes the Em7 chord in the first bar.
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Second Inversion
And finally we’ll check out the third inversion Jazz Guitar Chord Scale, so this time the 7th of each chord will be in the bass.
At this point, you now have four different ways to play through a C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scale using Drop 2 voicings on the middle four strings.
So, if you learn this scale on the top 4 and bottom 4 string sets with Drop 2 Chords, you now have 12 ways to play this chord scale, then adding in Drop 3,
Closed Position and Drop 2 and 4 and you’ve got a ton of ways to always have these scales under your fingers, in any range and position on the neck. Pretty cool huh?!
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Third Inversion
OK, so we’ve learned how to practice these jazz guitar chord scales and how to build them using all the inversions of Drop 2’s on the middle four strings, so here’s a short example of how the C Major Chord Scale would look on the top four strings, using Drop 2 chords in root position.
Again, if you decide to go this route next in your practicing, I would learn these chords in root position, then all of the other positions in C Major, and then of course move on to the other 11 keys for this string grouping with their related inversions.
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Top 4 Strings
Now that we’ve checked out these chords on their own, in the context of learning them across the neck, it’s time to create some music with them.
Jazz Guitar Chord Scales are great for comping and chord soloing, I especially like to use them to create chord soloing lines and phrases when playing in solo, duo and trio.
Below is a short ii-V-I chord soloing idea using the chord scale for C Major, Drop 2 chords, on the middle and top 4 strings. Check it out, then come up with some phrases of your own.
Chord soloing can be tough, but Chord Scales can definitely make it easier to visualize any chord and chord family across the neck, as well as make it easier to insert chords into our lines, phrases and solos.
Click to hear audio for this Chord Scale Lick.
C Major Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Chord Soloing Example
Do you have a favorite way of practicing Jazz Guitar Chord Scales? Share it in the Chord Scales thread of the MWG Forum.