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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales C Major

 

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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales C Major 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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales C Major 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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales C Major 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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales C Major Drop 2

 

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

 

Jazz Guitar Chord Scales Chord Solo

 

Do you have a favorite way of practicing Jazz Guitar Chord Scales? Share it in the Chord Scales thread of the MWG Forum.



15 Comments

  1. Miguel, June 23, 2011:

    Hi Matt,
    these lessons you are writing are really helpful. I have a doubt regarding this one.
    When praticing chord scales in melodic minor you will find that technically speaking, over the 7th degree you build a half-dimished chord (Bm7b5 in C melodic minor). However you will almost always use the seventh mode as an altered scale over a 7th chord. My question is, should I play the chord scale using a dominant chord (with b5) over the 7th degree or stick with the m7b5.
    I guess the answer is “both”, but what do you feel is more beneficial?

    Thanks, and keep with the good work.

  2. Matt Warnock, June 23, 2011:

    Hey,
    Yeah it’s tricky, I use the 7alt chord for that note, the 7th note of the melodic minor scale when comping, but this exercise is to get the four-note chords for each note in the scale under your fingers, so for the purpose of this exercise I would go with m7b5, hope that helps!

  3. Britt Reed, June 23, 2011:

    Much fun Matt. Thanx, as always!

  4. matt, July 16, 2011:

    how do you decide what shape of chord to use over the degrees of the scale? For example if I was to try this for the melodic minor scale in C, is the 1 a Cmaj7 or a Cmin7? And for the 2… the 3… etc.

  5. Matt Warnock, July 16, 2011:

    Hey,

    You just follow the chord that is built off of each degree in the scale, for major it is

    Maj7 – m7 – m7 – Maj7 – 7 – m7 – m7b5

    for Melodic Minor it would be:

    mMaj7 – 7susb9 – Maj7(#5) – 7(#11) – 7(b13) – m7b5 – 7(alt)

    hope that helps!

  6. Tom, July 24, 2012:

    Hi Matt,

    I stumbled across your videos on YT which led me here. Your site is a gold mine of well thought out lessons and resources for how to improve on jazz guitar. I’ve always loved rock and blues but I’ve been getting more curious about jazz and want to unlock some of its mysteries and gain a more comprehensive knowledge of the fretboard in the process. Your site is the key!

    Thank you so much for putting an abundance of free material online. Last year I took a $1000 class on jazz guitar online and can honestly say your FREE info and lessons are so much more helpful than that class was!

    I’ve signed up for your newsletter and plan on purchasing some of your ebooks. Keep it up; Your hard work is much appreciated!!!

    Tom

  7. Matthew Warnock, July 24, 2012:

    Hi Tom,

    thanks for checking out the site, and for the kind words, I’m glad you are enjoying the lessons! Keep stopping by and if you ever have any questions about anything just let me know. Cheers

  8. adam, August 12, 2012:

    agreed, i have learned so much from the material on this site. wonderful to discover that it is all free!

  9. Xander, July 16, 2013:

    Hi Matt sorry to bother you with my silly questions maybe but:

    1. Could you explain to me the logic construction of these inversions ( how they form like R-3-5-7) i observed the on each inversion the second note is at the top of the chord.
    2. Why you start the first inversion on G7 instead of Em7, 2nd inversion on Em7 instead of G7 and 3rd inversion on Cmaj7 instead of Bm7b5.
    3. On the last chord soloing example Dm7 starts with Em7 chord and then G7 with a Bm7b5. why ?

    You most definitely doing a wonderful job and i appreciate the hard work for making this knowledge public.

  10. Matt Warnock, July 16, 2013:

    Hey, I’ll try to answer your questions.

    1. The note of the scale is on the top of each chord in scale order, so I just wrote out the scale and then put an inversion of the chords below that note.

    2. I start the first inversion of G7 because that’s the shape of the lowest possible first inversion chord in that position. Same for the other chords. Those are the lowest inversions of those chords that will fit in that fret area with the scale note on top that I wanted for the chord scale.

    3. Em7 is often used over Dm7 to create interest when comping or soloing. Think of the opening chords to So What, Em7-Dm7 both over Dm7, that sort of thing. They are a diatonic superimposition. For Bm7b5, that is the 3-9 chord for G7, so it’s the 3-5-b7-9 of G7, a rootless G9 chord. Hope that helps.

  11. Xander, July 17, 2013:

    Thank you Matt for you’re patience ,

    I got the 2nd & 3rd explanation to my questions ( actually the 3rd is a lil foggy but anyway i’ll have to research it more, somehow) But at the first question which i believe its my fault for formulating it wrong , i meant, for me Root position in C is C-E-G-B (R357) etc. so why is it then like C-G-B-E (R573) ? Is it because of the drop 2 construction?

    And i have read the drop 2& 3 pages of you’re site ( these last 5 hours of my life i have dedicated on reading your website)
    so about the drop 2 do you drop the second from top G-C-E-B or you raise the second from bottom an octave C-G-B-E which one is the process to achieve a drop 2 chord ? Is anything dropped or raised or both ? please explain .
    Again thank you for your time and patience & best of luck !!

  12. Matt Warnock, July 17, 2013:

    Hey, yeah that’s correct. CGBE is a Drop 2 chord voicing. You can think about drop 2 chords either way, so raising the note by an octave or lower it, whatever is easier for you to visualize, as long as you can picture the R537 shape, then it’s all good. Hope that helps!

  13. Xander, July 18, 2013:

    R537 shape ? isn’t it R573 (CGBE) if u raise an octave and 5R37 (GCEB) if you lower it then ?
    And is CGBE = GCEB ? that my big dilemma if u can clear it
    Thanks a lot Matt !

  14. Matt Warnock, July 18, 2013:

    Hey, sorry just a typo, R573 is corect.

  15. Jeremy Acton, August 9, 2014:

    I always use chords as ‘notes’, but have been limited to major and minor chords. This extends my chord vocab into the jazzy. Thanks. I also really like your new look to your website.

Add comments about this page