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Jazz Guitar Chords – Shapes, Progressions, and Rhythm

Jazz guitar chords are essential tools for any jazz guitarist to have under their fingers.

They’re also the cause of much mystery to beginning jazz guitarists.

There seems to be a never-ending list of chords to learn to even get started with jazz rhythm guitar.

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

With the right practice routine, an understanding of how jazz chords function, and 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 to essential jazz chord progressions.

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

You’ll also learn how to read a jazz lead sheet and study essential jazz rhythms along the way.

So, grab your guitar, and get ready to demystify the world of jazz guitar chords.

 

 

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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 in this lesson.

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

 

 

Keeping a Practice Room Focus

 

While it may be tempting to learn 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 learn.

Read about that chord progression and 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 different tempos, and when ready, apply those shapes to other musical situations.

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 approach is 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 progressions, you’ll be ready to learn one of the jazz standard chord studies.

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

Regarding the chord progressions, 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.

More specifically, how to use your picking hand to play these jazz chords and progressions.

There are three ways to play jazz chords, and all can be used successfully in different musical situations.

These picking variations are:

 

 

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

This gives you two options, strumming and plucking, for any progression.

As well, when playing chords that have 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 guitarist, working these chords with your fingers and using your thumb to strum provides you with those same two variations.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you have two variations for your picking attack, one plucked and one strummed.

This gives you enough technique to tackle any progression, and provides variety when needed in your comping.

Now that you know how to study the material in this lesson, you can learn 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 chord, there are types of chords that jazz composers and musicians use in their writing and performing.

When playing rock and pop, or most other musical genres, you mostly play three-note triads on the guitar.

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

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

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

So, while there isn’t a definitive jazz chord, you can use this as a guideline.

 

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

 

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

So, I’m going to clear this up confusion before going any further.

When first learning jazz 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, that’s not how jazz works.

As a guitarist, you’re expected to play chords beyond those in the lead sheet 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 also means seeing Cmaj7 and playing Em7, or seeing G7 and playing Bdim7 for more advanced guitarists.

Now that I’ve blown that door wide open, let’s break this down further to make it easy to apply this concept to any jazz standard you’re playing.

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

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’re 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 jazz standards, 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 when it comes to the major chord family.

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

That way, you’re able to apply them to other tunes 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, and you’re not even getting into altered dominants yet.

For this reason, dominant 7th chords are some of the most fun, and most difficult, chords to navigate in a jazz 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’s no #11 chord to navigate.

When you see a m7 chord on a jazz 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 cool colors in the minor family.

Chords such as m11 and minor 6/9 expand your comping colors immensely, bringing 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 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 play.

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

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

It takes 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 contains a few altered notes, dictating which ones you’ll use in your 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 chord.

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

 

 

Diminished Chord Family

 

The final family to look at is the diminished family.

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

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

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

 

  • dim7
  • dimMaj7

 

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’re only used in specific musical situations.

Now that you know how to read a jazz lead sheet, and understand chord families, you’re ready to explore essential jazz rhythms in your playing.

 

 

 

7 Essential Jazz Rhythms

 

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

This makes it easier to read the chord shapes, as well as leaves the rhythms up for your interpretation.

To show you how to practice rhythms over these progressions, study the following essential jazz rhythms in your practice routine.

When doing so, learn any chord study below. Then, when memorized, work that progression through different rhythms in your comping.

 

 

Half Time Feel

 

The first must know jazz rhythm is the half-time feel. This rhythm is based on the half note, 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, 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 examples, 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 comping, from a rhythmic perspective, means playing one chord on each quarter note.

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 to 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 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 builds 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 comping.

When playing on the & of 1 and 3, you might 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 need to decide what chord to play on the & of 4.

Technically it’s still in bar 1. But, you might want to anticipate the next chord that falls on the downbeat of bar 2.

Try both and see what you think.

You’ll 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.

An extension of the Charleston, this extended rhythm takes time to get comfortable.

Go slow, play dotted quarters for a bar or two at first, and then when 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 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 guitar pattern down when jamming in a jazz situation.

This first pattern is a favorite of 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.

This gives 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.

In this rhythm, you anticipate 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 rhythm fully under your fingers before attempting them pattern.

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 7

 

jazz guitar chords 9

 

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

 

 

 

Must Know Jazz Chord Progressions

 

Before you learn how to play jazz chords on the fretboard, look through each of the 10 essential jazz chord progressions in this lesson.

The other option, which is also cool, is to skip to the chord studies below.

Then, after you’ve picked one to study, pop back here and read about that particular chord progression.

That way you learn how to play these progressions and you understand how they’re built and why they’re so popular in jazz standards.

Lastly, there are backing tracks for every progression for you to practice with.

These backing tracks use drums and bass only to allow you to comp without interference from a pianist.

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

But if not, no worries.

Learn the examples below and come back to the tracks when you’re 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 progression.

Found in too many jazz standards to name, jazz wouldn’t exist without these three chords.

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

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

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

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

 

Setup-Tension-Resolution

 

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

The long progression is four bars, while the short progression is 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 prepares you to play those exact chords as well as the ii V variation.

 

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.

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

From a soloing standpoint, the iim7b5 chord comes from the natural minor scale, while the V7alt 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 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 fully 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 takes time to know where and when to use those chords in your comping.

Study the examples, and over time you’ll develop a sense for where each of these 7alt chords fits into your comping vocabulary.

Lastly, as was the case with the major ii V I, there are long and short versions of the minor ii V I, 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

 

Referred to as a “turnaround,” 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” back to the tonic chord.

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

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.

But.

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

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

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

As you learned earlier, this creates tension over the VI7b9 that’s resolved to the iim7 chord.

Give it a try, listen to the backing track, and learn the examples to hear how this progression 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 version.

In this case, you add a bIIImaj7 chord to the ii V I progression.

When doing so, you turn any progression or tune back to the tonic minor chord.

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

For now, know that these four chords make up the minor turnaround progression.

Then 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 over 8 bars and is found in standards such as Lady Bird, where it’s in the A section.

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

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

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

In tonic minor, Am for example, you have both ivm7 and bVII7 chords.

With the back door ii V, you “borrow” those chords for a moment to create a new progression.

This type of progression is called modal borrowing.

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

 

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 new going on for 6 of these bars, it’s the D7 chord that’s interesting.

The II7 chord, referred to as two dominant, is a classic jazz chord that you find in many 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 key of C, the V7 chord is G7, and D7 is the V7 of G7.

This creates tension that’s resolved through the iim7 chord to the V7 chord and eventually to Imaj7.

When you study the chord examples below, you’ll see that D7 is often played as D7#11.

This is a new sound that you’ll need to practice to get under your fingers 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

 

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 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 you just studied, think of the Jordu cycle (found in the bridge section of Jordu) as a sped up, extended rhythm changes bridge.

This dominant cycle starts on the tritone chord, Ab7 in the key of D, and runs secondary dominant chords from there.

These secondary dominants resolve 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 is worth taking a closer look at in your studies.

Starting on IVmaj7, 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 common in jazz, so working on ATTYA helps you comp over that jazz standard and prepares you for other tunes.

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

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

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

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

Play this progression with the backing track, or by learning the chord studies below.

It’s a classic progression from an important jazz standard, and it opens new doors in your jazz 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 seen as the pinnacle of progressions in the jazz world, and used as a litmus test for any player’s blowing and comping chops.

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

The progress to Giant Steps is based on three 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 a V7 before each of those maj7 chords to form the full progression.

Sounds so simple when you look at it that way. If only it was that easy to play on guitar.

While poses a challenge with time and slow practice you’ll be comping 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 exercises will help beginning jazz guitarists build chord vocabulary and apply this vocabulary to popular jazz progressions.

With a focus on introducing you to new jazz chords, and keeping with the beginning level, these 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 learn in the beginning.

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

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

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

Learn the examples, work them at various tempos and in different keys, and then bring them to other tunes as you grow your jazz 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 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 play a Cmaj9 chord over a Cmaj7.

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

The best place to do that 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.

 

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, you use Drop 3 chords (bars 1, 2 and 4) and the “Hendrix chord” in bar two.

Bar 2 is an important group of chord shapes.

Here, you move from E7#9 (Hendrix chord) to E7b9.

When doing so, you outline E7alt 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.

Again, as these chords both belong to the minor family they’re interchangeable.

 

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 progression, you 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, you can move between these two chords 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 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

 

jazz guitar chords 26

 

 

Minor I bIII ii V

 

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

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

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.

After they’re comfortable, combine all the chords to form the entire progression.

 

Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track Am Turnaround Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 13

 

jazz guitar chords 27

 

 

Backdoor ii V

 

With this chord study, you’re adding a 13th chord in bar four and a maj6 chord in bars 2 and 6.

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, you can lower the 7th by 2 frets to form a maj6.

Both of these chords, 13th and maj6, are essential jazz chords, and adding them to your tool belt brings 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

 

jazz guitar chords 28

 

 

Take the A Train

 

In this progression, you’re introduced to an important jazz chord, the 7#11.

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

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

By altering chords you know, you expand your chord knowledge without having to learn any new shapes.

This maximizes your time in the woodshed and gives you new chords to add to your comping phrases at the same time.

 

Take the A Train Backing Track A Train Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 15

 

jazz guitar chords 29

 

 

Rhythm Changes Bridge

 

This rhythm changes bridge study challenges you by using two different shapes per bar.

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

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

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

This helps you learn the chord study, and does it in a systematic way.

 

Rhythm Changes Bridge Backing Track Rhythm Changes Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 16

 

jazz guitar chords 30

 

 

Jordu Cycle

 

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

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

When playing fast-moving chords, running repetitive shapes helps you outline the progression and is easy on your hands.

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

Even though you’re repeating chords, you still want to go slow when first learning this study.

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

 

Jordu Cycle Backing Track Jordu Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 17

 

jazz guitar chords 31

 

 

All The Things You Are

 

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

Not only does this introduce you to an important progression, but you 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 want to be ready to nail it in your comping.

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

This type of chord is great for when you need the root as the melody of any 7th chord.

 

All The Things You Are Backing Track ATTYA Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 18

 

jazz guitar chords 32

 

 

Giant Steps

 

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

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

But.

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

Even beginners.

Work out the chord study below, at a slow tempo.

Even start with no tempo.

Switching between these chords, develops coordination and smoothness in your chord transitions.

Though you may never jam Giant Steps on a gig, it’s a great 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

 

jazz guitar chords 33

 

 

 

 

 

Intermediate Jazz Guitar Chords

 

For those guitarists that have worked through the beginner chords, or are coming here with more experience, you’re ready to dive into intermediate chord.

The focus of this section is rootless jazz guitar chords.

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

Each example introduces a new concept, such as contrary motion, rootless chords, and chord substitutions.

While the focus for the beginner 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 shapes to learn in these examples.

It’s just that the discussion centers around comping concepts and their application to popular jazz progressions.

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

As well, play the examples over the backing tracks from memory, and apply them to tunes to hear them in musical situations.

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

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

 

 

Major ii V I

 

To begin your intermediate chords study, you apply rootless chords to a major ii V I.

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

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

From there, you use classic jazz voice leading to create a G13 over G7.

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

When doing so, you create a rootless G13 chord.

As well, think of the G13 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.

To finish the progression, you play Em7 over Cmaj7 to create a rootless Cmaj9.

Playing a m7 chord shape from the 3rd of any maj7 chord produces a rootless maj9 chord.

Whew!

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, you can hear those concepts by learning the example below.

Start in one key, then work it in 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 progression, you apply 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.

But.

The interesting part comes in second bar.

Here, you take those same Bm7b5 and Bm11b5 shapes and play 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.

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, play the iim7b5 chord followed by those same shapes a minor 3rd higher, forming the V7alt chord.

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.

 

  • 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

 

jazz guitar chords 35

 

 

Major I VI ii V

 

Continuing your study of rootless chords, you now apply those shapes to a major turnaround.

In the first bar, you use Am7 over Cmaj7 to create a C6.

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

Then, in the second bar, you play Gm11b5 over A7alt, which you saw in the previous section.

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

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

To finish the progression, you use Bm7b5 and Bm11b5 over G7.

When doing so, you bring out rootless G9 and G13 sounds.

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

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 play these concepts through the major turnaround example.

 

Major I VI ii V Backing Track C Turnaround Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 23

 

jazz guitar chords 36

 

 

Minor I bIII ii V

 

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

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

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

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

But.

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.

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

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

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

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

 

Minor I bIII ii V Backing Track Am Turnaround Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 24

 

jazz guitar chords 37

 

 

Backdoor ii V

 

Again, you aren’t learning any new concepts here, but you’re working on new combinations of chord voicings.

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

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

Though it looks simple, this one shape brings an authentic jazz sound to your comping and 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 to integrate it into your comping phrases over tunes.

 

Backdoor ii V Backing Track Backdoor ii V Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 25

 

jazz guitar chords 38

 

 

Take the A Train

 

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

Here, you play a rootless D9 chord, F#m7b5 from 3rd.

In bar four, you lower the 5th of D, A, by a fret to highlight the #11 interval, 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 fact, you’re better off not learning new chords.

Instead, take shapes you already know, alter them, and you’ve got enough chord vocabulary to outline the new 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

 

jazz guitar chords 39

 

 

Rhythm Changes Bridge

 

In the example below, you’re working across the entire fretboard as you cover a lot of ground when comping over the rhythm changes bridge.

When you have a longer harmonic rhythm such as you do here, 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 allows you to create interest in your comping when the progression is straightforward.

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

Eventually you’re able to do both, play complex chords over fast progressions.

In the meantime, use this guideline to help you maximize your comping lines over standard chord progressions.

 

Rhythm Changes Bridge Backing Track Rhythm Changes Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 27

 

jazz guitar chords 40

 

 

Jordu Cycle

 

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

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

This contrary motion creates 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.

But.

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

 

Jordu Cycle Backing Track Jordu Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 28

 

jazz guitar chords 41

 

 

All The Things You Are

 

Again, you aren’t using any new concepts in this study, but are applying known concepts to a new progression.

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

This approach helps 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 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

 

jazz guitar chords 42

 

 

Giant Steps

 

The final intermediate 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, apply rootless chord shapes to your Giant Steps comping phrases.

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

 

Giant Steps Backing Track Giant Steps A Section Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 30

 

jazz guitar chords 43

 

 

 

 

Jazz Standards Chord Studies

 

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

Each study uses voicings, rhythms, and other concepts that you learned previously.

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

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 studies, you’ll reach a point where you have one memorized and you want to make it more personal on the fretboard.

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

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

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

 

  • Slide into chords from a fret below or above.
  • Change your picking attack – 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 study, and how to take these chords and phrases into your own playing, you’re ready to learn these 5 studies on guitar.

 

 

F Jazz Blues Chord Progression

 

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

Beyond the rhythm, 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.

Then, in bars 9 and 10, you have inversions mixed with root-position chords over 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 that’s common in jazz blues standards, as well as over any ii V and ii V I that you come across.

 

F Jazz Blues Backing Track F Blues Backing Track

 

Click to hear jazz guitar chords 31

 

jazz guitar chords 44

 

 

Summertime Chord Progression

 

Moving on, you’re now mixing 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.

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 helps you with transposing and applying these jazz guitar chords to other standards and chord progressions.

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

 

jazz guitar chords 45

 

 

Blue Bossa Chord Progression

 

Here, you apply 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.

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 gives 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

 

jazz guitar chords 46

 

 

Sunny Chord Progression

 

In this funk-jazz classic, you learn apply rootless three and four-note chords to a full tune.

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

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

This study demonstrates that approach over Sunny.

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 learning this chord study.

 

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.

But, don’t run away just yet.

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

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 a study like this helps you develop both right and left-hand coordination.

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

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

Once you get these chords memorized, experiment with adding other rhythms to this 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

 

jazz guitar chords 48

 

 

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