Minor Blues Chords for Guitar [12 Chord Studies]
Minor Blues tunes are some of the most exciting and enjoyable songs to jam on in a jazz guitar setting.
With a more open feel compared to the major jazz blues progression, these changes allow for a wide variety of chord subs and alterations in your playing.
In this lesson, you’ll learn six different ways to play minor blues chords on guitar, as well as study the theory behind each alteration.
As well, you’ll learn 12 different chord studies over these various minor blues chord progressions.
Each study is written out with a simple rhythm, whole and half notes.
Once you’ve got them under your fingers, make sure to begin altering the rhythms as you expand on them in the practice room.
Also, there are two levels of chord studies in the lesson below, beginner and intermediate.
Each study will use the same chords, such as the basic blues changes for both beginner and intermediate players for example.
But, each will focus on different chord shapes for the two levels of study.
Here’s what you’ll be focusing on for both the beginner and intermediate level of study.
- Beginner Chord Studies – Drop 3, Drop 2, and 4th Chords
- Intermediate Chord Studies – Rootless versions of these shapes
Now that you know what you’ll be exploring in this lesson, check out some tunes to learn before moving on to the chord progressions and chord studies below.
10 Essential Minor Blues Songs
If you’re looking to add a minor blues tune or two to your repertoire list, here’s a list of 10 minor blues tunes, 8 jazz, 1 blues, and 1 rock, that you can explore in your playing.
- P.C. – John Coltrane
- Birks’ Works – Dizzy Gillespie
- Equinox – John Coltrane
- Israel – Johnny Carisi
- Footprints – Wayne Shorter
- Big P – Jimmy Heath
- Stolen Moments – Oliver Nelson
- Boogie Stop Shuffle – Charles Mingus
- The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King
- Since I’ve Been Loving You – Led Zeppelin
Now that you’ve got a list of tunes to check out, and some background on the minor blues, you’re ready to take that knowledge to the fretboard.
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Minor Blues Chords – Basic Changes
The first minor blues chord progression uses the most basic changes in the key of D minor.
Here, you’re using only three chords, Im7, ivm7, and V7alt.
Notice that these three chords fall in the same place as their major blues counterparts.
- Im7 – Bars 1-4, 7-8, 11-12
- ivm7 – Bars 5-6
- V7alt – Bars 9-10
As you’ll hear in the examples below, the V7alt chord creates a lot of tension, that’s resolved into the Im7 chord at the end of the progression.
In minor keys, such as minor blues changes, there’s often more tension than in major key progressions.
This is an example of that tension in action.
Here’s a backing track that you can practice with, either jumping right in and jamming or using it to play the chord studies below.
D Basic Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 1
Basic Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this beginner minor blues chord study, you’ll use drop 3 chords to outline the changes in the key of D minor.
You’ll begin with the root on the 6th string for the first Dm7 chord, moving to the closest chord shapes for Gm7 and A7alt from that starting point.
As was mentioned in the beginning, the rhythm for this study is very plain.
Start by learning the whole-note rhythm, and then once the chords are memorized, begin to experiment with new rhythms after that over the backing track.
Click to hear minor blues chords 1
Basic Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
In this intermediate minor blues chord study, you’ll learn one of the most common ways to alter jazz guitar chords, removing the root notes.
Here, you’ll play mostly the same shapes as the beginner version, but with the root notes removed.
This’ll be the running theme for intermediate chords in this lesson, removing the root note to create rootless jazz guitar chords over minor blues changes.
While it may seem easy to simply remove the root note, it’s difficult to see the chord without a root note as a reference.
Though you’re not playing the root, you can visualize it on the fretboard to help you quickly find any rootless jazz guitar chord shape.
Lastly, as with any study in this lesson, learn the whole-note rhythm first, then move on to experimenting with other rhythms from there.
Click to hear minor blues chords 2
Minor Blues Chords – ii V Changes
You’ll now add in a ii V chord progression in bars 9, 10, and 12 of the D minor blues form.
In a minor key, the ii chord is a m7b5 shape, as compared to the iim7 chord in major keys.
As well, you’ll often see the V chord written as V7alt, which is a bit ambiguous from a voicing standpoint.
When you see V7alt on a lead sheet, you can play the b9, #9, b5, #5, or any combination of those tension notes over that chord change.
As you progress through this lesson, and further studies, you’ll begin to work out which tension notes you like to use over V7alt chords and play those notes from there.
Here’s the backing track and lead sheet for the ii V minor blues chord progression.
ii V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 2
ii V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this minor blues chord study, you’ll use drop 3 chords to outline the changes, though this time starting with the Dm7 on the 5th string.
5th-string drop 3 chords can be more difficult to finger compared to 6th string shapes.
So, go slow with these changes, and work them out of context if needed, bringing them back to the tune when you’re ready.
Click to hear minor blues chords 3
ii V Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
You’ll now remove the root notes from the previous chord study to create an intermediate level minor blues comping etude.
Use barre chords whenever possible with these chords, such as the first Dm7 chord.
Here, barre the 5th string with your index finger and play the 6th fret on the 2nd string with your middle finger.
Using barres like this will open up your other fingers to add chord extensions if needed, or wanted, over chord shapes.
Click to hear minor blues chords 4
Minor Blues Chords – Turnaround Changes
Next, you’ll add in the bIIImaj7 chord in bar 11 of the minor blues progression to create a turnaround in the last two bars.
Though you’re only adding in one chord from the previous version, playing four chords in the last 2 bars can be tough.
Take your time, remove those two bars from the tune and work them on their own with a metronome if needed, then bring them back to the full form from there.
The bIIImaj7 chord is diatonic to the underlying minor key, and the bass note leads nicely into the iim7b5 chord, moving down by a half step.
Here’s the backing track to jam along to and work the chord studies with below.
Minor Blues Turnaround Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 3
Turnaround Minor Blues Beginner Chords
You’ll now move on to using drop 2 chords over the D minor blues progression.
Here, you’ll begin with the first chord on the 5th-string and move to the closest shapes for each subsequent chord from there.
Drop 2 chords allow you to play four notes on consecutive strings, no skips as you found with drop 3 chords.
Because of this, and the fact that they can be played on the top-4 strings only, drop 2 chords are useful when playing with a bass player, pianist, or other guitarist in a jazz jam situation.
They are also great for arranging chord melody tunes on guitar.
Lastly, notice the Edim7 chord used to outline the A7alt chord, creating a rootless 7b9 sound over that change.
In jazz, when you have a iim7b5-V7alt progression, you can always play iim7b5-iidim7 to create a iim7b5-V7b9 sound over those chords.
Though rootless chords are usually more advanced, because it shares the same root note as the iim7b5 chord, this is an easy application of that concept over a progression.
Click to hear minor blues chords 5
Turnaround Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
Here are the rootless chords for the turnaround D minor blues chord progression.
Again, barre each chord that you can, such as the second Dm7 shape in bar 2.
Here, use your index finger to barre, which will free up your other three fingers to add extensions when needed.
Lastly, notice that the Fmaj7 and Em7b5 shpaes are the same, just two frets apart, and the Em7b5 and A7alt chords are only one note apart.
This type of movement is one of the benefits of playing rootless chords.
Once you have them down, connect Fmaj7 and Em7b5 by adding is a passing chord that uses the same shape on the 9th fret.
This’ll bring a bit of tension to your chords, and get you a bit of that Joe Pass sound over a minor blues turnaround.
Click to hear minor blues chords 6
Minor Blues Chords – ii V Bar 4
In this minor blues example, you’ll use one of the most common alterations, adding a ii-V of ivm7 in bar four of the tune.
By doing so, you’re creating tension over the fourth bar, before resolving that tension into the fifth bar of the progression.
In jazz, when you want to highlight a chord, make it sound important, you can add a ii V before that chord to lead into it.
Here’s an example of how you could highlight the ivm7 chord in a minor blues chord progression.
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 4
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this minor blues chord study, you’ll use drop 2 chords from the 4th-string root on the first chord, moving to the closest shape from there.
These shapes might be a bit high for some guitars, if you don’t have a cutaway for example.
So, feel free to move them down an octave if needed, or you can use them to practice your upper-range comping in the woodshed.
Click to hear minor blues chords 7
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
In the intermediate version of this progression, you’ll remove the root notes to create rootless guitar chords.
Again, this is a bit high up the neck, and you probably wouldn’t start your comping behind a soloist in this range.
But, there are moments when you would want to comp this high on the guitar.
If the soloist is blowing in the low range, or building intensity, you could play higher-range chords underneath their solo.
Practicing higher chords on the neck, such as these, will prepare you for those moments when jamming over jazz standards such as the minor blues.
Click to hear minor blues chords 8
Minor Blues Chords – bVI to V Changes
When playing minor blues, or any minor key jazz tune, you can substitute a bVI7 chord for the iim7b5 chord in the ii V part of the tune.
The bVI7 chord leads nicely to the V7alt chord, down by a half step, and allows you to create a bit of interest beyond the ii V in those parts of the progression.
Here’s a backing track and lead sheet that uses the bVI7 chord in bars 9 and 12 of the minor blues progression.
As well, there’s a common walk down bassline used before that Bb7 chord, Dm7-Dm7/C, which you can find in many minor jazz tunes before a bVI7 chord.
This group of chords, Dm7-Dm7/C-Bb7-A7alt, is often called the “Stray Cat Strut” progression, as it’s very similar to the changes in the famous Stray Cats track.
bVI to V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 5
bVI to V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this chord study, you’ll move on to using one of the most common minor chord shapes in jazz, 4th chords.
These chords are built by stacking 4th intervals, rather than 3rds, which are more traditionally used.
You can see these shapes used over the Dm7and G7 chords in this study.
When using 4th chords, you’ll bring a more modern sound to your comping, reminiscent of McCoy Tyner’s piano work, who was fond of using these shapes in his comping.
Click to hear minor blues chords 9
bVI to V Minor Blues intermediate Chords
As was the case with the beginner study, you’ll be using 4th chords over the D minor blues in this intermediate version.
Again, you’ll be removing the root notes to create smaller, easier to play chords, only now Dm7 and Gm7 will be 4th-chords in the tune.
After you get these shapes under your fingers, try connecting them with chromatic approach chords, from below or above, in order to bring a bit of tension and release into your comping.
Click to hear minor blues chords 10
Minor Blues Chords – Descending ii V Changes
The final minor blues progression uses a iiim7 VI ii V7 group of chords to lead from the Im7 chord, Dm7, to the bVI chord, Bb7 in bars 7-9 of the tune.
This is a fun way to add movement to your comping in those bars of the minor blues progression.
As well, it smoothly connects your Im7 chord to the bVI7 chord, as compared to just jumping from one to the next in your playing.
Because there are four chords in two bars, you might have to isolate those changes and work them slowly before playing them over the tune as a whole.
Descending ii V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 6
Descending ii V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
Again, you’ll be using 4th chords in this beginner minor blues chord study, but now beginning on the 4th string root and moving to the closest chords from there.
As was mentioned earlier, if you’re having trouble with bars 7-8 of the study, isolate those changes and practice them slowly in your guitar practice routine.
Click to hear minor blues chords 11
Descending ii V Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
The final intermediate minor blues chord study will use rootless versions of the previous beginner level study.
One way to practice any of these intermediate chord studies is to play the beginner version first, followed by the intermediate version.
This’ll allow you to compare them, and give you two versions to play when jamming on minor blues tunes in your playing.
Click to hear minor blues chords 12
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