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Jazz Guitar Chords and Applications

Jazz Guitar info

In this guitar lesson we'll looking at jazz chord progressions that you can use for intros to jazz tunes, but by putting them in context we will also learn about voice-leading and different types of chords that are used widely in jazz - if you play piano too, you could transfer these concepts to keyboard playing.

  • Voice leading - this is really important in getting your chords to sound good. The principle is that of least movement - making the transition between chords as smooth as possible by changing as few notes as possible.
  • Voice leading is also important in other styles of music, notably classical music, and we can all learn a lot from the way Bach used voices within chords to come up with great harmony.
  • First example shows this - the top note of the chord is a G for most of the time, and putting emphasis on that note makes the chords work together. It's on string 2, fret 8 - notice that the bassline is moving down one fret or one semitone at a time, at least for the first part. On the second chord, play the 2nd string for a G at the top of the chord. You could change the chord voicings for Am7 and D13 to keep the G note going, that also works well.
  • Am7 to D7 to G is a ii - V- I (two-five-one) chord progression, very common in all styles of music, but especially jazz. If you don't know this stuff, it's worth learning this first as it has so many applications.
  • Jazz chord voicings are very useful in other styles of music. Using jazz voicings can greatly improve 12 bar Blues, and I practice this on a daily basis as it gives a good context to new chords and riffs.

Jazz intros and outros

6 vertical lines are the strings, horizontal lines are the frets.

6 vertical lines are the strings, horizontal lines are the frets.

Chord progression 2

This is a 4 - chord progression that you can repeat for intros. The simple chords would be Bm7, E7, Am7, D7 - and although these are fine too, there is more interesting harmony in the example shown. The 13b9 takes a bit of getting used to, as it is quite discordant - but it's a Stevie Wonder favourite, as in You Are The Sunshine of My Life. If you like, you could just play E9 or E7 instead. Any 7 chord can be changed to a 9 or 13 chord, as a general rule. Eventually, once the sax player has been soloing for about half an hour, you can draw things to a close with a G maj7 chord. Gmaj 7 is sometimes written with a triangle symbol, as shown. Both forms of G maj7 shown here are very useful.

Final progression

The third chord progression is Bm11, Bb7b5, Am7, D9, Gmaj7. Again, the bass line moves chromatically, that is, one fret at a time, and then resolves with a ii - V - I progression.

You can apply this chord progression, or at least part of it, to dozens of songs, in a process called chord substitution. You can reharmonise most songs. Generally this is an improvement, but you can take things too far.

Music theory is covered extensively in my other hubs, or just ask questions through the comments box below.

Technical stuff

Where a cross is shown above a string, don't play that string. Most of the time the bass note is played with your left-hand thumb, and it's easy to mute the string by reaching a few more millimeters. Or just fingerpick with your right hand, which often sounds better anyway.

The loop symbol means barre, or part barre. It's only a suggested fingering, so you should just use whatever you find the easiest.

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Often jazz chords will sound better on an archtop guitar, usually with flatwound strings - and that will generally give you the best jazz sound. I've found that semi -acoustics such as Gibson 335 and similar guitars often sound great with flatwounds, though it does impact on string-bending.


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on June 10, 2012:

Hi mykel - I don't have one. One of these days I'll post video on youtube. In the meantime, let me know if there is a subject you'd like me to cover. Cheers, Jon

mykel smythe on June 10, 2012:

hi john,have you any instructional dvd e.t.c plz,thanks

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on March 18, 2012:

Thanks jimmar - I use these on a daily basis -but the whacking away method works for me!

jimmar from Michigan on March 18, 2012:

Good stuff. I need to try these...also I need to find more time to read your hubs. Maybe instead of just whacking away 'till I find a couple of chords that sound interesting, I should do a little reading :).

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