Guitar - Jazz and Diminished Chords
The chord charts below cover most of the useful and most widely used chord types.
If you check out some of my other hubs the underlying theory is explained - make sure you understand the harmonised scale and its applications. Briefly, all songs are in a Key. A Key can be described as a set of notes and chords that work together, and form a pattern.
The key of C would be as follows:
C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5 C.
Each chord is built on a note from the major scale ( C D E F G A B C )
The chords are numbered in sequence - the I, IV and V chords in bold are the major chords in the key of C - now think how many songs you know that use C, F, G in combination.
All the other keys have chords in the same pattern, so it is transferable. If you were to move all the notes up 2 frets (C to D is 2 frets) you would have a D major scale, and all the chords in the pattern move up 2 frets too. All the other keys work in the same way.
My hub Guitar - chords and theory have all the info for the way in which chords work together in different keys, and on different string sets.
Even if you can't be bothered with that for now, you could use most of these chords to help your songwriting, and make songs sound more interesting and harmonically advanced.
What do the numbers mean? Very briefly, they are referring to the interval between the tonic or basic note of the chord and the added note. I will explain this later in more detail, but to find what C6 means: play a C Chord and add a 6th to it ( C D E F G A, so A is the 6th)
C7 means play a C chord, and then add a flat 7th (B flat)
C maj7 means play a chord and then add a 7th (B)
Cm7 (C minor 7) means play a C minor chord, and then add a flat 7th (B flat again)
All of which is easy to see on a piano keyboard, even if you don't have any intention of playing piano!
NB: for all these chords, identify the root note and play that as the lowest note of the chord. For instance, Amaj7 would use an open 5th string (A) and you don't play string 6.
Let's look at the first three chords. Bm7 flat 5, E7 and Am7.
This progression is called a minor 2-5-1 in the key of Am.It's very widely used in jazz tunes, especially Latin and Brazilian songs, Santana, Jobim tunes. You'll also find it used in Autumn Leaves, which is one of the greatest jazz tunes in my opinion, and a terrific basis for improvisation. Also in Blue Bossa, My Funny Valentine.
On the second line are the chords F#m7 flat 5, B7, Em7.
This is a minor 2-5-1 too, this time in the key of Em.
Em uses the same chords as G, except B7 is used too
These chords are really not too hard to play, but they sound great.
These chords are abbreviated as dim or a small circle. You'll find them in music from the 1920s and 1930s, in songs like Makin' Whoopee, Ain't Misbehavin' and literally hundreds of others. This is a useful basic chord to know, and in my other hub Jazz Guitar Chords you can find more advanced ways of doing these progressions.
They are usually transitional chords, joining up chords in a smooth progression, adding tension which is then resolved.
From the 1960s many songwriters have tried to capture a 1930s style, and using diminished chords is an important part of this.When I'm Sixty-Four (Beatles) is an example of this.
There are 4 notes in this type of chord, and you can name the chord after any of them. So while this is an F# dim chord, it's also Cdim, Eb dim and A dim. Buy one chord, get three free.
Now here's an interesting thing. If you move this chord up 3 frets, you get the same chord again, but with the order of notes (inversion) changed. Then move up another 3, another 3 again and the chord sound shifts in an interesting/compelling way, but you are still using the same 4 notes. Musically, you are creating tension.
Even stranger: there are 12 notes, divided by 4, so there are only 3 different diminished chords. So any dim chords can be played starting in fret 1, 2, or 3. Remember the name of the chord can come from any of the four notes in it.
Add 9 chords
If you like the sound of Every Breath You Take, Police and Steely Dan songs, most of the sound is derived from the use of add 9 chords. Looking at C: C E G with an added D, usually next to the C. You could call this add9 or add 2, the same note is added.
Minor add 9 chords: take the E add9 shape, and flatten the third - G# changes to G (open third string) The A Add9 shape can be changed to Am add9 by flatteneing the third, so C# on string 2 goes down to C (fret1) These are great chords for atmosphere.
A7 sus 4 (James Taylor songs) will usually resolve to A7, then D
E7 sus 4 will usually resolve to E7, then A
Three note chords
Jazz chords are often played in the Freddie Green, comping style. try the G7 and Bm7 forms which only use 3 notes, but work well. especially in a band context. Mute or damp the middle string so you only hear the notes you are fingering.
The F#m7 chord shape - same thing applies.
Just using 3-note forms will be an easy way of vastly improving your chord playing in a jazz style.
Also, using these chords instead of full barre chords has many advantages - one of them being they are far less tiring and will enable you to play longer.
B9 is given as an example. The barre sign means flatten your third finger over the top strings.
You can often replace 7th chords with 9th chords, especially in blues or jazz contexts.
B11 is another substitute for B7, and will usually lead to an E chord. Think of it as an A chord with a B bass added.
My new hub How to play 9th chords on Guitar has more info and examples.
Look at C6. It's just a C chord with an added A note.
Following the C major scale C D E F G A B C - note 6 is the sequence is an A.
Similarly, C maj7 has a B - and C7 has a B flat, because it means "C with a flattened 7th"
Piano and keyboard
All this chord theoryworks equally well on keyboard. It's worth trying it on piano anyway as it is simpler to see how it all works. The link to looknohands.com might help, as there is a comprehensive resource in the Piano Room.
You can try things out and listen to them using the virtual keyboard, so you don't even have to own a keyboard for this.
Using just the white keys play a C major scale: CDEFGABC using notes 1, 3, 5 give you a major chord.(C major)
Maj7 chords: add the B (note 7 in the sequence)
7th chords :add Bb
6th Chords: add the A (note 6 in the sequence)
minor chords: flatten the 3 to E flat (C minor)
All other chords follow the same formula.
Maj 7 chords
If you play A maj7 (see the chart) and follow it with D maj7 (fret 2 over the top 3 strings) you instantly have a nice ballad type chord progression. A maj7 means *an A chord plus a G sharp note*.
A7 is a different sounding chord with a different function too. *an A chord with a G note added*
Note that 7 and maj7 are different notes, a semitone apart.
I know it turns people off music theory when the numbers appear - but much of music is strongly related to maths, and there's no way round that. When you realise how useful it is, you'll feel happier dealing with the numbers.
You can ask questions through the comments box, or e-mail me with the link at the top of the page. I'll try to cover them as soon as possible.