The Most Useful Jazz Guitar Chords

Updated on April 11, 2020
Jon Green profile image

Jon's an ex guitar teacher and pro guitarist. He loves writing about how to play jazz.

You can use these jazz chords any time, any day.
You can use these jazz chords any time, any day. | Source

Useful Jazz Chords

Once you get them integrated into your playing, Jazz chords sound great and can make even the most tedious songs fun and exciting. In fact, it can be really fun to challenge yourself to rescue a bad song with some cool chord inversions.

What Are Some Standard Jazz Chord Progressions?

Most jazz standards use a lot of 2-5-1 or minor 2-5-1 progressions (usually given as ii-V-1 in Roman numerals). In the key of C, these would be Dm-G7-C or Bm7-b5-E7-Am (inverted to Am, which is the relative minor key). The middle chord (a 7th chord) is almost always altered—meaning that it will have a spicy flat or sharp 5, or a flat or sharp 9 added (sometimes both).

If you want to identify one single change that will make your playing more jazzy, use this altered chord when the chord progression is going from the V to the I. So, instead of G7, play a G7 sharp 5 or G7 flat 5 chord. You can also use these chord tones to play solos over the top, but returning to a normal major scale when you arrive back at the 1 chord.

All those fancy modes are all very well, but often times, just following the changed notes in the chord will work. Another thing that will really help is to play this stuff on an archtop guitar (like we need an excuse to buy another guitar).

Which Guitars Are Great for Playing Jazz?

  • Gibson 175 Byrdland
  • Ibanez archtops (a particularly good value, especially the PM35 Pat Metheny model)
  • Telecasters (played by great guitarists, such as Ted Greene)

"The only mode that interests me is pie-a-la-mode!"

— Barney Kessel

Examples of Jazz Chord Progressions

  1. Try the root 5 chord, where the D is fret 5 on string 5 G/A or G with an A bass is used instead of A7. The final chord would be a G maj7 (if you just changed the bass note to G instead).
  2. A minor 2-5-1 or ii V I in Em for the first three chords. The Am9 is a great chord, but don't hurt yourself!
  3. A very common chord sequence used in dozens of standards.The loop symbol is a barre shape.
  4. Variations on a C7 or C9 chord, useful for blues and funk styles. If you don't already know, C7,C9 and C13 can be used interchangeably.
  5. 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) in C

Note!

The chord examples are given in a context, so each of the four boxes is a chord progression. Although you want to have a good chord vocabulary for playing jazz tunes, soul, funk and ballads it's also essential to learn the chords in a real-life context so you understand their function.

Useful Jazz Chords

Explaining Some of the Examples Above

  • Example 1: D maj 9 can be used instead of D or D maj7. G/A or G with an A bassnote leads to A7. As A7 is the dominant 7th for D, it will resolve nicely to D. This idea will work for many pop tunes too, as well as bossa nova and most ballads.
  • Example 2: The minor 2-5-1 in example 2 is used in hundreds of jazz standards like Autumn Leaves, so you should learn it in many different keys.
  • Example 3: This is found in tunes like "Makin' Whoopee," "Ain't Misbehavin'." The bassline is going up one semitone at a time, and this is a useful form of the diminished chord to learn. Concentrate on the middle 4 strings.
  • Example 3 (continued): The 3-note voicing for Dm7 can be moved over to string 6, where it becomes A7. This is the single most useful thing you can learn for chord playing, because these chords are so common in most styles of music, jazz included.
  • Example 4: If you are stuck on one chord for a while, try to play different variations on the chord. Especially in blues tunes, or funk.

Preparing to Play Jazz Guitar

Jazz guitar chords can be very complex, and chord melody style—where the melody and chords are played together, often with a bass line—is probably the most demanding thing you can do on guitar, with the exception of some classical pieces.

So, anything you can do to keep it simple is going to help. Joe Pass had this method, which I think works very well:

Joe Pass's Method

First, classify all chords into three types (major, minor, dominant 7th.)

  • Major—this would include maj7, 6, 6/9 chords
  • Minor—m7, m9, m11 chords
  • Dominant 7th—any 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, dim, or aug chords.

To put this into context, let's imagine we are playing a song that goes C-Am-Dm-G.

  • For the C chord, we could use C maj7, C6/9, C add 9, or C6
  • For the Am chord, we use a close relative, such as Am7 or Am9
  • For Dm, just use Dm7 or Dm9
  • For G (as it is a dominant 7 chord here), we could use G7 sharp 5, G9 G13, G11 or F/G.

In other words, we are not changing the function of the chords, but adding a little harmonic colour and diversity.

If you have questions about chord names or intervals, you can feel free to ask your questions in the comment section, or you might consider checking out Ted Greene's music theory website. This site has helped me a lot.

Who's Ted Greene?

The great, late Ted Greene wrote books like Chord Chemistry and Modern Chord Progressions, which are the bible for jazz chords. You need a lot of patience to get the most from these books. So, if you're impatient (like me), there are many Ted Greene videos on youtube. You'll be amazed at this fantastic playing from a master musician.

Extra! Intervals Using the Piano Keyboard

Intervals using the piano keyboard
Intervals using the piano keyboard

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      5 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      You're welcome - any questions, just ask.

    • profile image

      Bien Aimé Madajazzcar 

      5 years ago

      I'm gonna try now,thanks a lot

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Django, you're welcome I hope the chord pictures came up OK.

    • profile image

      Django Reinhardt 

      8 years ago

      Great explanation, thanks for posting.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks, you're welcome.

    • profile image

      Hindi Guitar Chords 

      8 years ago

      I'm big jazz fan..thanks a lot fr sharing this valuable ideas..

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      9 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks a lot Freelance.

    • Freelance5 profile image

      Freelance5 

      9 years ago from Houston, TX

      Real solid man. I play jazz guitar and this is a great explanation.

    • nikmaya62 profile image

      nikmaya62 

      9 years ago

      Thank Jon, it is clearly for me. I have to bookmark this hub.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      10 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi - If there is anything you'd like covered, just e-mail.

    • ddhamilt profile image

      ddhamilt 

      10 years ago

      Great stuff! Man I wish I had this when I first started playing guitar.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)