How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

Beautiful Jazz Chords are chords like this: rich-sounding chords with lots of colors and extensions, they are the amazing pastry of harmony, and like cakes, it is not the only thing you need. But it is Nice, VERY NICE!

What makes a chord beautiful is in part the chord itself, but it is as much about the chord progression, so I am going to use a lot of rich and colorful chords but also show you how amazing they sound in some great chord progressions that work as II V I alternatives if you need to add a bit of variation to your chord playing.

So the starting point is this progression:

But as you will see then we can pretty much go anywhere starting here, and you can easily make your chords a LOT more interesting!

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

The first thing you can try is to not play a normal II chord, but instead, use a half-diminished chord so in this case a Dø.

Another thing you want to notice is how I am not playing a maj7 chord for C, but instead going with a 6/9 chord.

You want to get used to mixing those up because they can pretty much always replace each other:

B-roll: C major diatonic + C minor diatonic chords (maybe highlight Dø?)

A theme you will see in a lot of these examples is that the progression is in C major, but I am using chords that are in C minor to change things up:


#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant


The strongest pull in music is probably the dominant resolving to the tonic like G7 to C.

But it is then also a bit obvious and not so interesting, so in that respect, it is a pity that so many people try to explain all theory as V I resolutions, it makes it boring, and you can replace a V chord with a subdominant chord that is much tastier and mysterious with an Fm chord that has some nice colors added:

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

This next progression is using a bright chord for a minor subdominant, namely the bVI maj7th, but that then resolves via the dominant to an even brighter maj7 tonic. This is the main cadence in Cole Porter’s Night And Day,

and maybe the lyrics are actually fitting the harmony by starting in minor and ending in major?

For this one, I added a #11 to the tonic chord making it even more bright and shining,

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

You can also choose to stick to only using maj7th chords and create a mysterious progression where it feels like every chord could be the resolution. Here I am starting on the IV chord, Fmaj7,

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

The Neapolitan subdominant is, in this case, a IVm triad, so Fm with a Db in the bass as a leading note down to Cmaj7, so it is still a minor subdominant and it always sounds fantastic.

Here’s the entire progression:

The next example will also add some pentatonic chord tricks on the Cmaj7 chord!

#5 How Is That Even A II V I?!

Before diving into the pentatonic passing chords, then I need to introduce another minor subdominant variation: The Backdoor dominant, in this case, Bb7 which is the bVII in C major, so this dominant chord is actually a subdominant chord in the context.


The next chord is a classic Jazz trick: The Tritone Substitution

This is a pretty simple idea: In C major, the dominant is G7, and a G7 chord actually shares a tritone with another dominant: Db7. So you can exchange one for the other and the basic flow of the harmony still works.

Check out the example then I’ll explain the pentatonic chords on Cmaj7.

Let me know which of these progressions or chords is your favorite in the comment section!

In this example, I am playing 3 chords on Cmaj7 (example) and if you take away the C that I sometimes add under it, then really this is just playing chords made from Em pentatonic:

This works because we need to hear a C in the bass and then notes that give us a maj7 sound, and Em pentatonic

Em pentatonic will give us a lot of nice colors against C:  E G A B D – 3 5 13 maj7 9 and the chords are pretty easy to play.

Here’s a different take on changing the chords with a progression pretending to be a II V

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

This way of using maj7 chords can work as a nice suspension but here it also becomes a sort of motivic development with the chord progression that is really smooth combining the bVI

and bII maj7 chords.

There is another even more weird way to use maj7 chords, that I’ll show you after this one.

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

In this next example, I am moving around maj7 chords, starting on the bVI so Abmaj7

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

which is really like a Db7 with a B in the bass, so it is a disguised tritone substitute or altered dominant which then resolves beautifully to Cmaj7:

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

With a progression like this then you can also hear how you have a creative component to putting together chords both in how you voice-lead them and how you choose what chords to add to the progression. The best place to develop that is to use it in chord melody where you can color the chords and really add your own take to the melody. If you want to explore this way of playing then check out this video where I cover both the basic approach and some of the ways you can create variations of common progressions that actually fit the song.

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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