Diatonic Chords Exercises – The Most Useful & Important

Learning The Diatonic Jazz Chords for any scale is an important part of exploring what harmonies and melodies are contained in the scales.

In this video I am going to go over how to construct diatonic 7th chords and a few exercises to help you learn and play them. This should help you get started playing songs like jazz standards.

It is also very important to realize that the diatonic chords are the same as the diatonic arpeggios and you need to know and use your solos.

Constructing Diatonic 7th Chords

To construct the chord let’s first have a look at the scale:

For each note in the C major scale we can stack thirds, which is like taking every other note in the scale:
C: C E G B = Cmaj7

D. D F A C = Dm7

E: E G B D = Em7

If we play these then you get these chords:

More Playable Jazz Chords

The Chords in example 2 are a bit tricky, but you can easily play the same chords using these voicings.

The chord voicings are what is known as Drop2 voicings, which is not essential in this context but you can check out more here.

The order of the Diatonic chords

This row of chords is the same for all major scales, so you want to remember:
maj7, m7, m7, maj7, 7, m7, ø, maj7

Adding Another Set of Chords

I am going to use these chords for the exercises, but it is practical to also have a set of diatonic chords with the root on the 6th string. The lowest note on the E string I am using here is an F, so I am starting with F which is a maj7 chord. After that the G is the dom7th etc. 

Exercises to Internalize Diatonic Chords

These exercises are to help you learn the diatonic chords, get a good overview and gain some flexibility with playing them

#1 Move around the keys

THis is a really basic exercise. Since the order of the chords is always the same it is very useful to just play the diatonic chords in different keys.

In Example 5 and 6 I have written out the diatonic chords in the key of Ab Major.

#2 Playing The Scale in 3rds

Playing the scale in different patterns like 3rds is a great way to just work through the scale and skip around from chord to chord. This is very efficient for building an overview.

#3 Circle of 4ths/5ths

Chords very often move in 4th and 5th intervals, just think of a II V I or III VI II V I.

Playing through the scale like this is a great exercise:

#4 The Fly Me To The Moon Exercise

If you start Am then you have Fly me to the moon: A D G C F B E A
except one thing: the E is an E7 because it is a secondary dom7th and actually Bø E7 is a minor cadence to Am7.

#4 Secondary Cadences

In the previous example the Em7 was turned into an E7 and in that way creating a cadence to Am: Bø E7 Am7.

For every chord in the scale it is possible to create a cadence like this.

We have two basic cadences. To a Major chord: m7 dom7th maj7

and to a minor chord: ø dom7th m7

To get more overview and be better at having an overview of the scales and chord it is a great exercise to go over the cadences for each of the diatonic chords.

These exercises will help you also recognize a lot of the progressions you will come across in Jazz Standards.

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