How To Explore Jazz Chords – A Better Approach

I very often get asked: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” and the answer to that is maybe a little surprising.

There is one way that you should be learning and practicing chords that is really overlooked, and that is a pity because it is very efficient and a practical way to come up with some great sound chord ideas that you can actually use.

Inversions And What You Might Be Missing

Usually when you are starting with learning a type of Jazz chords like Drop2, then the first thing that you focused on is learning inversions of a chord like this Dm7:

Obviously, that is a good way to learn the voicings for a specific chord, and anyway a good exercise, but you also need to learn the inversions for the other chords

And then you would have to repeat that process for voicings when you add extensions or alterations. And in the meantime, you are not working on actually using the chords to make music. It is not put together and used for anything.

So instead of focusing too much on practicing tons of inversions where the chords are not in any type of context and you are not making music with them then there is another thing that is much more useful to explore.

That is what I will show you how to do in this video.

Finding The Music in the Chords

As you can see, I am using Drop2 voicings in this video, but really the same is true for all other types of chords whether they are drop3 or triad voicings.

If you went over the chords that I showed at the beginning of the video then you can put 3 voicings together and play a II V I like this:

And you could go over inversions of this as well, but I think there is something else that is more useful.

If you want to comp with these chords in a piece of music then that could be something like this.


So you want to add different melodies and rhythms, and as you can hear I am using a lot of different voicings, but it is really just coming from the 3 basic chords that I started with. So the next thing to do is to take one of those basic voicings and then try to open it up so you can comp like this with it.

And this is not about learning some other chord voicings that you put in instead, it is about knowing variations of these chords, it is about opening up the voicing so that you can create some interesting colors, melodies, and voice movement. When you practThat is what we all love about Jazz chords after all.

How To Remember All The Chord Shapes

If you are using chords to comp or play a chord solo then the most important thing is flexibility. And if you only practice chords as grips and inversions then you are not organizing the chords in a way that helps you make music with them.

So instead it is much more practical to not think about different chord voicings, and instead, just have a lot of variations of the same voicing.

It is a little bit like a Pizza, we just think of it as one thing, but you can have pizza’s with all sorts of toppings and we still think of it as a pizza and don’t have to remember them as separate meals.

Let me show you what I mean.

Voice over example 6

If you look at the Dm7 voicing I am using:

If you know the notes around this chord then you can make some variations of this voicing:

Example 6

And it is still really the same chord, it is just adding different colors to it. Similar to putting different things on top of your pizza.

*Cut-in: The big question now is what extension is the pine-apple on the Pizza, but maybe we can leave that discussion to the comment section

The big advantage is that I have all these voicings as variations on one thing, so I don’t have to practice all of them in inversions, I am checking them out in a place where I can use them, and if you were to try to work through all these in inversions then you would get some pretty difficult chords and maybe not get to making music.

So the answer to the question at the beginning of the video: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” Is that I don’t remember different chord shapes I just know a lot of variations of the same chord, and I practice them so that I can use them together instead of only working on them as separate things.

So I am using that if I can make a pizza with pepperoni then I can also make a Pizza Hawaii.

The next thing to work on is how you practice to think like that

Practicing and Exploring Towards Making Music

Let’s start with the Dm7 voicing and explore some options there around that.

If you want more voicings with different extensions or alterations then you need to understand the context of the chord.

For this video, you can just see the Dm7 as being a part of the C major key and the II chord in a II V I.

If you want to have different options then you need to know the scale around this voicing.

Of course, we only need the top part, but you want to know your scales anyway.

If you look at the first voicing in this example:

then the notes of the chord are put so that we have low to high

3rd – 7th – root – 5th

To make changes to the chord then you still want to keep the core notes in the chord, and those are the 3rd and 7th. The root and the 5th you can change around and replace with other notes you want to use.

So you can play the 9th(E) instead of the root, the 11th instead of the 5th, or both so you have a 9th and an 11th in the chord. You can also replace the 5th with a 13th.

Give Your Comping A Melody

The easiest way to make your comping sound good is to tie together the chords with melody. This is in part, voice-leading so that the transition from chord to chord is pretty smooth, but it is just as important that you think about the melody in the chords and also the rhythm in that melody to really make it a piece of music.

Here is an example of a II V I using the Dm7 voicings and this area to play chords.

The Dm7 you can probably recognize. The main thing to notice is that it is really about the top-note melody.

The G7alt voicings are really done in the same way as the Dm7, but I am using a G7 from the altered scale.

The Cmaj7 is also using the same concept, but for the tonic chords in a II V I you can actually choose between having a maj7 and a maj7 so I am using that as well to make the Cmaj7 into a C6/9.

So what you want to practice is more about exploring the melodies you can play with the chords and not only playing them but also making small phrases as I did here.

A thing that will really open up your comping is also to realize that you can leave out the top note for this set of voicings so that you can play a big chunk of a scale and use that as well in comping.

I do have some videos where I explore this type of thinking on Satin Doll, I will link to one in the description.


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