In this lesson series I want to demonstrate a set of voicings that are fairly easy to play on the guitar, but will cover most sort of chords. I also want to talk a bit about how you approach playing chords in terms of interpretation of chord extensions, substitutes, connecting or voice-leading the chords. Hopefully it can help you learn and construct some new chords, and I hope it also helps you find new ways to play songs you already know and expand your ability to play chords freely.
Interpreting Chord Symbols and Improvising
In most jazz styles you are free to improvise with the chords when you are comping. This means that you can (tastefully, I hope) choose the chords (and extensions) you play and the way you play them. One aspect of this freedom means that some chords are so similar that you can group them together. Here’s a list of groups:
- Major7: Cmaj7, C, C6, Cmaj7(9), Cmaj7(#11), Cmaj7(13) etc
- Minor7: Cm7, Cm9, Cm11 etc
- Dom7: C7, C9, C7(#11) C7(13) etc.
- Half Diminished: Cm7(b5) Cm7b5(9), Cm7b5(11) etc
- Altered Dominant: C7(b9), C7(b5), C7(b9,b13), C7(b13#9) etc.
- MinorMaj: CmMaj7, Cm6, Cm6/9, CmMaj7(9) etc
I guess for now the list is more of a reference, but what this means is that when you see one of the chords above you can substitute it with one of the other ones if you want to.
With practice you’ll be able to do this without thinking because you get used to thinking of several voicings as part of the same sound.
Enough talk! Let’s play an example. Here’s a recording of a simple tonal vamp in G:
GMaj7 E7 Am7 D7, I’ll play it a few times with different voicings. The voicings are all Drop2 voicings, I also recorded a simple two beat bassline to make the chords a bit clearer.
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It could be that some of these voicings does not come across to you as drop 2 voicings, but they can be derived from them as I well demonstrate in this series. The secondary goal in this is also that you start to think of new ways to get voicings from the ones you already know, by using some of the principles I use here.
A few basic exercises
In general I won’t really spent too much time on the music theory involved, just mention it and you are free to ask or look it up elsewhere if you want to know more. You probably already noticed that I don’t play the root in the bass on all chords. This is because I’d suggest using these type of chords in a context where there is a bass player so leave him to play the bass notes and you can focus on the chord and how that sounds.
Let’s first cover some basic chords on the top 4 strings in drop 2 voicings. In a major scale you have 4 types of diatonic chords: m7, dom7. Maj7 and m7(b5). Here are each of these from the key of G:
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I only show this for the 4 top strings since that is what you probably need the most, but you can play these voicings on the middle and bottom sets of 4 strings too. Here’s an overview of those fingerings: Overview of Drop 2 voicings on guitar You can probably leave it for later and just start with the top 4 string sets. The method is the same for all sets of strings…
You need to know these quite wel as they will be the base of everything else you need to do. Try to play them through a scale so that you practice your knowledge of diatonic chords too, that will soon be something you need to know and understand.
Here’s an exercise combining them in a basic II V I cadence.
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And here’s how to take it through the 1st 16 bars of Autumn Leaves, which is a handy tune because it has most of the chords in the key:
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I’d recommend that you try this out with several jazz standards to become familiar with finding the right chords and get used to the fingerings and the sounds. That will make it much easier to go to the subject of the next lesson where we’ll start adding more extensions, look at how one voicing can be used over another chord and add some alterations to the dominants.
I hope you like the lesson. Feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, G+, YouTube etc. if you have any questions or if you want to stay up to date with lessons, cd releases and concerts.
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