You know how this feels: You are playing a song and then the chords look like completely insane (Db7(b9,b13,no5)
and your brain is thinking (picture of hand knot on the fretboard), and that is just one chord, because they keep on coming all the time. But we can’t all be like BB King and just hire somebody to play chords while we say “I am horrible With Chords” And the main reason for that is that you will have a lot of fun playing chords and you can make great music with them, you just need to know how!
In this video, I am going over the 3 I’s as a way of dealing with chords and making it easier to deal with chord progressions,
hearing, understanding, and turning them into music. It should not be complicated to play music, so first you want to make the whole thing a bit simpler.
When you look at a chord like C7(#11,b9) then that is a lot of information, and you don’t want to spend too much energy on it while playing. Figuring out what those notes are, or trying to remember a grip that works like this C7(#11,b9) but is far away from the Gm7 I was playing or doesn’t really fit with where the music is or where it is going is not going to be useful. But you can actually also just ignore all of that and just play a C7, especially if you are a beginner, that is probably the best way to go, but you do need to play the right type of simple C7, as I will show you, and later in the video I’ll show you how to be much more strategic and flexible with the chords, and not a slave to some numbers and letters, because numbers and letters are not music.
This is about not getting stuck with thinking about each chord so to begin with then a m7 chord will work if it is just a m7 chord and a dominant works if you play it without extensions as well.
Start by just playing the simple harmony.
As Joe Pass says:
“you must think of the chords in their simplest form….”
In the beginning, if you just ignore all the extensions and alterations you can easily play the chords as shell voicings, and as you probably know, a shell voicing is a voicing consisting of root, 3rd and 7th,
so it doesn’t clash with any b9s, #11 or b13s that might also be in the music. For a II V I then you could have these chords:
But you can also reduce those to something like this:
Or the other position:
And using shell voicings you can clearly spell out the harmony:
And there is still a lot of room for adding rhythm to the music:
With chords like that, you can pretty much play any progression and get it to sound tight, you can be rhythmical and you hear how the chords move, so you still get the essential flow of the harmony. It is important that you remember that, in Jazz, the chords are not isolated islands. They are a part of a progression and you want to think of them as words, not get stuck spelling the letters, which is exactly where you get stuck if you think too much about the extensions of one chord and not on how the chords flow together.
Which is the next thing to learn.
When you read the chord and start to analyze the extensions and alterations, then you are thinking about something that isn’t music, it is numbers and letters, and in the moment it is not helping you play any better. I came across this interview with Joe Diorio where he talks about asking Wes about this, and Wes’ answer is so spot on:
“What do you think when you see Dm7 G7 Cmaj7? – It is a Sound!”
But how do you turn chords into sounds and what does that have to do with reading chord symbols? For most people, the easiest way to do that is by connecting chords to songs, so learning how they sound in one song and then using that to hear the chords in the next song,and you do that not by thinking of a single chord but by learning to recognize the building blocks that make up the song.
That’s also why there are 2 billion lessons on II V I tricks, it is the most common building block for Jazz songs, but far from the only one, and whenever you learn a song, it pays off to think about the building blocks in there!
Let me show you how this helps you deal with complicated chord symbols in a more musical way. Because, if you ignore the extensions and then look at what the chord is a part of, then you can treat it as a piece of music and use the vocabulary you already have.
Let’s say that the music you are reading says D7(b9b13)
If you only look at the chord then that is all the information you have, but if you ignore the extensions and zoom out a bit and see that it is part of a minor II V I: Aø D7 Gm6
then you have a way of playing it where you are worrying about playing a specific chord, but you are working on playing a passage in the music that has melody and rhythm, not numbers and symbols,
and that context will also tell you what extensions and alterations might be a part of the sound because instead of trying to calculate what the b13 of D is and how to play that, then you are playing a D7 resolving to Gm. Adding that context to a chord is much closer to a sound and also easier to hear.
The important thing here is that you start to look at songs as having chunks that are smaller chord progressions and recognize how they are similar and when something sounds similar,
it does take time to build a vocabulary of chord progressions and get them into your ear, but it is worth it! Then you know what you can do with the chord, what notes you can add, and which melodies might work. You need that because Jazz is about improvising, also when it comes to chords.
One of the great things about playing Jazz is that soloing and playing chords is really pretty much the same thing, you are taking the chords and improvising to turn them into music, but in one case you create a melody and in the other, you are creating a background for somebody else’s melody. So the point of playing chords is mostly to improvise and to connect the chords with voice-leading, rhythm, and melody. But one of the problems here is that a chord symbol is a static thing, and not really something you can improvise with., so instead of thinking of D7(b9b13) then thinking of it as D7 resolving to Gm is going to give you a lot more options that you can make melodies with and turn progression into a piece of music, and check out how this example uses a b13 but it isn’t there all the time
So you want to learn to see a chord symbol not as a single grip or a few grips, but instead, you zoom out a bit and see it as a lot of options that you can put together as a piece of music, and depending on the context, then if it says D7(b9) you don’t have to play the b9, and you can often add a b13 that will sound great because those two notes are both a part of the sound of that chord, whether they are written in the chord symbol or not.
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