Minor Chords – Unlock Some Beautiful Jazz Chords In Your Music

When you play chords or if you are writing songs then you reduce the harmony to chord symbols like Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7. But the great thing about Jazz harmony is that you can make a lot of choices when it comes to how you want to color the chords, and especially with minor chords there are some incredibly beautiful choices that are not getting the attention they deserve, so let’s start easy and then go to the extremes with some minor chord options.

Level 1 – Jimmy Page Got It Right

The basic chord where it all begins is of course just a minor triad:

You have a root, a minor 3rd, and a 5th.

But it is only 3 notes, so you can add combinations of the remaining 9 notes and get a lot of different colors. The first, and most common one is level 2.

But Minor chords can even work as substitutions for altered dominants, which is a great way to make some interesting chord progressions. I’ll show you in a bit.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness. I am going to give this the minor triad a “This is great if you are in Guns And Roses or another stadium rock band”

Level 2 – They Are Everywhere, So What!

The most common extension to add to a minor chord is probably the b7 which makes it a m7 chord:

This is the typical first chord in a II V I

But you actually have m7 chords in 3 places in the major scale, on the II, III and VI:

And two variations of a m7 chord that you can very often throw in there would be chords with the 9th:

or the 11th:

These are all nice, beautiful, calm sounds but also sometimes a little bit boring.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

So this is a clear “You Still Need To Check Some Things Out But Don’t Use The Real Book!” on the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness.

Let’s take this in a different and more colorful direction!

Level 3 – You Are Missing Out!

This is what I probably consider the most overlooked option.

Instead of adding a b7 you can also add a major 6th to the chord:

A C E G → A C E F#

And the m6 chord is a great sound that works especially well with tonic minor chords for example the Gm6 in Autumn Leaves which is also what is often played as a riff under that chord.

When you are soloing then the m6 chord is usually associated with melodic minor:

A B C D E F# G# A

This sound is often with the next type of minor chord, but a very common variation that you want to know is the m6/9 chord:

You want to explore how to use this chord and test how it sounds in different places, it can be a great sound and also add some much-needed variation to playing m7 chords everywhere.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness this gets a “Now we are talking!”

Level 4 – So Much More than Pink Panther!

You most likely already know this sound as the ending chord of this:

Or a more recent song like this:

The basic chord type here is a mMaj7 chord,

so that is a minor triad with a maj7 7th

A C E G#

This chord is dissonant and at rest at the same time and is a nice more spicy color you can add to a chord progression:


The mMaj7 chords sounds great if you add a 9th to it:

or even a 13th:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness, this gets a “Rick Beato Approves”

Level 5 – You Are Playing A Wrong Chord!

This chord is almost like a mistake!

Most of the time when you have a m7 chord then it is put to use as a suspension of a dominant chord, so a more independent version of a sus4 chord.

If you listen to a II V I then that is:

and it is really just a bass note away from:

If you look at how this chord works then the point of it is to move one note.

The 7th of the m7 chord down to the 3rd of the dominant. Here that is a G on Am7, down to an F# on D7.

That means that the one note that you don’t want on the m7 chord is probably the 13th because that is the note that you are trying to save for the next chord.

But if you just listen to it m7(13) chord is a great chord to use as a sound in itself, and as Herbie Hancock has demonstrated quite often. Paired with an altered dominant it sounds great in a II V I.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

Clearly, this should get a “There Are No Wrong Notes” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. But there are even minor chords that are so strange that almost don’t exist.

Level 6 – This Doesn’t Even Exist

If you have watched any mediocre YouTube guitar lesson on improvising then you have probably learned that Lydian is way better than Major. While that is of obviously complete nonsense then that does make you wonder:

“What is a Lydian m7 chord?”

The pragmatic and boring people will tell you that it is Dorian because of the major 6th interval, but the truly visionary out there will tell you about the legend of the m7(#11) chord.

This sound is mostly just a special effect that you can throw in there if you want to change things up on a minor blues or a song with a static minor chord for some time, but you can use it in a cadence:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness, this is an obvious “Don’t Play The Butter Notes“

Level 7 – That is Not Even A Minor Chord!

With all these options then you can start to use the different minor chords as substitutions for other chords.

A great example of this is to use a mMa7 chord as an altered dominant, here it is EbmMaj7 instead of D7alt:

You can hear Jobim do this in the bridge of his song Dindi, and it is something you can get a lot of beautiful harmony out of.

You can also use a CmMaj7 instead of the D7:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

These need to be somewhere between “You Are Fired and Don’t Steal My Gig” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. Let me know in the comments which one!

Why Your Comping Doesn’t Work

Colorful chords are great and a big part of what is fun to explore about Jazz harmony and playing jazz songs, but if you want to get started playing Jazz then it is as important that you dig into the type of chords that have room for you to add extensions and colors to them. This video will introduce you to shell-voicings and also show you how they are fantastic for a lot of things from walking bass and chords to bossa nova and a great starting place for building some beautiful chords.

5 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That You Want To Know

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