Tag Archives: basic music theory

The Basic Music Theory You Need As A Jazz Beginner

Having the basics down in music theory is an incredibly powerful tool. If you are playing Jazz then interpreting chord symbols can be very difficult and if you have a solid basic overview of what notes are in there, you can find other ways to play the chord and add notes and fills to it, the things that make it a lot more fun to play!

That’s what I want to show you in this video because an overview like that is going to stop you from sounding like a Pat Metheny Clone, and instead of learning a single Jazz lick, you can figure out how it works and turn it into a recipe for 1000s of Jazz licks. There’s a chance you know a lot of this, but then you can use this as a checklist to see if you have it all under control!

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

The place to start is the scale that you need the most: The Major scale.

I assume you are already somewhat familiar with the but to keep it simple let’s use the C major scale:

The important thing to remember is that a major scale is constructed by a series of whole and half steps, and that recipe is:

On guitar you have a shortcut which is a physical solution where you are just moving a shape around,  that means that if you play a C major scale then you can turn that into an D major scale by just playing the same shape but start on the note D,

but that also means that you don’t really know what notes in there anymore, and when you play songs then it is very practical to know that the next chord is the IV chord in the key and that is THIS note in the scale, so here’s how you can start figuring out the notes in a scale.

I am going to show you this using D major as an example, but it works for any note can think of. It is just about using sharps and flats You need to remember or write down the row of intervals that make up the major scale:

For D major you can write out the notes from D to D . You can then go through the scale and make sure that the intervals fit and then correct that:

D to E is fine, but E to F is a half-step which should be a whole-step, so you turn the F into F#.

Now F# to G is a half-step so that is fine, G to A, and A to B are both whole steps

but B to C should be a whole-step as well

and again you turn the C into a C# to fix that and then you have D major

The next thing to do when you know what notes in the scale is to map that onto any scale position: just start on the root, play the scale, and say notes – in that way this is as much about connecting the things that you know on the neck, because that is where it is useful!


That is the basic construction of the major scale, but what you need is to link this to chords because when you are playing a song then it looks like this:

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World

The Strongest Chord we have isn’t a Jazz chord which would be a chord with at least a 7th, The strongest chord only has 3 notes and it is, of course, the triad.


The basic construction of a triad is a stack of 3rds, so for C then

C major is 1 3 5 – C E G which is really just 1 3 and 5 out of the major scale:


C minor  would be 1 b3 5 C Eb G and the difference is the distance between the two first notes: C to E is a major 3rd

and C to Eb is a minor 3rd

Like this, you can also construct a diminished triad which is: 1 b3 b5 in C that would be C Eb Gb and you can create an augmented triad which is a major triad with an augmented 5th: C E G#

Those are the 4 basic triads, but you probably also want to know these 3:

Sus4 where the 3rd is replaced with the 4th:

Sus2 where the 3rd is replaced with the 2nd:

If you check then sus2 and sus4 are actually inversions of each other, so they are the same structure.

Another triad that is maybe less common in songs but very common in chord structures is major b5:

But right now, this is all just structures without any context, and while it is nice to know then the best way to know this is to place them in a scale.

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World, In The Scale

As I mentioned then chords are created by stacking 3rds, and actually that is easy to do in a scale so to construct the diatonic harmony and place the triads in a context . That tells you which triads go together.

Start with the C major scale:

and we can put 3rds on top using the notes in the scale to get first a row of diatonic 3rd intervals

and then these triads which is another useful row to remember, just like the intervals:

It is incredibly useful to know what triads go together, and as you will see later it is a huge help in finding more arpeggios you can use when improvising over a chord, which means more melodies that you can use in your solos

You can do this with any scale, and you should certainly know the triads of the major scale by heart, so this order:

It is also important to figure this out for Harmonic and Melodic minor which will give you examples of the other triads, you’ll see later.

Enough with the triads for now, let’s get to some Jazz chords!

The First Group of Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

In Jazz, we don’t work with triads as the basic chords so often, even though we still play triads in solos all the time.

The basic chord type is the 7th chord, but constructing the 7th chords is now super easy, barely an inconvienience: You just add another diatonic 3rd to the triads!

So these:

Become these:

Again the order of chord types is really useful to know, so for a major scale it is maj7, m7, m7, maj7, dom7th, m7, ø

And as you can see you there are 4 chord types in the scale:

The reason that I construct chords in scales is because that added context really tells you a lot about what is going on in the music:

If you take this lick:

As you can see that if over the over a G7 then you can use a Bø arpeggio which is the diatonic arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, so we are combining the knowledge of the chord with the diatonic harmony.

You can also see that the Em triad sounds great on Cmaj7, but that is just because an E minor triad, E G B, is a Cmaj7, C E G B without a C.

And the same thing applies to chords:

If you play II V I that sounds like this:

Here I am using an Fmaj7 chord, which is giving me the Dm7(9) sound:

and a Bø Chord for a G7(b9) before moving down to Cmaj7, so the diatonic chords become a part of how you learn things, and you cna use the same stuff for a lot of things, it is very efficient.

Of course, at some point you have done that so many times that you will just know what the notes of Dm7 is and that the arpeggio from the 3rd is Fmaj7, but being able to figure it out is a necessary step, and knowing it like this is, of course, a lot better than just having a diagram that you are moving around without knowing what is going on.

The Rest of The Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

As I said, there are more chord types than just the 4 I already covered.

To find some of those then let’s try to build chords in Harmonic minor, because that should give us some more. To keep it easy, A harmonic minor:

To get you more comfortable with the process then we can start with the triads

A B C D E F G# A

Then you have:

Am Bdim Caug Dm E F G#dim

And once you add a 7th to this then you get:

Notice that the G#dim has a diminished 7th from G# to F, that sometimes a bit confusing because it is the same interval as a 6th

And to immediately show you how useful this is, in the II V I in C I used the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, and you do the same here and use a G#dim over an E7 because it is almost the same notes and they are from the same scale:

and, that is an great way to play an E7(b9) resolving to Am,

Working on this is something that can really speed up your learning process, because if you start practicing diatonic triads or arpeggios while also being aware of what triad or arpeggio you are playing then you

  • Have a better overview of the harmony and the scale
  • See the shapes you need for soloing on the fretboard
  • Figure out what is being played in Jazz solos so you can get that into your own playing.

All stuff that makes it easier to learn and play Jazz, but it probably isn’t going to be useful if you don’t learn any songs that you can use it on. Learning songs become a lot easier if you understand the harmony, and I talk about that in this video covering how I use Functional harmony but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino have shortcuts that are opposite of each other, but it will all help you learn and remember songs. ! It doesn’t have to be difficult to learn songs. Check that out

If you start to figure this out for the different keys and practice diatonic arpeggios while also being aware of triad or arpeggio you are playing then you start to connect all of this and that will help you:

  • Know the scale and the diatonic harmony
  • See the shapes on the fretboard
  • Understand how the chords move

You can figure out what is being played in Jazz solos

And, all of these skills are important things that will speed up your learning process, but it probably isn’t  going to be very useful if you don’t learn songs and also learn to understand how the harmony works and that you can check out by watching this video which covers how I use functional harmony for that, but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino think about chords and make things easier! Learning and remembering jazz songs doesn’t have to be difficult!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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How To Make 4 Chord Vamps That Sound Great

Whether you need chord progressions for your own song or an intro for a song you are learning, you want to be able to come up with chord progressions that sound great, natural, and are not too boring, and messing around with harmony to make beautiful chord progressions is one of the most fun and creative things to do in music.

That is what I am going to talk about in this lesson.

Creating 4-chord Vamps with Subdominant Chords

The chords are supposed to loop, so we can start by choosing two chords and then fill in more chords between them.

For most of this video, I will focus on progressions going from a I or tonic chord, to a IV or subdominant chord.

Mostly because there is more variation possible and they are a little overlooked. Then we can take the basic 2-chord vamps and look at different ways to add chords and get more movement.

So let’s first check out these 2-chord options that already sound great and then turn some of those into more complicated vamps. Already here you might get some good ideas, but you can go a lot further.

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 – IVm

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 – bVII backdoor dominant

#3 Cmaj7 Dbmaj7 – bII Neapolitan Subdominant

#4 Cmaj7 Abmaj7 – bVImaj7

#5 Cmaj7 F#dim/C #IVdim

#6 Cmaj7 Ab7 – #IV double diminished – German Augmented 6th chord



These already sound great, so the next thing is to add a little more movement to them to make them more like a story in different phases.

Making More Interesting Chord Progressions

The trick to creating these progressions is to get them to make sense by adding chords that move in a logical way. I am not using any exact science or strict rules, so you can use any type of system that sounds natural to you. Most of the time you will see me add chords based on common progressions like a standard I VI II V turnaround, step-wise movement or moving in 4ths.

Diatonic Chords

When I am making the chord progressions I keep in mind this is in the key of C major, so I am in general pulling from C major and C minor, which gives me these diatonic chords to use:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø

Cm7 Dø Ebmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7

CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim

CmMaj7 Dm7 Ebmaj7(#5) F7 G7 Aø Bø

And besides that you can add secondary dominants everywhere you want, so if you have a Dm7 you can add an A7(b9) to lead to it, but also an Eb7 before an Abmaj7 (the bVI in minor).

You can check out more about secondary in the video I am linking in the description.

Turnaround with some step-wise surprises

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 → Cmaj7 Am7 G7sus4 Fm6

Going to Am7 is coming out of a standard turnaround, and from there it is step-wise movement. You might want to notice that G7sus4 is F/G Which makes it very close to F Fm, so IV to IVm in C but with a different bass note. That is really just helping it make sense on another level.

Backdoor dominant and a secondary dominant

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 →Cmaj7 C7/E Fm7 Bb7

With a dominant chord, you can often add a II chord in front of it to make it a II V. In this case with the Fm7, that also gives you the option of having a secondary dominant which is C7/E.

Another nice way to tie everything together is to have a pedal-point in the harmony, so a note that stays the same through all the chords. In this example, I have a G in the melody of all the chords to get that effect.

bVImaj7 is underrated

#3a Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Am7 Abmaj7

In this example, I am using step-wise motion to go from Cmaj7 to Abmaj7. You can do this in a few ways, but this one was the nicest with the Bb7.

Instead of using stepwise motion, you can also turn it into a row of secondary dominants like this:

#3b Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Which is a pretty different sound but certainly works as a progression that moves forward.

Composing With Chord Progressions

Coming up with chord progressions is about composing and improvising with chords so the best way to do this is to just mess around a lot and try to find new ways. There are many ways to get inspiration, but probably one of the strongest is to know and analyze a lot of songs. The advantage here is that if you learn songs you not only know the progression but also really have an idea about how it sounds, and you can always mess around with it.

Another great exercise is to harmonize or re-harmonize melodies to explore what is possible with the chords and how you can use different chords to go from A to B.


#IVdim: Neutral and spicy

The #IV is an uncomfortable chord for a lot of people, but it is a really beautiful sound. Here are two examples that work really well and also both use a C pedal point. The second one is a bit out and dark, but also beautiful.

#4a Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 C7 F/C F#dim/C

This is really just a basic C C7 F F#dim “gospel or country” progression with a C in the bass, but it certainly works. A great example of what you learn from checking out songs like St Thomas or Rhythm Changes.

The next one is a bit weird,

#4b Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 Eb7/C Abmaj7/C F#dim/C

Folk inspired Minor Chords (and a double diminished inversion)

The IVm and Vm chords together have a real folk sound which can be really beautiful and it works great here in combination with the Ab7 which has the heaviest name: (Hans Groiner).

You will also see the double diminished #IV chord referred to as the German Augmented Sixth chord.

#5 Cmaj7 Ab7 → Cmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Ab7

To me calling it a double dim #IV tells me how it sounds, that’s why I use that. I don’t really have any association with that with German augmented chord, but that is most likely just me.

Another reason for using Subdominant chords

The progressions in this video are pretty natural sounding and will loop very well. If you plan to make songs with the same chords looping for a longer period of time, then it makes sense to not be too specific about the key. Being vague becomes a way to make it not too predictable. This is actually something you can see in a lot of pop music where you even have long discussions and articles about the key of pieces.

Using the subdominant chords makes these progressions less “predictable” and clear than a standard V I. Similar to the effect you have in Radiohead’s Creep, which is almost example 1. Another way to keep it a little more vague is to play fewer notes, so sticking to triads can be useful too.

Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:

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