Tag Archives: beautiful jazz chords

Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:


The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.


Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:


An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.


But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

Beautiful Jazz Chords are chords like this: rich-sounding chords with lots of colors and extensions, they are the amazing pastry of harmony, and like cakes, it is not the only thing you need. But it is Nice, VERY NICE!

What makes a chord beautiful is in part the chord itself, but it is as much about the chord progression, so I am going to use a lot of rich and colorful chords but also show you how amazing they sound in some great chord progressions that work as II V I alternatives if you need to add a bit of variation to your chord playing.

So the starting point is this progression:

But as you will see then we can pretty much go anywhere starting here, and you can easily make your chords a LOT more interesting!

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

The first thing you can try is to not play a normal II chord, but instead, use a half-diminished chord so in this case a Dø.

Another thing you want to notice is how I am not playing a maj7 chord for C, but instead going with a 6/9 chord.

You want to get used to mixing those up because they can pretty much always replace each other:

B-roll: C major diatonic + C minor diatonic chords (maybe highlight Dø?)

A theme you will see in a lot of these examples is that the progression is in C major, but I am using chords that are in C minor to change things up:


#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant


The strongest pull in music is probably the dominant resolving to the tonic like G7 to C.

But it is then also a bit obvious and not so interesting, so in that respect, it is a pity that so many people try to explain all theory as V I resolutions, it makes it boring, and you can replace a V chord with a subdominant chord that is much tastier and mysterious with an Fm chord that has some nice colors added:

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

This next progression is using a bright chord for a minor subdominant, namely the bVI maj7th, but that then resolves via the dominant to an even brighter maj7 tonic. This is the main cadence in Cole Porter’s Night And Day,

and maybe the lyrics are actually fitting the harmony by starting in minor and ending in major?

For this one, I added a #11 to the tonic chord making it even more bright and shining,

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

You can also choose to stick to only using maj7th chords and create a mysterious progression where it feels like every chord could be the resolution. Here I am starting on the IV chord, Fmaj7,

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

The Neapolitan subdominant is, in this case, a IVm triad, so Fm with a Db in the bass as a leading note down to Cmaj7, so it is still a minor subdominant and it always sounds fantastic.

Here’s the entire progression:

The next example will also add some pentatonic chord tricks on the Cmaj7 chord!

#5 How Is That Even A II V I?!

Before diving into the pentatonic passing chords, then I need to introduce another minor subdominant variation: The Backdoor dominant, in this case, Bb7 which is the bVII in C major, so this dominant chord is actually a subdominant chord in the context.


The next chord is a classic Jazz trick: The Tritone Substitution

This is a pretty simple idea: In C major, the dominant is G7, and a G7 chord actually shares a tritone with another dominant: Db7. So you can exchange one for the other and the basic flow of the harmony still works.

Check out the example then I’ll explain the pentatonic chords on Cmaj7.

Let me know which of these progressions or chords is your favorite in the comment section!

In this example, I am playing 3 chords on Cmaj7 (example) and if you take away the C that I sometimes add under it, then really this is just playing chords made from Em pentatonic:

This works because we need to hear a C in the bass and then notes that give us a maj7 sound, and Em pentatonic

Em pentatonic will give us a lot of nice colors against C:  E G A B D – 3 5 13 maj7 9 and the chords are pretty easy to play.

Here’s a different take on changing the chords with a progression pretending to be a II V

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

This way of using maj7 chords can work as a nice suspension but here it also becomes a sort of motivic development with the chord progression that is really smooth combining the bVI

and bII maj7 chords.

There is another even more weird way to use maj7 chords, that I’ll show you after this one.

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

In this next example, I am moving around maj7 chords, starting on the bVI so Abmaj7

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

which is really like a Db7 with a B in the bass, so it is a disguised tritone substitute or altered dominant which then resolves beautifully to Cmaj7:

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

With a progression like this then you can also hear how you have a creative component to putting together chords both in how you voice-lead them and how you choose what chords to add to the progression. The best place to develop that is to use it in chord melody where you can color the chords and really add your own take to the melody. If you want to explore this way of playing then check out this video where I cover both the basic approach and some of the ways you can create variations of common progressions that actually fit the song.

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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