Tag Archives: diatonic chords

Diatonic Chords Exercises – The Most Useful & Important

Learning The Diatonic Jazz Chords for any scale is an important part of exploring what harmonies and melodies are contained in the scales.

In this video I am going to go over how to construct diatonic 7th chords and a few exercises to help you learn and play them. This should help you get started playing songs like jazz standards.

It is also very important to realize that the diatonic chords are the same as the diatonic arpeggios and you need to know and use your solos.

Constructing Diatonic 7th Chords

To construct the chord let’s first have a look at the scale:

For each note in the C major scale we can stack thirds, which is like taking every other note in the scale:
C: C E G B = Cmaj7

D. D F A C = Dm7

E: E G B D = Em7

If we play these then you get these chords:

More Playable Jazz Chords

The Chords in example 2 are a bit tricky, but you can easily play the same chords using these voicings.

The chord voicings are what is known as Drop2 voicings, which is not essential in this context but you can check out more here.

The order of the Diatonic chords

This row of chords is the same for all major scales, so you want to remember:
maj7, m7, m7, maj7, 7, m7, ø, maj7

Adding Another Set of Chords

I am going to use these chords for the exercises, but it is practical to also have a set of diatonic chords with the root on the 6th string. The lowest note on the E string I am using here is an F, so I am starting with F which is a maj7 chord. After that the G is the dom7th etc. 

Exercises to Internalize Diatonic Chords

These exercises are to help you learn the diatonic chords, get a good overview and gain some flexibility with playing them

#1 Move around the keys

THis is a really basic exercise. Since the order of the chords is always the same it is very useful to just play the diatonic chords in different keys.

In Example 5 and 6 I have written out the diatonic chords in the key of Ab Major.

#2 Playing The Scale in 3rds

Playing the scale in different patterns like 3rds is a great way to just work through the scale and skip around from chord to chord. This is very efficient for building an overview.

#3 Circle of 4ths/5ths

Chords very often move in 4th and 5th intervals, just think of a II V I or III VI II V I.

Playing through the scale like this is a great exercise:

#4 The Fly Me To The Moon Exercise

If you start Am then you have Fly me to the moon: A D G C F B E A
except one thing: the E is an E7 because it is a secondary dom7th and actually Bø E7 is a minor cadence to Am7.

#4 Secondary Cadences

In the previous example the Em7 was turned into an E7 and in that way creating a cadence to Am: Bø E7 Am7.

For every chord in the scale it is possible to create a cadence like this.

We have two basic cadences. To a Major chord: m7 dom7th maj7

and to a minor chord: ø dom7th m7

To get more overview and be better at having an overview of the scales and chord it is a great exercise to go over the cadences for each of the diatonic chords.

These exercises will help you also recognize a lot of the progressions you will come across in Jazz Standards.

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Favourite Chord in the key of C Major?

A chord that isn’t in the key isn’t always a modulation. There are many chords that you will come across in songs that music theory does not describe as a modulation.

In this video I talk a bit about some of those progressions of chords. Show an example of something that is a modulation and a few progressions that are not modulations but still contain chords that are not found in the scale.

The way I view music theory is that it is a description of the music that I play that helps me understand and hear what is going on. In most genres of music you will find a lot of chords that are maybe not diatonic to the scale but are still in the key. Examples of this are found as secondary dominants, modal interchange or borrowed chords from the parallel key.

Content of the video

0:00 Intro and a bit of heated discussion

1:09 Diatonic Chords

1:37 Modulation or not?

2:00 Progressions with non diatonic chord in the key

2:39 A progression that modulates

3:26 What can you come across? Secondary dominants

4:06 Modal Interchange/Borrowing from minor

4:25 Overview of the 21 chords in C minor.

4:55 Song examples with borrowed chords

5:25 My favorite chord and a little solo with it!

5:55 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!

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How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

You want to learn how to play Jazz Chords. An important part of playing Jazz is to be able to interpret and play the rich chord language of the genre. This list of lessons is an ordered way to work your way through this from getting to know a basic vocabulary to having more freedom in comping with different types of chord voicings.

Your Feedback is very valuable

Remember that the guides are here to help you so if you have suggestions for this or other guides then let me know! I might have missed something or you have another idea for something that is important to check out! Feel free to send me an e-mail or message via social media.

I have also collected the videos in a Playlist on Youtube if you prefer that:

Playlist: How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

The Jazz Chord Survival Kit and vocabulary

The first three lessons deal with a basic chord vocabulary and how to use it when playing important chord progressions and jazz standards

Leaving out the root and getting used to upper-structures

Once you know some chords and can play a few songs you can start to expand your vocabulary.

There are two main topics you should add first: Triads as Jazz chord voicings and Drop2 voicings. These two are the foundation for most other voicings and you can build on this knowledge to really build an extensive chord vocabulary.

The Essential Drop2 Voicings

Drop2 chords form a huge chunk of all the voicings that are used in jazz. These lessons will take you through a lot of material using drop2 voicings. If you want to hear Drop2 chords in action then just put on a Wes Montgomery album, he used them extensively in his chord solos and comping.

Developing Comping skills beyond the chords

Playing Chords does require more than just knowing what chord to play where. Some of the other skills that are equally important are discussed in these lessons:

More Modern sounds

If we look beyond the triads and Drop2 voicings it is of course possible to start checking out more modern sounds that may not immediately be covered in the lessons I already included. These voicings are both more extreme with having large intervals or much more cluster like with second intervals:

Allan Holdsworth Chord Series

One of my favorite players when it comes to modern jazz chords is Allan Holdsworth. Since I have made several lessons inspired by his chordal language I though it only right to include some of these lessons. 
I am obviously a huge fan, but there is a lot to be learned from him and the chords are very beautiful and worthwhile checking out. Even if they are not all easy to play.

Chord Solos

One way of getting good at comping is to get good at playing chord solos. Being able to improvise solos with chords really helps develop your freedom and ability to play solid comping behind others. 

For that reason I have included a few of the lessons I have on chord soloing that you can dig into if you want to take this approach.

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Vlog: 30+ Chords in C major?

How many chords are there in the key of C major?

If you are writing a chord progression or making reharmonization then you want to check out what options you have available in jazz harmony. This video is going through 60 chords and talk about how they are related to C major key and show jazz chord progressions that contain them.

I am also referencing chord progressions of jazz standards very often.

The chords that we find in a chord progression in almost any genre will more often than not contain chords that are not diatonic to the scale of the key. So the amount of chords in a key is bigger than the diatonic chords found in the scale, but how big?

Turns out that is a very tricky question!

Do you really know the pentatonic scale?

Most guitarists learn the Pentatonic Scale as one of the first things they ever learn on the guitar, and most of the time it is not a scale that we think too much about when we use it. It’s just the pentatonic scale and it’s something that is in our ears and fingers for years. And that is even if we are already for the rest playing music with extended chords, altered dominants etc.

In this lesson I am going to take apart the pentatonic scale and look at some of the things that you can find in there since that might yield some new ways of using it by combining what you know of the pentatonic scale and what you know about improvising with chords and arpeggios.

The Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale that I will spend time on in this lesson is this D minor pentatonic scale:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 1

If you try to remember all the exercises you have done in a pentatonic scale you will probably find that they are all sequences and groups of notes (3 and 4 are very common) more than they are praciticing specific structures that could be seen as a chord.

Diatonic chords in the Pentatonic scale

In a major scale we create chords by stacking diatonic 3rds. A diatonic third is basically a just a note followed by the note 2 steps higher in the scale. If we build chords in the scale like this we get this scale exercise:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 2

To get a better overview of what these arpeggios are you can play them as chords (the pentatonic scale is very forgiving with it’s 2 note per string fingerings) and that will give us the following set of chords that are “diatonic triads” in the pentatonic scale.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 3

As you can see the “triads” that we build are almost never consisiting of actuall 3rd intervals and especially the 4th is much more present in the chords which is why we get stacks of 4ths (the sus chord inversions).

The chords we have are then Dm, F, Gsus4, Csus4, Dsus4 which you could consider the diatonic triads in the scale.

Even if it is possible to play this in a position like I did in example 3 it is very useful both for comping and for using them as arpeggios to practice these on a string set like shown in example 4:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 4

It is worth while to keep in mind that if you can use the pentatonic scale to play a solo over a chord then probably the chords in example 4 are good for comping over that chord. Maybe try out example 4 over a Bb bass note to get a Bbmaj7 sound.

Open voiced diatonic chords

Now that we have 3 different types of chords: major, minor and sus4. We can start getting more out of the chords by playing them as open voiced triads. The easiest place to start with making open voiced triads is to take example 4 and then lower the 2nd note an octave. If you do that you will get the following chords:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 5

With open voiced triads you get a lot out of inverting them, because they contain a lot of quite large intervals. To just cover that I’ve written out a set of inversions for each type of the open voiced triads:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 6

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 8

Practicing these open voiced triad inversions is a great thing to put to use with pentatonic scales and they are also great for right hand accuracy and technique since they contian a lot of irregular string skips.

If you want to check out open voiced triads in more detail you can also have a look at this lesson: Open Triads in Solos

Shell voicings in the pentatonic scale

One way to think of the D minor pentatonic scale is to think of it as a Dm7 arpeggio with an added G. Since the Dm7 chord is to be found in the scale we can of course also use a Dm7 shell voicing and try to play that through the scale.

I have written this out in example 9. The most logical starting point seemed to be the standard Dm7 shell voicing in the 5th fret. From There I take it through all 5 degrees of the scale to get some other voicings. Some of the voicings have nice seconds in them and can be put to good use in any situation where Dm pentatonic is an option.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 9

If you want to know more about using shell voicings as arpeggios you can also check out my lesson on this subject: Shell Voicings as Arpeggios

A few examples

All three examples are basic II V I progressions in the key of C, so Dm7, G7alt and Cmaj7. They should illustrate how you can use some of the arpeggios and structures cover in the first part of this article.

The first example is using the open voiced triads, and more or less just playing the first two arpeggios from example 5, which are a Dm and then an inversion of a Csus4 (or an open voiced Fsus2 if you will). From there the line descends down the scale and continues to a G7 alt line that is based around an AbmMaj7(9) arpeggio that then is resolved via the Ab to the 5th(G) of C.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 10

Using the “diatonic triads” from example 2 in a similar basic way is also a very useful. In the 2nd line I start of with an A and then go into the F major 2nd inversion and G sus 4 triads from example 2. On the G7alt the line is using the Bb min pentatonic scale. First a stack of 4ths from Bb, which would be the same as the Dsus4 triad in example 2.  Fromt here it descends down the scale and resolves to the 7th of Cmaj7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 11

The third example is mixing up the open voiced  triads and stacks of 4ths. First an open voiced Csus4 triad followed by a Gsus4 triad. From there it continues with a basic line on G7alt that is build around an AbmMaj7 arpeggio that via an chromatic approach resolves to the 5th(G) of Cmaj7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 12

Some of the chord names that I end up using in this lesson like the Gsus4 and the Dsus4 are maybe not the best names to describe the sound that you have at your disposal with these arpeggios, but it is still very worth while to use this approach to get some new arpeggios and melodic structures out of the pentatonic scale. By looking at it in the same way we would the major or melodic minor scale.

I hope that you can use the material that I went over here to get some new ideas and make some good surprising lines using pentatonic scales.

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Do you really know the pentatonic scale

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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