Tag Archives: guitar 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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The 5 Types of Dominant Chord You Want To Know

There is ONE mistake that you don’t want to make when it comes to improvising over chords because that will hold you back when it comes to understanding and hearing chord progressions that you want to play. And this is especially true for dominant chords.

It sort of goes back to the Joke or anecdote about Mozart driving his father crazy by playing something like

When I play this then you can hear probably hear what the root is, because the last chord wants to resolve to the root. You can also hear that the last chord wants to resolve, and I did not resolve it. That is also the joke, Mozart would play this and not resolve it to infuriate his father.

Music Is More Than A Row Of Letters

But, what this tells you is that in a lot of music, chords are not isolated things. A piece of music rarely sounds like unrelated harmony next to each other, you immediately start to connect the chords and hear some chords as tension and others as a resolution.

I am going to make a statement that sounds sort of ridiculous in a bit!

If you want to solo over a chord progression then you want to understand not only what chord is there, but also how it relates to the song and the surrounding chords because that will make it a lot easier to improvise over it and it will help you hear the harmony that you are soloing over.

If you just zoom in on each chord then that is like reading a sentence but only spelling each word. If you spell this sentence you may miss an important part of what is being said:

Your Lunch Will Kill You

Another thing that is true both for music and for language is that you can say the same thing with other words:

That Sandwich Is Poison

Hearing Chord Progressions

With experience, you start to hear the progression, similar to how you can probably imagine how a 12-bar blues sounds and play that in your head like an audio track.

So what you REALLY want to avoid is that you just look at the chord symbol and ignore everything else. To compare this to language. If you are reading the words of a sentence but only focus on how each word is spelled then you ignore what is actually being said in the sentence, and if you think about it, then the important thing about the sentence is probably the meaning and it could be said using other words as well. This is also true for, at least, most music: A Chord is a part of a context and you want to understand what that context is.

And here is where I get to make this crazy statement:

“Not all dominant chords are dominant”

But throughout this video, you will see how this is maybe not that crazy.

#1 Most of the time Dominant chords are Dominants

The strongest connection or resolution in harmony is a dominant resolving to a tonic, so V – I. By resolving then I mean that the chord on the 5th note of the scale resolves to the root chord.

This is also what I used in the intro, but there I didn’t let it resolve.

You have two main variations, the V chord is either in a major or in a minor key, where a major dominant will have a 13th, and a 9th and resolves to a maj7

The minor version is usually the dominant coming from the harmonic minor scale with a b9 and b13 (PLAY). But there are a lot of other options as well.

Let’s go over another very common dominant before getting to the dominant chord that is actually subdominant.

#2 And These are Dominants As Well

The next type of dominant chords are the ones that you come across that resolve but just not to the tonic chord, the secondary dominants and if you analyze harmony then you write a V in brackets.

     I       [V]      II       V

 Cmaj7 A7   Dm7  G7


Some of the common ones would be the ones that take us to II, like this A7: Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

The V of V: D7 Dm7 G7

Or if you have a song that moves to the IV: Cmaj7 C7 Fmaj7.

These follow the same guidelines as the regular dominants so the extensions depend on whether the target chord is major or minor, so a if the target chord is major it will have a 9th and a 13th and if it is resolving to a minor chord then it will have a b9 and a b13.

Let’s have a look at some less obvious options.

#3 This Dominant is Subdominant

In this example, you hear a C7 resolving to Fmaj7 which is just a secondary dominant, but the Bb7 resolving to Cmaj7 is not like that. But it does sound like it resolves.

In this case, the Bb7 is a subdominant chord. In fact, it is just an Fm6 with another bass note.

You can hear how this progression moves in the same way:

So the Bb7, which is often referred to as the backdoor dominant resolves like an Fm6 to Cmaj7 so it is a subdominant chord.

In terms of improvising then mostly you would play it as a Lydian dominant, which here means using F melodic minor, again a connection with IVm in the key.

#4 The Disguised Dominant

When you have a dominant chord that resolves by moving down a half step then this is referred to as a tritone substitution. In fact, this is the dominant of the key in disguise, I’ll show you that in a bit.

When you analyze this dominant you write add sub in front of the dominant

II subV I which means that it is the tritone substitute of the dominant.

In the progression above you would expect a G7: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7, and the reason why a tritone substitute works is that if you look at G7 next to a Db7 then you can see that they share the core part of the chord: 3rd and 7th. And a Db7 can be seen as a G7 with a lot of alterations with a Db in the bass.

You can come across tritone substitutions for secondary dominants as well. Below is an example of how is a substitute for the A7 in a C major turnaround.

#5 You Never See This But Is Good To Know

The last dominant chord is also in fact subdominant since it is derived from a subdominant diminished chord.

The most famous example of this chord is probably in Out Of Nowhere, where you have this progression:

You also find this in the original Star Trek Theme.

In this case, the Eb7 is in fact an inversion of another chord, namely a #IV double diminished.

Constructing the Double Diminished Chord

In the key of G major, the #IV is C#

The #IV diminished would be C# E G Bb

So the #IV double diminished is C# Eb G Bb which is then played with the Eb in the bass.

The Other Name

There is another way of describing it where you focus on it being minor subdominant and then end up calling it a German augmented 6th chord.

I call it #IV because I think that describes the sound better and links it to other chords in the key in a useful way.

Besides Out Of Nowhere you see this chord in Angel Eyes and My Foolish Heart, but it is not terribly common.

Soloing over the chord

In Jazz, you mostly play it as a Lydian dominant chord, but often it is also turned into a II V which is also very common in Out Of Nowhere giving you Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Bbm7 Eb7.

How Well Do You Know Your Diminished Chords

It may be useful for you to dive into the different types of diminished chords if you want to understand Jazz harmony better. Often people try to reduce diminished chords to dominants, but often that doesn’t really work that well and help you describe how it sounds. This video will show you how to understand them.

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Practice Major Scales like this and You will get more out of it!

You may think that this is a guitar technique video about major scales, but there is more to scale practice than moving your fingers. Most musicians study major scales as part of their practice routine. In this video I want to talk about what you want to learn, what you need it for and how you use it to build on when making music. Hopefully you can recognize and maybe re-shape your practice and connect things more.
 For a lot of you this may be a big check list that you can cross a lot of stuff off on, but it will also give you some new ideas on where to go and connect the things you already know. I may give you the advice to learn a bit of theory.

List of Content:

0:00 Intro – What you need to know, what is going to make you play better

0:18 It’s more than moving your fingers

0:57 Step 1 – Learn the scale on your instrument

1:07 Learn the notes of the scale

1:31 Combine The theory and the scale practice

1:50 Learn the Fretboard using the scales

2:29 How knowing the notes helps in a solo and how you use it

3:26 Step 2 – Learning the Diatonic Chords and Arpeggios

3:39 The chords are in the scale

3:58 Construction Diatonic arpeggios in the scale Cmaj7 and Dm7

4:32 What you need to know about the diatonic harmony

5:19 Knowing the notes of the chords in the scale and using that.

6:01 The 7th chords in Jazz and the Triads

6:30 Triads and how they are built

6:47 Triads in Jazz: Upper-structure triads and how they are used

6:56 Em triad as upper-structure on a G7

7:24 Step 3 – Beyond the Basics

7:44 The “Diatonic” Minor Pentatonic scales – Modern Jazz Sounds

8:11 The three Pentatonic scales

8:45 Connecting knowledge to understand the pentatonic scales

9:01 Super-imposing Pentatonic scales on Extended chords

9:32 Example of how to relate a pentatonic scale to a Cmaj7 chord

10:00 Improvising with the super-imposed scale

10:32 Quartal 3-part arpeggios

10:47 Playing the arpeggios and Quartal chords in the scale

11:02 The mysterious chords and how we use them

11:33 How to use the Quartal Arpeggios in your playing

11:56 Example of analyzing some chords against a Cmaj7

12:45 The Many other subsets, arpeggios and structures to work with

13:25 What you need to learn and use!

14:00 Do you have a favourite scale exercise or approach?

14:48 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!