Tag Archives: how to play jazz chords on guitar

The Ultimate Jazz Chord Guide – 12 Most Important Voicing Types

What you can do with Jazz Chords is pretty incredible! I am sure you already know that if you click on this video. I am going to give you an overview of 12 practical and important types of chords that you will come across if you start exploring Jazz guitar.

I am going to start with the ones that make the most sense as a beginner, but also add something that I often think is left out in teaching and understanding Jazz chords is that I will show how they fit together, because if you check out how Jazz chords are used then it is rarely just one type of chord used all the time, we mix it up quite a lot and often that is what makes it sound so great. Having that connection in there also makes it a lot easier to have an overview and remember all the chords.

#1 Shell-Voicings

These simple 3-note chords are the best place to start because they are easy to play, easy to hear, they cover all of the basic harmony, and as you will see they are also an amazing foundation to build a lot of other chords with.

The basic harmony in Jazz is built around 7th chords which is 4-part harmony, but you can get there using 3 notes instead of 4.

You want to look at the shell-voicings like this: Root on the 5th or 6th string and basic chord tones on the 2 middle strings. The note that is left out is the 5th.

So for a Cmaj7 chord you have C E G and B in the chord, we leave out the 5th, G, and then you can play the C either on the 5th string giving you this chord

Or on the 6th string giving you this chord:

Most Important Exercises For Chords

There are two ways that you want to explore chords if you are trying to get them into your playing:

Take them through a scale, so for the shell voicings that might be this:

And you also want to play some chord progressions to hear what they sound like in music.

Most of the chord voicings in this video will come from adding notes to the shell voicings or taking away notes,

as you will see, they are surprisingly important to know! I am also a bit surprised that there are quite a few types of chords that are very common, but you don’t have a good name for them, we’ll get to those a lot quicker than you think and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.

#2 Drop-3 voicings

Shell-voicings are a great example of how you can get things done with fewer notes and a bit of context, but as we all know then the Swedish Guitar Wizard says:

“How can Less Be More? More is More” – Yngwie Malmsteen

So let’s start adding some notes to the shell voicings and since “More is More”

The Shell-voicing with the root on the 6th string can have the 5th added like this:

So now you have a way to play all four notes again, and we call this a drop3 voicing because of how it is constructed. I’ll explain the Drop-something concept a bit later.

It is pretty clear how the Shell-voicings and drop3 voicings fit well together because you can treat them as just shell voicings with added notes, and that makes it possible to play short riffs mixing the two:

And of course, it is also useful to take these through a scale. Here’s an F major scale:

With the way Shell voicings are constructed then inversions don’t make sense, but it is more common with Drop3 voicings. For the Fmaj7 that would be:

But, it still is not something you want to spend too much time on. The root position version is by far the one that is used the most. With later voicings like Drop2, the inversions are much more useful.

This was only adding a note to one of the shell-voicing types, let’s look at what happens when you do the same with the other one, which starts adding extensions. That is also what will give you a way to play some smooth progressions using the drop3 which wouldn’t really work right now.

#3 Shell-Derived

The same process with a 5th string shell-voicing would give you this Cmaj7(9):

Because this adds a diatonic 9th to the chord then taking it through the scale does not yield only voicings that you are likely to use:

As I mentioned then there is not a common name for this chord construction, so I made one up for this video. If you have a better suggestion you can always leave a comment.

Together with the drop3, you can add more color to the chords because “more is more”

#4 Drop2 with a bass note

It’s maybe a bit odd to introduce these before I go over Drop2 but I think it makes more sense in linking the chords and how you use them.

You started with a shell-voicing, then added a note to the drop3 and you can even add one more note to create a Drop2. This is probably easier to demonstrate with a G7 chord:

The advantage here is that you really just learn a Shell-voicing

and then add notes to expand your options in terms of what melodies are available:

If you move these through the scale then you get something like this, but they are a bit difficult to play:

These are very practical for chord melody playing, even if some of them are a bit tricky to play.

To get to the Drop2 chords and some other very practical voicings it is useful to look at the smallest possible jazz voicings.

#5 2-Note Shells

Adding notes make things a bit more complicated both in terms of technique and having an overview of what notes are played, so this will make things easier!

When you play in a band then most of the time somebody else is taking care of the bass line, and that means that you don’t have to play that and it might sound better to get out of their way.

Going back to the shell-voicings then that is pretty easy:

For the 5thstring root:

And for the 6th string root:

With these chords you can easily play progressions and you are not very likely to clash with the soloist and get in the bass players way.

You can take these through the scale as well, but maybe you can also just think of the shell-voicing with the root

#6 Triads

If you take the drop2 voicings and remove the root:

Then you are left with a triad. You can see it if you write out the notes as well. Cmaj7 without a C is an Em triad, Dm7 without the D is an F major triad and G7 without a G is a B diminished triad

The biggest advantage here is that you can use this with the inversions as well.

The basic II V I could be:

 

And you can turn that into 2 more II V I progressions using the inversions of these triads, but maybe one of them is a bit mysterious:

The one for the G7(9) is in this case an F major b5 triad,

which sometimes causes a bit of discussion, and you have one more inversion:

The biggest advantage with the triads is that they become something else and are both very flexible and easy to work with for comping and chord solos. They also immediately connect to the next type of voicing:

#7 Drop2

Again you can lean on adding more notes to the shell-voicing and then end up with a Drop2, so the concept stays the same as when there was a bass note:

What Are “Drop Voicings”?

But maybe it is probably also useful to cover what the Drop concept means in voicings, even if that is not something you ever use when you are playing, that is a very common misunderstanding.

It isn’t super complicated. If you look at a root position G7 then you have

Constructing a drop2 is taking the 2nd highest note, D, and moving that down an octave. With a more practical way of playing the notes you have this voicing G7 drop2:

And, in the same way, if you take the 3rd highest note, B, and move that down an octave you have G7 drop3:

Knowing this is nice, but to get anything out of it in your playing then you need the voicings in your fingers and your ears. Just knowing is not knowing, because we don’t have time to think about constructing chords while we play. I think most people who use them never think about constructing them, they just learn the voicings.

With Drop2 it is useful to check out how they move through the key:

and also check out the inversions:

And the inversions make it easy to play chord progressions with smooth movement from chord to chord, like this turnaround:

Drop2 chords are incredibly flexible with what extensions and voicings you can put together, so they are worth the effort to study and way to big to cover in this video, because there are other sounds to explore, and now we can let go of starting with the shell-voicings.

#8 3-part Quartal Voicings

The way you usually construct chords, as you have seen earlier in the video, is usually by stacking 3rds in the scale, so from the G you create a G major triad by adding the B and the D on top

But you could also stack 4th intervals from G, giving you this 3-note chord of G C F:

With quartal voicings it becomes a bit more open, you don’t always have one chord that spells out the sound of the chord but rely on a few to get the sound across. That is also why I did not give this chord a name.

But it is still useful to take the chords through the scale and get some voicings to work with:

And you can put these to use on a II V I like this:

#9 Spread Triads

The construction of Drop2 chords where you move one of the notes down an octave also works very well for triads and can give you some nice open sounds.

If you have an F major triad like this:

And you have inversions for this as well:

You can put this to use on a II V I like this, and notice how beautiful they sound:

Again this works with the inversions as well, and what is great about them is that you can move the voices in beautiful melodies:

Let’s look at some beautiful voicings that are the opposite of open

#10 Cluster-like

It’s difficult to describe these chords with one construction since there are a few similar and common examples. The important part is the minor 2nd interval, and as you will see it is less important to have a complete voicing all the time.

One you want to explore using is, maybe surprisingly, the inversion of the shell-voicings. For Fmaj7 that will be:

And the shell-voicing that leaves out the 3rd and uses the 5th is also a good candidate:

You can use that for a II V I like this, combining it with Cmaj7:

There are more options for this that you can explore, but that is for another video, there are 2 more types of chords that should be mentioned here:

#11 4-Part Quartal Harmony

Similar to the 3-part Quartal harmony you also have 4-part quartal voicings which can sound great, even if they are a bit trickier to fit into progressions.

First, you can check out the chords through the scale, but again I have not given the voicings names, since that is a bit more open with this type of harmony:

You can put them to use on a II V I with an altered dominant like this:

Let’s look at another beautiful type of drop voicing that have sort of a Holdsworth sound to them.

#12 Drop2&4

You already know about the drop2 and drop3 voicings, but a more open version which is also sounds a bit like a colorful version of the spread triads, is Drop2&4.

You can create those by starting with a Cmaj7

which needs to move the 2nd and 4th highest note down an octave, so C and G.

The drop2 version of this chord would be:

and then moving the C down you have:

Taking this through the scale will give you these beautiful chords:

And you can use them as upper-structures as well giving you Fmaj7, Fø and Em7 as a beautiful II V I with an altered dominant:

But what about my favorite chord?

Is there a voicing type that I didn’t cover that happens to be your favorite? Maybe you use a lot of power chords? then let me know in the comments. I know Gilad Hekselman uses drop2&3 quite a lot but, it is as far as I know not that common.

When it comes to playing chords then there are other important things to work on than which voicing to play. You also need to be able to get the rhythms, the phrasing, and the progressions to make sense, and if you want to develop that side of your playing then the exercises in this video will help you level up your skills., and I know that because that is what I practice

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

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Fake Counterpoint And Jazz Chords: Both Beautiful and Practical

This way of playing chords is incredibly fun, and I love how it sounds, at the same time I am not sure exactly where I got it from.

The idea is to be more free and creative with the chords you play, and I’ll take a slow song to show you how I think about the chords and make it into a sort of counterpoint, but it isn’t real counterpoint. Mainly because studying counterpoint was a massive failure when I was a student, but I’ll get back to that.

I guess it is my take on everything I listened to from Bill Frisell and John Scofield, maybe even some Jimi Hendrix, and a bit of folk music as well. I am not really sure, but maybe explaining what goes on might even help figure that out, I am not really following a set of rules as you will see.

Check out how it sounds:

Arpeggios and Voice-leading

I am using Someday My Prince Will Come as a song in this almost ballad waltz tempo, mainly because it is a great tempo and progression to show how “fake counterpoint” works.

The main thing to notice, in the beginning, is that even though I am pretty active then I am not playing a lot of different chords. Instead, I am relying on arpeggiating the chords and getting them to flow into each other in a smooth way, just changing a note here and there like going from the D7 to the Ebmaj7 or Ebmaj7 to G7.

(Add slow examples playing those bars)

I am also very much relying on letting the notes ring so that during the bar the entire chord gets clear.

The chords are simple: Shell-voicing on Bbmaj7, Triads on D7 and Ebmaj7 and an AbMmaj7 as an incomplete G7(b9).

Something that I use a lot is that I am trying to voice-lead the chords, so they flow into each other, and you can actually see that as a visual thing on the first two chords where the top note moves down and the lower voices move up.

That is also what is happening going from Ebmaj7 to the G7(b9)

Playing like this is a good way to REALLY get to know you chords.

The next part uses arpeggios but also more fills around the chords

Fills and Chromatic notes

The first part is mostly about using fills rather than chords and not so much about using several layers:

A basic Eb major triad for Cm7 connecting to G7 which is just a tritone interval.

altered fill:

On the G7 the rest is just a fill to get to the Cm7 in bar 3 where I am using a drop2 voicing.

4th Intervals And Harmonized Licks

This returns to using several layers, adding 4th intervals under the melody, and it also becomes clear why this works better with 2 and 3-note voicings

I am using this Cm7(11) voicing to make it possible to play that little fill with 4th intervals that then ends on the F7(13).

The 4th intervals under the melody then continues on the next Bb chord.

At the end of the first half then it is probably worth noticing that it is really just an embellished version of this:

Is It Counterpoint?

When I think about counterpoint, then I usually think about baroque music with a lot of layers moving, like an organ player working hard to keep it all happening at the same time.

My other association with counterpoint is the course that I had to take when I was studying at the conservatory. All Jazz guitarists had to take this, and I found myself in a class with for the rest only people studying baroque music.

The teacher was a very friendly classical composer, and this was one of the few topics at the conservatory where we actually worked from a book.

This was not a success! I had no real idea what I was supposed to learn, and in the class nothing was related to the music I played. You can probably imagine how showing up and writing baroque music from a set of rules was everything but inspiring. In hindsight, it could have been an interesting topic to explore in terms of learning how melodies work, but because it was not in any way related to the music I played, then it just seemed theoretical and irrelevant.

What You Should Learn From Counterpoint

Another theory teacher later told me that it was not worth it to study counterpoint and really everything you needed to know was these two things:

#1 Step-wise melodies are strong

#2 A leap in one direction is resolved by a stepwise motion in the opposite direction.

I learned a lot from her, and this certainly fitted with my experience as well, so that of course, resonated with me. To immediately relate this to Jazz: these two rules explain how Parker’s octave displacement works:

Where you have the skip from F# up to Eb that then resolves moving down the scale.

It is actually a great demonstration of melodic tension and release. If you think that it is essential for Jazz musicians to learn counterpoint then let me know in the comments, but maybe add a real example of the benefits like this one.

As you can probably tell then, I don’t really remember anything I  learned in the counterpoint class, and I am really just using it to describe that I am improvising several layers in the comping examples.

Arpeggiation and Jimi Hendrix

Now whether I learned to play chords like this from Bach, Jimi Hendrix or Bill Frisell, it is probably a mix. I think you can hear some of this coming from Bill Frisell’s way of working with chords, and if you think about it then the idea of playing chords and spreading them out similar to what I picked up from Hendrix on Wind Cries Mary or Little Wing.

The next part is almost a chord melody as a way of comping with a clear melody that is being supported by the chords under it

Except for one place, you have a simple melody that is in fact mostly moving in steps, and then there are chords.

If I just add the melody on top you can hear it:

In the Cm7 F7 bar it becomes counterpoint again with the sustained G note and then walking down to spell out the change to F7 and that is really just a melodic way to play these simple chords:

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The Best Way To Start With Jazz Chords: 2 Positions

For most of us, certainly for me, then what was first interesting about Jazz chords was how they sounded different and had a lot of beautiful colors that are very different from what you are most likely already playing.

The Right System for Learning Chords

So instead of learning the chords as these isolated grips, then it is probably better to have some sort of system that can help you put them together in songs, but here you have to be very careful that you don’t fall into another trap instead of the isolated grips. As soon as people talk about systems with chords it usually becomes a great mass of inversions, variations, and string sets, and while those are good to know that is NOT where you want to start because you should not only be playing technical exercises, you need to focus on some chords that you can play music with, and as you will see: something you can use to improvise with because Improvisation is a huge part of Jazz, also when you are playing chords.

Instead, you should start with some chords that are probably closely connected to how you already think about chords and also a great way to connect different types of chords because nobody plays chords thinking in specific types of voicings and you need to get it all to fit together.

Two Positions – Just Like Power Chords

Most of the time when you think about chords on guitar then you think of them as grips and you navigate the neck from the 6th and the 5th string. So you have two main versions of each chord one with the root on the 6th and another with the root on the 5th string.

When you are starting with Jazz chords then you can build on that, even if you later stop relying on this or even playing that note, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s take this into Jazz. There is more to Jazz music than just the type of chords, we also have some very common progressions that you want to know. The most important one is probably the II V I.

A II V I in C major is Dm7 G7 Cmaj7, if you play that starting with a Dm7 chord with the root on the 6th string you get:

And starting with the root on the 5th string:

These chords are pretty easy to play and are a way to play 7th chords where you have the root on the 5th or 6th string so that you can use how you already think about chords, and on the middle string set you have the most important chord tones, 3rd and 7th.

We call this type of voicing a Shell-voicing because it is the important shell that gives you the basic sound of the chord. But since it is just a shell, you can hear that it is possible to add something, and you are not using the top strings yet!

Putting It To Use On A Song

With these 3-note chords, you can already play songs, check out how this sounds, there is more going on than just playing the chords, mainly that I am splitting the shells in a bass note and a chord:

As you can see then I am working with the chords as having two parts, the bass, and the chord.

This also works great if you want to use them for playing a bossa nova groove like this famous song:

But of course, you can also add more color to these chords, so let’s try that:

#1 More Color

The first step was to split the chord in bass-note and a chord, there are a lot of other things that you can do, the first one is to use the two top strings to add color and melody.

If we start with a basic II V I

and just add some extra notes, like this nice chromatic melody:

I’ll talk about finding those extra notes in a bit, but first, check out how you can add two more notes and have these which also give you a melody on top:

Hopefully, you can still see the original shell voicing in these chords:

I’ll get to the melody, but first, let’s talk about exploring what notes you can play.

Really this is about figuring out what notes fit the chord and usually also what notes are in the key.

A good one to start with is this Dm7 chord: Example Diagram, Since it is in a C major progression, then that is the scale you want to use to see what works, and here there are quite a lot of options:

The root, 9th, 3rd, 11th and the 5th.

And it is really still just coming out of that basic shell-voicing, and it is much more flexible to think of them as variations of that instead of having to learn 6 different grips. This is the kind of thing that it is great to sit down and explore a bit for a chord with a cup of coffee and figure out

  • 1 What Sounds Good
  • 2 What Is Playable
  • 3 Can I use it in a chord progression (or song)

and you want to tak all  of those things in consideration so you have a practical vocabulary of chords that fit together. With all these notes available then you can probably hear that we have room for some melody, let’s explore that a bit.

#2 More Melody

 

Here you have some of the chords from the previous example on the Dm7 chord and a few variations on the G7 plus a Cmaj7 with a 9th.

Notice that sometimes I just play the chord and move the melody without a chord.

And you can create some beautiful things with that, check out how this uses both melody and bass notes not just chords all the time.

Let’s open this up a bit more by throwing away the root and playing rootless voicings, where you can also see how this is starting to connect to drop2 and triad voicings.

Rootless Chords

The first way to use Rootless voicings is about making some things easier to play, and just being more flexible, so if you have the shell voicing and then start adding notes but make it easier you get something like this:

And not having to play the root makes it easier to play some of the other variations so that you can play like this:

Maybe this is a bit on the busy side for comping? But then it certainly shows you how much you can do with this, and also how it is really getting you into chord solo territory. Again I am still really thinking of these chords as variations of the basic chords that I played in the beginning not a lot of different grips (example 1), which makes this a lot easier to get to make sense. It is like having a harmonized scale for each chord, and It is the melody and how the original chords fit together that makes it work.

And like this then you don’t ever need to play the bass, especially not if you are playing in a band with a bass-player. Then you only use the bass note as a reference which is giving you an overview without playing it.

And this opens up for even more interesting voice-leading tricks like these chromatic inner-voices

Put Shell-voicings to use in Chord Melody

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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5 Simple Tricks That Make Jazz Chords Even More Beautiful

Most of the time what makes Jazz chords great is that you don’t just play chord grips,  you can add things around a chord and also use that to connect the chords making the music flow.

You probably already know how the first few times you learn a new chord then you play that and it sounds great, but even chords with a lot of extensions becomes boring after a while, and what you really want to learn is what you can do with the chord, give it some movement and change the color, so that you go from

To something that looks complicated but is actually surprisingly simple and easy to get started with like using pentatonic chords:

And this is actually not as complicated as it looks or sounds, I’ll show you…

I am going to focus on the maj7th chord because that is very often the place where the progression stops, and where you need to work a little to keep it interesting.

#1 7th to 6th

This is sort of in two steps, If you are not completely new to Jazz chords then you probably know that if you play a Cmaj7 then you can replace that with a C6 chord if Cmaj7 fits then so does C6

So when you play: Cmaj7, then you can also play: C6, or this Cmaj7 and this C6.

This is already giving you some options, but having two chords is not enough, because the 7th and the 6th are a whole-step apart so you can also add a chromatic note in between them,

and the basic version of that already gives you something like this:

But you can also use it with really simple shell-voicings and create small melodies, and that will teach you something else that is very useful:

For this to work then you need to find the 7th in the maj7 chord, but checking out the voicings you use so that you know the notes in there is also what will later open up for a lot of options. Playing these chromatic phrases can be tricky, but they are worth the effort, and focus on finding the practical ones that easy to play.

Most of the things in this video are not something I picked up from Barry Harris, I am not even sure he would like them, to be honest, but this one and the next one are both something I picked up from him as this drop2 exercise

Because here you also have the 7th going to the 6th but there is something else happening as well.

#2 9th to root

Highlight 7th to 6th and 9th to root as a part of the

`

The other thing that you see in that drop2 exercise is the 9th moving down to the root, but you don’t always need to use them together, they both sound great by themselves, check out this example where I am using the 9th to the root with a maj6/9 chord.

 

And again this is about going over your chords and finding the 9th and figure out how to start add this movement. Before I start combining the chords with pentatonic scales then check out this other version that combines it with the maj7 moving down to the 6th, similar to the Barry Harris exercise, but it also has a beautiful maj7(9) chord that you want to add to your voicing vocabulary:

#3 Pentatonic Scale From The 3rd

Pentatonic scales are amazing for Jazz chords! In Jazz solos, it is very common to super-impose pentatonic scales over chords when you soloing and use those to get some great sounds and lines that really sound different.

But you can also do this with chords and that sounds amazing!

For Cmaj7 then Em pentatonic is a great sound because it gives you a mix of the notes to get the chord sound across (Slight pause) and some great sounding extensions.

And for this Cmaj7:

You can think of this pentatonic scale position

and a practical way to get some chords for that could be playing 3 notes at a time:

Putting these to use and then adding an extra trick will give you something like this:

I love adding the extra chord at the end to create this huge voicing, but you can, of course, also do a lot simpler things that sound great.

I’ll get to the harmonics I used as well later in the video, but first there is another great pentatonic option you want to explore:

#4 Pentatonic Scale from the 7th

The other pentatonic scale that you want to check out is the pentatonic scale from the 7th of the chord.

For Cmaj7 that is Bm pentatonic, and again you have the important notes for the chord, E and B

and then 3 great extensions: 9, #11  and 13, so you are turning the chord into a Cmaj7(#11), a Lydian sound.

And you can put that to use with 3-note chords just like the Em pentatonic scale, but you can also change how you play those 3-note chords. Check out how there is a lot more space to this sound:

The last concept is to add artificial harmonics, which is also a really nice trick, especially for ballads!

#5 Artificial Harmonics

This is a technique:, first check out the example then I will explain how it works. Notice that I am playing a super common maj7 chord!

What I am doing here is playing artifical harmonics on the notes of the chord. I have this Cmaj7 and then with my right hand I just touch the string with my index finger  above the fret wire, 12 frets above the fretted note, so one octave, and plug that with my ring or middle finger.

It takes a bit of practice, but it isn’t super difficult and definitely worth the effort, since it adds a completely different sound to what you are playing while you are just using a common maj7 voicing.

You can do much more complicated things with this, but already the simple version is a great sound to add in there. An easy variation is that you can actually strum a simple bar chord like this as well. It is the same principle but you are just moving your hand across several strings to get the harmonics

For that I’ll use a Gmaj7 since that is a more friendly key for that voicing.

 

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Make Your Jazz Chords Sound Amazing (for normal people)

When it comes to adding fills and embellishments to your chord melody arrangements and comping then when you are listening, it can sound like you need to have a degree in quantum physics and be a brain surgeon at the same time, just to come up with it.

And of course, sometimes it is about adding a lot of chords and reharmonizing the song, but it doesn’t have to be.

Let me show you what you can do on this song, with some beautiful ways to add chord runs and embellish the harmony, and most of them are actually pretty simple and easy to add to your own chord melody and comping.

I was really baffled by this in the beginning if I listened to Joe Pass or Ted Greene and heard all these extra chords and inversions flying left and right, and it was too difficult to figure out and also seemed impossible to play. And of course, some of that IS difficult and complicated, but it doesn’t all have to be.

An Easy Start

When you want to add something to a chord melody then it has to either be built into the melody and fit around it or you add it when nothing is happening in the melody

The first bar of Misty is great to work with because you have a long note, the maj7th D:

For this first bar you can create a fill using pentatonic scale chords, so chords that you construct in the pentatonic scale, and move around.

The pentatonic scale from the 3rd of the chord is useful for this since that will give you 3rd 5th 13th maj7th 9th which are all great sounding notes and colors over an Ebmaj7.v

If you create chords on the middle string set you get this:

Essentially it is just playing the Gm pentatonic scale as 3-note chords, and everything fits and you have already stated the chord so that part is taken care of.  Later in

the video, I will show you another option with some beautiful open chords voicings, in fact they are huge voicings but they sound amazing. On the following II V then there isn’t much room around the melody, but on the Abmaj7 you can use a trick that I incorporate very often: Creating a melody by moving one note in the chord and in this case a chromatic melody moving from the maj7th down to the 6th. Barry Harris likes this one as well, it is sort of a bebop sound.

What I was using in the previous example is that you can freely decide whether you want to use a maj7 or a maj6 chord. Since the first chord is low and only 3 notes then it is easy to create some movement, and actually also some rhythm with a motif that is moving around in the bar.

Let’s try something a bit difficult: using the “James Bond” line-cliche on the Abm7 Db7 II V. I’ll also show you an easier option as well.

Some Difficult Cliches

This is clearly difficult to play but the wide range and the static melody really make it sounds great.

Line-clichés work really well on II V progressions, and the other one, The Stairway To Heaven cliché, is also a great, more playable option here:

Partly Voiceover Ex6 end of sentence back to talking head

As you can see, then the melody is also really active here, so there is not really room to add extra chord runs and embellishments. This is also true for the next two bars, where the melody is moving all the time, but then you have the turnaround which is really just one long note and therefore a lot more flexible. And here I can show you how I deal with one of the things I really don’t like about using the diminished scale for chords.

A Turnaround of many tricks

This is the turnaround:

Here are a few things to work with. I am not really doing a lot on the Db7, but on the C7alt that follows I am using a combination of different voicings together to play a melody, and this is a great fairly easy way to play something that is a block harmonized phrase, and as you will see it is using how voicings fit together across types different types of voicings.

 

These are all just C7alt voicings, first a drop3 then two drop2 voicings and together I have a melody that is an Ab major triad that makes the whole thing work.

You can do this with other chords as well, like a Bb7(13), starting with a drop3 and then moving to drop2:

Or an Abmaj7:

And with a melody like this then it is easy to get it to flow into the next chord.

The next thing is a really practical way to play harmonized moving melodies, especially arpeggios. On the Fm7 you have a melody harmonized in 3rds to move on to the Bb7. The melody is a Cm triad and all the 3rds fit perfectly with the Fm7:

but you could also do this moving in a stepwise manner. Like this:

The Diminished Dilemma

On the Bb7 I am using a solution to my diminished dilemma, and I am cheating a little bit. The diminished scale is incredibly practical because it is symmetrical, so you can move things around in minor 3rds, and that makes it easy to play chords. But the problem with that is also that moving things around sounds pretty predictable and boring, so you want to disguise it a bit.

What I am doing here is that I have two voicings that fit together, one is a shell voicing and the other sort of looks like a dom7th(b5) without the root. I don’t really think of them as independent chords, so we can call them A and B, the first part is playing A-B and then I move up a minor 3rd but to disguise the symmetry a bit then I switch around the chords and play B-A. I really like this effect and it keeps things pretty easy to play without very being boring copy-paste chords (unless you do it really a lot)

I said I was cheating and that is because, if you are playing the song, then you need to make space for the pickup for the second A, which I didn’t do, but before we get into comping then I do want to add one more trick on that first tonic chord:

Some Beautiful Huge Chords

B-roll: Get it into your system – downloading or upæloading, processing picture or video?

 

Here I am using a chord run using 3 drop2&4 voicings. These chords have a beautiful open sound, but they are often hard to use in a chord melody, however, for this type of effect it is great to have a few of them next to each other.

Here, I am moving up from Ebmaj7 to Gm7 and then an Ebmaj7 inversion.

To show you how this might fit in comping then I am going to go over a chorus on Lady Bird using these different tricks, and actually, that is a great strategy for working on things like this: figure it out in a chord melody arrangement and then start using it in comping to make it easy to play and really get it into your system

Comping With Pentatonics, Tricks, And Intervals

The first 4 bars use the pentatonic scale trick on the Cmaj7 and also the 3rd intervals on the Fm7 Bb7, so first stating the chord and then adding a melody with the pentatonic voicings. Essentially the 3rd intervals are used in the same way, first the chord and then the intervals to help move to the next chord.

The pentatonic scale used is from the 3rd of the maj7 chord, so in this case, that is Em pentatonic over Cmaj7. Let’s add some beautiful open voicings and a line cliché

Here you can hear how the drop2&4 voicings really fill up the bars nicely and then transition into the II V to Ab that is using the Stairway to Heaven line cliche.

Once the song is on the Abmaj7 then that becomes a great place to use the inner-voice trick moving from 7th to the 6th

and then use the other line cliché on the Am7 D7, also because that fits perfectly with the same range and makes that chord change incredibly smooth.

The final II V showcases the idea with the triad melodies over chords shifting across different chord types, here it works on both the II and the V chord, and the II chord is actually starting with a drop2, but the principle still clearly works:

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The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

Sometimes you get a little bit tired of playing chord progressions that all sound like this:

And you want to hear some other less predictable chords, and actually, there are a lot of options for that which are already built into the key and let you play something like this.

What I am using here is borrowing some chords from a category called minor subdominant chords,  which is a large group of chords that really can sound incredible in a chord progression!

The Chords That Didn’t Make Sense

When I was beginning to learn standards then I didn’t know how to analyze them, so in the isolated Danish mountains while I was practicing endlessly I was just trying to remember the chords, not understanding what was going on. My knowledge of harmony was limited to realizing what key something was in and maybe figuring out that something was a II V I of some sort.

But I still often ran into other progressions that sounded great, but where I didn’t really understand why, and a lot of the chords that I liked the most later turned out to be minor subdominant chords, they were often the part of the song that I was really drawn to but that I couldn’t figure out.

Tonal Harmony in (almost) 1 minute

The music that I am going to explore in this video is in a key, it is not random chords next to each other which is important to realize.

If you take the key of C major then the foundation is based on the C major scale

And the basic diatonic chords that you create in that key if you stack 3rds would give you these 7 chords:

The way I look at these chords they are split into 3 groups: Tonic chords, Dominant chords and Subdominant chords.

The groups are made so that the chords in the group can often replace each other in a progression, contain many of the same notes, and therefore also sound similar.

Usually, you call this the function of the chord, so in C major, Em7 has a tonic function, and G 7 has a dominant function.

Notice that the function of a chord is also about the chord progression, so it is not just about the notes in the chord. That is also why you can find examples of Am7 being a subdominant chord in C major as well as other places where it is tonic,

The Great Tonal Trick

When a song is in a major key then the great thing about that is that you have all the diatonic chords that I just showed you but you can also use the chords from the minor key with the same root, so in C major you can also use the chords from C minor.

Cut in: – I can, for some reason, never remember what is parallel and what is relatively minor, so I think about it like this, sorry…

This is not entirely coming from scales and is essentially more about voice-leading, but starting with a scale is a great way to get some things to work with, and then you can expand on that to get to some of the great sounds, but I will get to that later in the video.

For C natural minor:

You have these chords:

And in fact, most of these can work as a minor subdominant: Dø, Fm7, Abmaj7, and Bb7 will all be great minor subdominant chords. Let’s hear them in action also to get a better understanding of how they are used in the songs.

#1 Dø

The Dø chord is the easiest to put to use in a II V I, so that you in fact have an entire dark-sounding minor cadence that then beautifully resolves to a bright major sound, similar to Cole Porter’s I love you

#2 Fm7

The Fm7 chord is more often used as a way of getting from a subdominant chord to a tonic chord, so not as a part of a II V I. Often you will in fact see it as an Fm6 or FmMaj7, but I will get to that in a bit. Here it is moving coming from Dm7:

#3 Abmaj7

The bVImaj7 is a beautiful sound and is actually used in quite a few different ways. It can be used like the Fm7 chord:

But it can also be used in a cadence instead of a II chord, which is how it is used in Cole Porter’s Night and Day:

#4 Bb7

One of the minor subdominant chords that is a little less obvious is the bVII, also called the backdoor dominant. You often hear that used as a transition from subdominant back to the tonic:

But it is also sometimes appearing as an extra movement at the end of a section:

Now you have some basic examples so I can show you some more advanced chords before getting to the one that doesn’t fit at all,

A minor (subdominant) misunderstanding

But first, let’s just go over one of the questions that I get most often when I am analyzing something involving these chords which is something like

“why is Abmaj7 a minor subdominant? It is not even a minor chord?”

What you want to know here is that it is called minor not because it is a minor chord, but because it is coming from the minor key. The reason that it is subdominant is that it doesn’t contain a B, so the leading note in the key, and it WILL resolve to a tonic chord, so it isn’t dominant and it isn’t tonic and therefore it is subdominant.

As I already mentioned with the Am7 chord, then you can’t really boil function down to just what notes have to be in the chord.

What I am talking about in this video, is also sometimes referred to as modal interchange, but that concept is, as far as I know, a lot wider, where this is much more specific to the key and more of a description of the type of harmony you come across in Jazz standards.

The next thing to look at is how the chords often are given extensions so that they work better with the major key which gives you some really beautiful chords, and then that chord that doesn’t really fit into the system but sounds beautiful.

Make It Closer to The Key

Some of the other very common minor subdominant chords are a little different in terms of how they are colored, and those are in fact more common.

As I mentioned earlier then the minor subdominants are more a result of voice-leading than of chords from a scale, and in fact, it is mostly about one note that is moving, in C major that would be A moving down to Ab to G, which if you start with an F chord gives you:

 

The 6th note in the scale is one of the most important parts of the subdominant sound, and when you alter that you create minor subdominants.

The most common minor subdominant, and maybe the one that it all points back to in Jazz, is probably a IVm6 chord, so in C major that would be

The Fm6 is a nice sound in C major because it is closer to the key than the Fm7 that also has an Eb which is not in the C major scale.

The Fm6 also allows for having an E in the melody so there is more melodic freedom over it when it appears in a C major context. The most common scale used for this chord is F melodic minor.

You can also see, or rather hear, how Fm6 and Bb7 are interchangeable,

and that also explains why the backdoor dominant is a Lydian dominant, so it has a #11 as an extension.

There is one more subdominant chord to cover, also one that is fairly common, but first let’s look at going beyond the subdominant function.

Minor Dominant – What Is That Anyway?

This video is of course about the minor subdominant chords, but you want to be aware that you come across dominants that are borrowed from minor all the time as well.

The minor scale where the dominant function lives is harmonic minor, which is probably also why it is called that.

And here you have two chords with a dominant function: G7, which becomes a G7(b9,b13) and Bdim

Both of these are useful to have as chords you can use like this basic II V I with a G7(b9)

and this neat way of adding a dominant to get a different transition from a backdoor dominant to the tonic

A Beautiful chord that doesn’t fit

The chord that doesn’t really seem to fit and which is often seen as some sort of tritone substitute is the Neapolitan subdominant.

The way to understand it is really just to think of it as a IVm triad, so in C major that is an F minor triad, with an added 6th but in this case, it is a b6 since that is a stronger leading note to take us down to the root, C. And In Jazz, we turn that into a Dbmaj7 chord and have progressions like this:

The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

In this case, the chord isn’t found in C minor, but as you can see it is just a result of voice-leading. Keep in mind that chords is any way just a very crude way to understand voice-leading, something I have talked about before: making things into vertical chord symbols doesn’t always help you understand what is going on.

 

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The Basic Jazz Chords That You Can Expand into Amazing Sounds

Wouldn’t it be great if you had some Jazz Chords that are easy to play so that you can use them to play songs and progressions? Something that also works as a starting point for a lot of beautiful grooves like Bossanovas, and chords & Walking Bass.

You do actually have chords like that. They are called Shell-voicings and they are great for playing a lot of things, they can teach you about harmony and you can expand them to make it easier to learn some more complicated jazz sounds.

What is a Shell-voicing

Shell voicings are called this because they are 3-Note versions of 7th chords. A 7th chord is of course 4 notes, 1, 3rd, 5th and 7th and for the shell voicings we leave out the 5th:

And you can place them in a very clever way on the neck. For a Cmaj7 you have two versions:

C E B with the root note on the 5th string

and the one where you have the root note on the 6th string and flip around the 3rd and 7th: C B E:

 

Notice that this splits the strings so that the root note is on the 5th and 6th strings. The core sound of the chord, so 3rd and 7th are on the middle strings, and you have the top strings free so that you can later add extensions and alterations or use that for the melody in a chord melody arrangement.

You can probably hear this is going to go places.

Exercise #1 Play songs

How do you practice these? The first exercise is to just learn some easy and common chord progressions and then use those to start playing songs. Anything that you practice and don’t put to use in a song is probably a waste of time, and practicing finding chords for a Jazz standard is a great exercise for so many reasons, since it is music, fretboard knowledge, harmony and theory

The chords I am going to cover here are:

And actually, some of them are the same shell-voicing which is a bit strange but you’ll see how that works later (highlight m6 = dim and m7(b5) = m7)

Let’s start with a basic II V I which is sort of the core progression to know in Jazz. Just like the maj7 chord you have two versions, starting on the 5th string:

and starting on the 6th string:

Like this, you can already start playing songs like Satin Doll. If you don’t know it then maybe check out the Joe Pass version which is pretty amazing.

Playing The Chords of Satin Doll!

The song is mostly II V progressions, so first you get the II V in C major, which is repeated

then you get a II V in D major twice using the same way of playing the chords.

Next, you have a II V in G major and Gb major and it sounds better to stay in the same area of the neck so here you can use the other version, before resolving to Cmaj7.

Rhythm And Groove

Of course, there is more to it than just finding the chords and playing the right notes: We need some rhythm and groove in there as well,  but luckily shell-voicings naturally are split between the root note and the chord,

 

so you can add groove to it by splitting those two and create rhythms like this:

Exercise #2 diatonic chords

Besides playing songs then a great way to explore any chord voicing is to take it through a scale. In that way, you learn some of the other chords that goes with it and i’s a great way to find new voicings.

This exercise is useful for knowing your scales and your diatonic chords, which is very important, but there is one weird spot.

For the 5th string Shell-voicings you can move them through C major like this:

And you want to try this in different keys, the other string set, and also other scales like melodic and harmonic minor

What about the other chords?

With the Diatonic chords in major then we have maj7, m7,dom7th and also m7b5

But with the m7b5 you can see an example of how shell-voicings can sometimes be a bit unclear, because

Bø and Bm7 are the same shell-voicing and that is because the shell-voicings leave out the 5th of the chord, so you can tell if it is a perfect 5th or b5th. Luckily your ear will fill in the right notes from the context most of the time.

This happens with two other, even more, different chords as well:.check out the first part of the beautiful Bossanova: Corcovado, played with Shell voicings:

Here I am really just playing the same shell voicing moved down one fret when I go from

Am6 which is A, F# C

G#dim which is G# F B.

Here it is again the 5th of the chord that makes the difference. If you look at this with the chords both having the root A, then

Am6 is A C E F#

A dim is A C Eb F#

so if you play shell voicing, and leave out the 5th, then you are playing the same chord, but again the context will tell you and when you play Corcovado then it doesn’t sound like you go from Am6 to Abm6.

Now we have all the chords except one: The Maj6.

But that is really easy. If you can play a Cmaj7

and then find the maj7th and replace that with a 6th then you have this:

and the other version is this

As you will see in a bit then using the Cmaj7 and the C6 together works really well, but there is another great sound that I use shell-voicings for really a lot:

The Joe Pass Groove – Chords and Walking bass

Shell-voicings are great for playing chords and walking bass mainly because when you play 3-note chords with a bass note then it is a lot easier to play a solid walking bass line.

I can’t start explaining bass lines in this video, but I will link to a video that shows that in the video description. Before I get into adding extensions then I want to look at another important groove to check out.

Bossanova – Beautiful Rhythm

 

One of my favorite grooves that has become a huge part of Jazz is Bossanova and shell-voicings are great for this because you can play the chord and the bass note.

This works especially well when the bass note is on the 5th string, because you can go easily get to the other lower 5th on the 6th string, and if the root is on the 6th string then you just repeat that note.

This sounds great on a song like Girl From Ipanema:

Making The Harmony Interesting

As you have seen then until now, it has been about two of the string sets containing the chords and the bass, but there is also a lot to be done on the top strings.

When it comes to playing Jazz chords then it is important to keep it practical and playable, but for a lot of the shell-voicings it is pretty easy to add extensions and color, just by looking at what is close by on the next higher string.

So if you have a basic II V I like this.

then you can add a 9th to the Dm7, a b13 to the G7, and a 9th to the Cmaj7, just by checking what is available on the B string, and that will give you this:

This is of course something you can take a lot further, but it is actually also the way you get started making chord melody arrangements and you can check out this video if you want to explore the beautiful harmonizations that you can create by making your own chord melody arrangements.

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Jazz Chords – Drop2 is a Powerful Tool

I always loved playing Jazz Chords, mostly because you don’t just play the chord. You can change it and add your own colors and movement to it.

One of the most flexible types of chords for this is Drop2 chords., and once I started working on playing Drop2 chords then it felt like I could tap into a lot of new sounds. It opened a new world for me with comping and harmony.

In this video, I focus on how you can use drop 2 voicings on a standard and give you some rules that you can use to open up how you play chords because it is that process of taking chord symbols and then turning them into beautiful music that I find amazing, but, I  will also briefly explain what a Drop2 voicing is and why that isn’t very important, but we’ll get to that later.

Let’s first just go over a basic set of chords for the song.

The Basic Chords And What To Play

The song is in C major, and the first chord is a Cmaj7 chord.

For now, I am just showing you what I am using in this video, if you want diagrams of all the inversions and string sets, then you can download those on my website, but right now, the important thing is what you can do with this type of chord. And then. In the long run, it can be great to explore the inversions as well.

Then you have a II V in Eb, Fm7 Bb,

It is practical to stay in the same area of the neck,

then it is Back to Cmaj7

Notice that I am really just playing the basic 4 note version of each chord, so the voicings just contain root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th:

Cmaj7: G C E B

Fm7: Ab Eb F C

Bb7: Ab D F Bb

Then you get a II V I in Ab major: Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Another thing that you should always try to do is to think about the chords in small groups, so II V in Eb and II V I in Ab. That is much more flexible and makes it easier to learn songs by heart because you don’t have to remember as many details. I am going to show you quite a few ways of thinking about chords that are like this and incredibly useful for being creative with chords.

Next, you have a II V in G: Am7 D7

And a II V I in C major: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

For the turnaround I am just re-using the chords I already covered and adding a Db7.

Why Drop2 doesn’t matter

I think one of the most common questions I get whenever I talk about Drop2  is why it is called that and how they are constructed. Let me quickly show you why that isn’t that relevant for playing them.

Drop2 voicings are called like that because you take the 2nd highest note (Cmaj7 root position) and then you take that down an octave.

and you can play this in a much nice way like this (Cmaj7 drop2)

 

If you are playing chords then you have to know them, we don’t have time to think about what note is moving up or down an octave, and if you want to use drop2 voicings you need to have them in your fingers and your ears. Even if you are practicing the inversions then you don’t really think about how it relates to a closed voicing, so it is good to know but not something you really use while playing.

Let’s start putting the chords to use, because THAT is important, and that is what makes them great!

Rule #1 – Cmaj7 is also C6 and Cmaj7(9)

For “a Chord symbol is something you can interpret as” A Chord Diagram in Stone? (download cave painting and put2 chord diagrams on it)

When you play chords in Jazz then you improvise with the harmony. A Chord symbol is something you can interpret, it isn’t a static grip.

So when you see Cmaj7 then you are free to play

Cmaj7, C6, Cmaj7(9), Cmaj7(13)

And some of the other rules I will cover are about how you change the chords and add some of the more colorful extensions.

Now You can easily turn two bars of Cmaj7 into something much more interesting even add a bit of chromatic magic:  (Cmaj7 and C6 with Bb passing note

When you have all these options then you can also tell why I often just write the basic chord and don’t really spend time on the extensions. That is up to whoever is playing the chords

Rule #2 – 9th Instead of Root And Some Chord Relationships

When it comes to adding extensions to a 7th chord then one of the first ones to add is probably a 9th. For voicings with 4 notes then you need to play the 9th instead of something else, and in this case, the root is the obvious choice because it is right next to the 9th and the bass player is anyway taking care of the root.

I’ll demonstrate this with two chords and show you a useful connection at the same time: The basic Cmaj7 and Fm7 are

B-roll: sheet music replacing the diagrams and tabs

And the Root for Cmaj7 is here, so making that a D is giving us this Cmaj7(9).

On the Fm7 the root is on the B string and replacing it with the 9th gives you this:

Getting Out Of The “Grip” Of The Chord

It might seem like you have to learn even more chords to also have a Cmaj(9) and an Fm7(9), but if you look at those chords then notice that one is an Em7 voicing and the other is an Abmaj7 voicing

This is because:

Cmaj7 – C E G B – replace the C with D – D E G B which is Em7

and

Fm7 – F Ab C Eb – replace F with G – G Ab C Eb which is Abmaj7

Personally, I don’t like thinking other chords than what I am hearing, so I don’t want to think of that as an Em7, and I have become used to thinking of it as something that is both a Cmaj7(9) and an Em7 depending on what I hear in the music. But maybe that is different for you. I find it confusing to have these extra steps in between and I don’t want to think about stuff. You probably want to figure out what works for you with this.

Here you can also move with passing notes and create some beautiful movement, in fact, it works great to move both the 9th to the root and the 7th to the 6th on a maj7 chord:

The next extension that you want to add to a chord is a 13th, so let’s go over that.

Rule #3 – 13th instead of 5th

The basic chords work the best if you keep the 3rd and the 7th in the chord. If you take the Bb7:

Example (+adding examples of Bb7(9) )

For now, the root is used to get the 9th in the chord, so the next note to work with is the 5th.

You can replace the 5th in the chord with the 13th. This works great on dominant chords:

And the same process for the Eb7 can transform that into an Eb7(9,13).

The basic chord, the 9, and then the 9 and the 13.

Example Eb7 Eb7(9) Eb7(9,13)

With this you can create more movement on the II V I in Ab major by also adding the 9th to the Bbm7:

There is also a rule that sounds amazing for minor chords, I’ll get to that in a bit.

Getting Caught In The Grip of Chords

B-roll: G major, campfire, different bar chord options

When you are first learning chords then you learn a grip and that is how that chords sound, later you realize that there might be more ways to play that chord, but for Jazz, I would take that a bit further.

As you can probably tell, then you should not be thinking of these chords as different isolated things, they are more like a group, of chords. A set of options that I can use to make music. This is not so different from how you think about a scale or an arpeggio when you improvise and choose notes to put together in a solo line.

B-roll: Text Cmaj7 in sheet music, zoom in, and add different diagrams around it while blurring out the other chords.

Rule #4 – 11th instead of 5th

As you saw earlier, then you can replace the 5th with a 13th, but sometimes it is more useful to replace it with an 11th, which is a way to get a #11 on a maj7 chord and also have a very useful sound for m7 chords.

If you take the Fm7(9) that you already learned earlier in the video

then the 5th is the C on the high E string, and you can replace that with the 11th of F: Bb like this:

Besides being a beautiful chord this also gives you the chance to create some contrary motion in a II V which is when some voices move up and others down when going from chord to chord:

And using this to create a maj7(#11) is also really simple

Here’s a Cmaj7 and the 5th, G, is the lowest note in the voicing, so that becomes an F#, the #11:

And combining this with the Fm7 Bb7 you can get some cool sounds like this:

Simple Melodies – The Most Important Rule

When you are playing chords behind a soloist then it is incredibly important that you don’t get in the way of the soloist.

One of the ways to make melodic comping that does not get in the way is to focus on stepwise movement in the melodies. This ties together chords very well, and luckily is also a lot easier to play than skipping around.

It can also be a powerful tool to use short melodies that repeat through the changes creating a riff that the soloist can play over:

 

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Jazz Chords – Easy To Advanced in 5 Levels

The most fun thing about Jazz chords and comping is that you can improvise with the chords and create your own sound in the song. But when you work on this then you need to get everything to work together:

Chords, Rhythm, and Melody!

That is what I want to show you in this video.

#1 Easy Jazz Chords To Great Jazz Chords

Let’s start with a basic set of chords that you can make a bit more interesting and then add some rhythm to. You probably know these already:

I already added some color to these chords, so the Dm7 has a 9th, and the G7 has a 13th, For now, the Cmaj7 is just a basic Cmaj7 chord

These already sound great and you can use them to play lots of songs, but we need them to be a bit more flexible, so let’s throw away the bass notes:

#2 Rhythm Is As Important

Now you have some more flexible chords to work with so the rhythm is the next thing to level up.

Here’s a solid riff you can use:

This demonstrates two important things  about comping rhythms:

First: Repeating rhythms is a very strong concept, it connects to the groove and is really comfortable for a soloist to play over, and actually it is a little bit overlooked for people wanting to play Jazz. It sounds amazing to just sit in the groove with the rest of the rhythm section

Second: When you think about rhythm then you want to think in longer periods, not just a single bar or even less. Here it is a 4-bar statement that is laying down the groove and then making a variation before the next 4-bar period starts. Comping is really about thinking like a drummer and playing the form, and in fact also locking in with the drummer when you play.

With some chords and more ideas about rhythm then you can add some melody to the progression, and you can do that in a few different ways.

#3 Melody and Fills (and more rhythm)

First. you want to just use melody in the chords and then later add fills in between the chords, and check out how this next example also uses another concept for the rhythm.

Let’s first look at the melodies. Here I am using the melodies that are the easiest to add to the chord, simply what I can reach on the top string which here is the B string:

So for Dm7 and for The G7 I have the same melody notes: – and for the Cmaj7 there are two:

The point here is that it should be easy to play, and you don’t need a ton of notes, in fact being too busy will probably just mean getting in the way.

The structure of the rhythm in this example is a mix of call-response and motivic development, so you have a call, then a response. Then I repeat the call and add a different response. When you listen to the rhythm, then try to really think of them as melodies because that is how you can make that a strong part of your playing, especially comping.

Before I start adding extra chords then let’s try adding some fills, so short melodies that are not played with the chords.

There are two ways you can use these:

#1 As melodies leading into or ending on a chord (slow b-roll)

#2 Or short melodies that just add something else in between chords (slow B-roll)

They sound like this:

The fills here have different functions in the music: The first one is a scale run, and really moving to the G7, where I am now using a 2-note version of that chord. The other is more used as a color or variation and is much more arpeggio based since it then sort of takes the place of playing a chord.

While fills often sound great they very easily get in the way of the soloist so you probably want to be a little careful with using them.

Why Don’t You Write G7(13)

I often get this question:

As you can see with fills and the melodies then the sound of the chord changes, sometimes there is a 9th sometimes there isn’t so it doesn’t really make too much sense to write extensions in sheet music unless you want to force the one playing the chords to use a specific sound. That is also why you mostly stick with symbols that demonstrate the basic version of the chord and then the rest is up to the taste and skills of the one playing chords.

Let’s look at a few ways you can change chords and add some extra chords to create a bit more movement.

#4 More Chords!

A great way to keep the chord progressions moving is to add some chords that have more tension and really pull towards a resolution.

This next example uses two ways of doing that.

You can add a chromatic passing chord. There are somewhat complicated theoretical explanations for this, but really it is just about looking at where you want to go and then take a chord that you can slide into that chord.

So if you want to go to this G7 then you can come from above like this: or you can slide up to the Cmaj7 like this.

Notice that I don’t put a name on the chords, and that is because that is not that important, they are just chords that you use to get to the main chord.

The other way that you can create tension is by altering dominants which makes them have more drive towards the resolution, like this:

And an example with chromatic passing chords and altered dominants sounds like this:

Two Ways To Think About Alterations

In this example, you see a G7(b13) on beat 4 of the 2nd bar, and here I am using the alteration as a way to play a chromatic leading note before resolving to the Cmaj7. When you do this then it doesn’t really influence the soloist to use a specific scale and force a different sound on the entire dominant, it’s really just a chromatic passing note. That’s one way to think of alterations on a dominant.

The other way you can use an altered dominant is to play it for an entire bar and really use that sound which also means that the soloist should also play a scale that fits with that. This is a different sound:

#5 Secret Melodies

Until now it has been about chords and the top-note melody, but there is another secret weapon, a beautiful way to add movement in your Jazz chords: Inner-voice movement.

Instead of having the top-note melody it can be nice to have simple melodies move inside the chord like this way of going from Dm7 to G7 with a chromatic enclosure inside the Dm7 chord:

And this also works incredibly well for a static Cmaj7 chord that otherwise can be a bit boring:

In context, that sounds like this:

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How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

I am sure you have looked at a chart with jazz chords and asked yourself, why do they play a m7(11) chord or how come that is a (b9b13) dominant? And if you ask, you get an answer which is very often a scale, like altered dominant or diminished scale, so no information that tells you that much about the choice of chord.

How do you get to that point where you can take a basic chord progression and then turn it into a piece of music with a flow of beautiful harmony? You hear it all the time but if you look at transcriptions then you are probably left wondering why is that m7(11) or how come that is dominant with a b13, and if you try to play that then it doesn’t fit together.

Instead of solving difficult music theory equations then you need to work on something else, let’s look at that process.

Get The Basic Harmony Down

For this I am going to use the beginning of All The Things You Are As An Example and built it up from the foundation.

The first thing you want to do is to just get the basic chords into your system, into your ears, and you can add a bit of rhythm to it. In the end, that is anyway more important than the notes:

I am keeping the chords sort of close to each other so it doesn’t sound like a huge jump moving from one chord to the next.

These are all pretty basic chords, and you probably know them already, so we want to start doing more to them in terms of adding color and also making the voicings fit together and tell a story.

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

Next, you want to turn them into rootless voicings. That way the voicings become a lot more flexible and you have more room to change things around, add notes and play melodies.

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

As you will see, the secret to getting comping to sound great is not knowing the most difficult exotic voicings, it is about being able to make music with them, and already with these 3-note voicings that actually becomes a lot easier.

The big difference here is that it is not about thinking vertical chords, it is about tying the whole thing together with melody making how you play the chords into something that is a musical statement and not a bunch of notes next to another bunch of notes, because that is not how music works.

So you can practice making simple step-wise melodies like this and use different voicings to get it to work

And with this then you can hear other colors in the chords, but the whole thing works because the chords connect with a melody.

Practicing playing through chord progressions and making these simple stepwise top-note melodies is one of the best ways to explore harmony and make it into something practical that you can use because you are working on a song

I am sure you also recognize these chords as rootless versions of chords you already know:

First, you want to open up how you use the melody, and then we can go over some more advanced approaches to make the way you play chords more interesting.

Let The Melody Lead It

If you start thinking of the way you play chords as a slow chord solo or chord melody and not worry too much about extensions then it is easier to get the whole thing to sound good and you will anyway start finding the extensions but you can get them into your playing much more naturally.

For the first Fm7 chord it is already reduced to the Ab major triad, and you can add a lot of sounds and easily play melodies by just grabbing the notes around it that work with the chord, so more chord tones, and common extensions. In fact, you can just try stuff out and see what your ear tells you and then figure out what it is later.

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

And don’t think about the Fm7 or Bbm7 variations as separate chords, you should think of them as stuff you can use when you want to use the basic Fm7 or Bbm7 voicing.

So if it says Fm7 Bbm7 you can play melodies like this:

or maybe even hint at another song:

This is about connecting material and making it flexible not about learning a bunch of chords that you can’t put together.

With this approach and an extra trick that I will get to, you can already do something like this:

You want to notice that I am using the techniques that I just covered and then there are two places where I add some extra chord voicings:

On the Eb7 the first chord is this triad voicing which is a very smooth transition coming from the Bbm7, and on the Abmaj7 I am also adding this shell voicing to transition to Dbmaj7.

So once you start to explore different ways of playing the basic chord then it is also a good idea to be aware of the chords around it, because It is all about finding practical ways to play the chords.

You also want to notice that the melodies are there to sit behind a soloist so you mostly use step-wise movement and try not to steal the attention from the soloist, unless you want to get fired, then you can just bring out your spiciest reharmonizations, and you might be gone before the 2nd set.

Start Using MORE Chords

The next steps are not nearly as important for how well you play the chords, they are more like icing on the cake where you can add some extra chords to take you to the next chord

 

In this example the chords that are added are written out as secondary tritone substitutions, so to go from Fm7 to Bbm7 I add a B7, and an E7 is helping the transition to Eb7.

This is a great thing to mess around with, but you do need to watch out that it doesn’t start clashing too much with whoever you are playing behind.

Another way you can add passing chords is using chromatic chords like this:

Here you have Am7 as an approach to Bbm7, and Amaj7 taking you to Abmaj7.

Often just thinking in chromatic passing chords on the guitar is a lot easier because it can be done visually and you don’t have to overthink what is going on.

Move The Other Voices

You can also take the chords and not only use the melody but build it with more layers which can open up for some amazing things, but it does come at a cost

The feel of this type of playing works better if you are a little less active rhythmically and it works better with sustained chords which makes it a little less useful for getting the groove across, but it is a great sound for the beginning of a song or with a soloist that leaves a lot of space.

The Fm7 moves the lowest voice down to the Ab on the Bbm7 and I am also introducing an Eb7 altered that is resolved to a single Eb on the Abmaj7. Under the sustained Eb there is room to move the chords a bit and this concept is also used on both Dbmaj7 and Cmaj7.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

It is incredibly important that you work with jazz chords on a song and get better at putting them together as music. Another way to work on this skill is to also work on making chord melody arrangements of songs, so taking a melody and turning it into a harmonized piece that you can play as a solo guitar piece. If you check out this video then you can see how this will teach you a lot not only about harmony but also about melody, and open up how you think about Jazz chords and how you use them in your playing!

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