Tag Archives: jazz chords for beginners

5 Jazz Chord Techniques You’ll Use Every Day!

You will sound 100 times better if you focus on what you can do with the chords you already know, instead of trying to memorize complete books of chord shapes and learn complicated music theory for substitutions.  I’ll show how it works you using 3 basic Jazz chords, because surprisingly, Less is More when it comes to Jazz chords

This Approach and way of thinking about chords really resonated with me, even before I started playing Jazz I’ll tell that story later in the video. First, let’s make your Jazz chords come to life.

How The Chords Should NOT Sound

We’ll start with these chords, and the way I play them now is exactly how you don’t want to sound when you are comping: Long boring chords with no rhythm or any other kind of life.

I am sure you can hear that this is not what we consider comping, but that is easy to fix.

#1 Bending Chords?

“bending strings is not that common, which weirdly is sometimes a controversial statement.” flames – appear low on the screen during

In Jazz, bending strings is not that common, which is sometimes a controversial statement. But the technique mostly used instead of bending is sliding, and while it is difficult to bend a chord, sliding into chords is easy and sounds amazing! You can immediately make the 3 chords sound a lot better by adding a bit of rhythm and sliding into the chords here and there:

You might have noticed that I am only sliding from below,

but you can slide down from above as well, I do that on the G7 in this example:

But this is using the entire voicing, and as is often the case, limitation and simplifying things can open up many possibilities. Let’s check that out.

#2 The Natural Split

You are still working with these 3 chords

Notice that these chords are complete chords in the sense that they have the root of the chord as the lowest note(show).

A very natural split for the music is separating the bass note from the chord and in that way have 3 versions of each chord: Complete bass, chord

And this is a huge part of how the guitar plays chords in a lot of styles. Check out how it is used in this samba groove:

And, of course, you can use this in Jazz comping as well, in fact it is a great way to comp in a duo setting if you want to be clear with the bass movement but still have the freedom to interact with the soloist or keep things clear when you are comping a bass solo. Often, this gets a bit overlooked because too many guitarists want to play chords and walking bass, but in many places, this will serve the music a lot better because it is so much more flexible, and interaction is a huge part of Jazz.

There is another way to split these chords, and it is practical for getting more out of them in terms of melody. In a way, this is cheating a little bit, but I’ll explain how that works.

#3 The Simplest Melodic Split

You are still using the same chords, but we can add another variation by leaving out the top note. This means that you now have two melody notes for each chord,

which is much more powerful than you might think:

You can easily use this on the progression, but remember that you should still think of it as just playing one chord with some variations, which is why I am still putting in the diagram for the original chord, as you will see:

Check out how much you can do adding slides and the bass split as well gives you this:

Flexible Chords Outside Jazz

I didn’t really think about it then, but before I started playing Jazz, I was always checking out people who had a much more open way of playing chords, changing things, adding variations and fills. As you will see later, I do things in comping that may not be as common in Jazz and probably came from these 3. The biggest influence was Jimi Hendrix, who is of course, famous for exactly that kind of chord playing:

But I also checked out Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was clearly also very Hendrix-influenced,

A less obvious choice I always found very creative with chords is the British guitarist John Squire in the Stone Roses band.

At the time, I thought they were all improvising most of it, but now that I, thanks t the internet, have heard several different recordings of the same songs, I know they were not, certainly not in the same way we think of improvising in Jazz comping. But it was a lot more open and embellished than just repeating a riff or playing the chords in the same pattern all the time. In hindsight, I also think that was why Jazz, and especially comping, felt so great once I discovered that music. It was very close to what I was already trying to do,  and that is also what I am showing you how to do in this video, using the basic 3 chords, so let’s take that further.

#4 Stay In Your Lane

Before we get into some tricks with the harmony that also work well with these chords, let’s first expand the melodic options a bit further and add a technique that I think is a bit overlooked when it comes to comping.

The first thing to do is to play the chords as rootless voicings like this:

And when you do that, then it is a lot easier to add a few melody notes, and notice that I am just using notes that are easy to add around the chord because it has to be practical and flexible

so we can focus on what the soloist is doing and play interesting rhythms.

There are three levels to how you can use this. The first level is to harmonize a melody with block chords:

Obviously, this sounds great, but you can also let the chords move more independently under a melody, a bit more like the left-hand voicings of a piano player. That is the 2nd level

These examples demonstrate what is possible, but that also means that they are a bit busy compared to what you want to do most of the time when competing.

The final level you can add to this is often used in a lot of styles of music, but it is not as common in jazz comping, in a way that is a pity because you can get a lot of great melodies and you are already playing the chord, plus that it adds a bit of counterpoint to your chord playing. Check it out:

EXPLAINER Example 14 – 2 cameras + audio

Here I am arpeggiating two chords. On the G7, it is this which then organically leads into this Cmaj7 chord, and that is also the first arpeggiated ending in a 3-note voicing.

When you see all these options, you probably understand why I recommend checking out playing rootless chords in so many videos. It really opens the whole thing up in a completely new way!

Remember that you can go to my website and get the PDF of these examples if you want to check them out later. Let’s add some more chromatic options to the chords!

#5 Neighborhood Chords

Chromatic passing chords are often associated with complicated and heavy theory, and it is possible to put on your theory hat to analyze everything. But that is not what you want to do while you are comping and then it is a lot easier to think more visually on the guitar. Finally,  something that is easier on guitar than on piano.

There are two things you need to think of when using chromatic passing chords:

  1. It has to make sense as a melody
  2. And you want to see one shape move into the next. So that you don’t need to think of voice-leading, we’re not computers

Here’s a great example of what you can do with a basic chromatic melody on Dm7, which is also very easy to play. Notice that I am just thinking of the Dm7(9) and not really wasting energy on thinking about the C#m chord that leads into it. It is enough to just think about the target note, so just keep it simple.

Expanding to the other chords can give you great sounds like this:

In this example, you can hear how arpeggiating makes the Cmaj7 on the 4& easier to play, and it still stays in the background.

That sort of makes it better than adding fills, which often take up more space and get in the way.

I really like using these short chromatic melodies as repeating riffs on a blues. For a blues in G, you could do something like this:

Now that you start thinking like this, you can develop what really matters: the music. In all of these later examples, you are playing rootless chords, but this is still just coming from those basic 3 chords that you started with, and there are other exercises that you can use to really develop your comping and your rhythms. This video goes over some exercises that are great for that, and help you open up voicings and rhythms and figure out how to put that all together. That’s the next step you want to explore, see check that out, and I’ll see you in that video!

Learn Jazz Make Music.

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

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