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

Jazz Chords can seem like these mysterious grips with difficult names.

They sound beautiful but you don’t really know what is going on, and even if you can play this chord then there are so many other things that you hear people do with it, and you want to learn that too!

Of course, you need to practice playing the voicings, but somehow just running up and down diatonic chords and inversions is not really helping you play like that, so you need to go beyond this:

And this:

You need to really dig into the chords and learn how to use them, and there is one thing you want to work on that can help you do that, and it will teach you a lot of other great things at the same time about Jazz, about Harmony, Theory, and the guitar.

Chord Melody – Making Music Is The Exercise

The exercise I am talking about is not one of those exercises where you sit down every day with a metronome and go through your scales. What you want to work on is:

putting the chords that you practice to use, and you want to put the theory you know to use and in that process learn to play a song as a beautiful chord melody arrangement

How do you get started with this?

A basic recipe for a chord melody arrangement is to learn your shell-voicings, and then take the song that you want to turn into a chord melody

and figure out how to play the melody on the two highest strings.

Put those two together by adding a chord under the notes that are on the 1 of the bar

or if there is no melody then just play the chord. This way it is pretty simple to make your own harmonized version of that song.

This already works and is not too difficult if you start with an easy song and not a bebop theme but you can take it a lot further and when you do that then you start to develop a lot of useful skills.

Make It Your Sound

 Already with this basic arrangement, you can start to tweak it and add in other chord voicings that you might like better. Essentially you can just experiment with adding other voicings instead of what you first had. You are just refining the first version and adding some more colors — as I am doing here with a different Fmaj7 or adding the 9th on the Eb7.

This is about looking at what note is in the melody and then just trying different options for the chord with that melody note. For example, you could use these variations for the first chord:

Optional voice-over: Melody on shell-voicing, drop2 voicing, adding a 13th to the chord, or adding a 9th to the chord by shifting it up a position.

And there are many options and interesting colors you can check out.

When you are working on this then you are getting a much better understanding of what notes are in the chords and how those chords actually sound in context, which is incredibly useful, also when you improvise You might come across a place where you only know one option, but that only means that you can explore how to create some variations of that chord and learn some new things in that way.

But as you are probably already realizing then you want to do more than just play a chord here and there, you want to also add some movement to the arrangement within the chords, to give it a flow, especially when the melody isn’t moving.

Fills & Creative Voice-Leading

In this next example, you will see how you can add some moving voices that help you get to the next chord, and there are also a few different fills that you can add to not just play the chord but also embellish it and make it more interesting:

A lot of this is about finding practical ways to move a voice so that it helps you get to the next chord or realizing that there is nothing happening in the melody so you have time to add an arpeggiated or more embellished version of the chord.

On the Eb7 I am also harmonizing each note of the melody to create a different sound, there are many options to explore and it is really just about trying things out and seeing what you like.

This is of course already giving you a ton of options that you can develop in your own arrangements, but you can go even further and start changing the song to make it surprising to the listener.

Getting Creative With The Chords

The most important thing to keep in mind when you reharmonize the song and change the chords is that you use that the listener expects to hear one thing and then you play something else. This sometimes means that it works better to introduce reharmonization as an embellishment when you have first played the “normal” changes.

But you can do a lot of fun things with this, let’s start simple:

Here the first chord basic Fmaj7 chord is turned into a more unstable and interesting Fmaj7(#5). The Aø chord is also embellished a bit with a 9th, and the D7 is played with diminished scale harmony again a different sound. These are pretty easy ways to reharmonize the song by just choosing other sounds for the chords than you might expect. On the Gm7 you can hear some added chords that work really well for keeping things moving along, so they are just there to add momentum to a long note in the melody.

A more radical version where the chords a used much more freely and just chosen to fit the melody and serve the bass movement with more or less random chords to make it fit the melody could be something like this:

Comping!

There are so many things to learn about chords and explore on the fretboard like this. The other important thing that you want to get started on for playing better Jazz is being able to turn chords into great sounding comping, and if you check out this video then you will see how that is maybe not as difficult as you might think, and what you need to pay attention to.

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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Jazz Chords And The Best Way To Think About Them

It is very important that you stop thinking in separate grips and start seeing how patterns are actually variations of the same chord.

You might wonder why that is important, but if you think about how you want to sound when you are playing chords.

Then you can hear that there is a lot happening, but the song only has one chord symbol.

And when you play like that you should NOT be thinking: C7 C7(13), C7, C7(9), C7(13)

Because that is way too complicated, you should just think C7!

So how do you do this?

Start Simple

You probably already know a lot of chords, but let’s start really simple and build it up.

Here is a C7 Shell voicing:

You probably also know this and also this C7 and this C7(13)

For this video, I will focus on comping in a band with a bass player so there is no need to play the root note, and then we have these 3 voicings:

This might seem like magic, but really I am just taking 3 chords that you already know, removing the bass note, and putting them next to each other.

The Great Thing About Using Only A Few Notes

Now we have 3 different ways to play C7 and we can use those 3 chords to make melodies:

And you want to think about these 3-note melodies as short blues phrases, that make it easier to come up with something. You can also think of it as a conversation, so using call-response:

To me, thinking of it as a blues helps make it easier to come up with rhythms which is, of course, pretty important for Jazz comping.

There are a few other things that really levels up your playing going from just playing chords to actually playing Jazz. I will show you but you first want to add some more of the voicings you already know to get a complete overview of everything that is available in this area of the neck. In the end, you can actually play melodies harmonized entirely with a C7.

Completing The Overview

I started with some basic shell and drop3 voicings and then reduced that to 2 and 3-note voicings, but you may also know some basic Drop2 voicings, and you want to connect those to the mix as well.

The basic candidate that you can get the rest from is this one:

And you can easily make variations of that either from what you already know about Drop2 voicings or just by adding notes that are close by on the neck.

That can give you a lot of options, but here is a set of practical ones:

So the basic C7, adding a 13th, adding a 9th as a melody note, and both 9 and 13 and finally a 13 voicing with the 3rd in the melody.

If you add this to the material that you already saw then there is an octave of material available from E to E:

This is way more notes that you need when you are comping unless it is never-ending C7 chord, but it is great to have an overview and to be able to play whatever you want.

Notice that I am skipping the F as a melody note. You can use it, but it would change the chord to a C7sus4 so I am just leaving it out for now.

Using all of this material then you can play something like this:

And these are all just a part of C7, you can take one of the chords out and look at it and say that’s a C7(13) or a C7(9), but they are all usable when the song says C7. You can create your own sound and tell your own story with the harmony.

Now we can add some tricks to the chords and get some Blues and some chromatic dissonance in there!

You Don’t Usually Do This With Chords

Legato is actually great for playing chords as well, even if it isn’t the first technique you think about with that. This goes for hammer on pull off and slide:

The thing you want to keep in mind is that you can often pick the notes, but you should take advantage of the different sound.

If I use legato then it just sounds different

There are a lot of nice things to be discovered with that!

The Blues Slur and the Chromatic Slide

The dominant chord, like the C7 you are working with here, is probably the one with the most options since you can easily add Blues to the sound, but you want to explore this for other chords as well.

If you combine it with some chromatic leading notes then you get something like this:

Here I am adding a complete passing chord by sliding into the C7 and also using legato to add a chromatic melody on top of the chord moving from the 13th down to the 5th.

It is also nice how the first part states the basic chord sound in a bluesy way and then the chromatic phrase follows that up.

Another bluesy example that you can also get to work on something that isn’t really a blues would be this legato move:

Here you have a hammer-on to approach the 3rd and that is a very typical blues melody which sounds great! The chromatic phrase that takes the 9th down to the root is also turned into a melody on top of the sustained chord which is another way of creating movement with the chords.

You can create so many beautiful things with this, let’s get that sus4 sound in there as well because of course that can work too:

Level Up Your Comping

As you can see, it is not only voicings and notes you have to learn.

There are other things that you want to focus on that are a little less obvious. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve them. If you want to dig deeper into this then you can check out this video that covers a lot of important topics. And you want to fix this because otherwise, you are going to get fired….

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New Beautiful Jazz Chords With This Powerful Triad Strategy

The best way to learn something new is to build on things that you already know. That way it is much easier to really get into your playing and more likely that you get something out of it.

That is how this exercise works and it is a great way to learn some very useful and flexible jazz chords that you can do really amazing things with.

And of course, you can also explore some that sound great and are a little more tricky to play.

Basic Jazz Chords

Let’s start with these basic voicings for a II V I and then work out how to create a lot more chords, and more importantly, chords that you can add color and embellishments to.

If we turn them into rootless voicings by removing the bass note then you get

Notice that the Dm7 voicing is, in fact, an F major triad.

And you can play Dm7 on the same string set in 3 ways by playing the different inversions of the F major triad:

And if you look at the II V I then you can see that all that is changing is a single note, C moves to B. So you can create II Vs for all the Dm7 chords by finding the C and then changing it to B:

Already here there might be G7 chord voicings that you don’t use that often, and we are only just getting started! Let’s make them complete II V I’s by adding the Em triads that are used for Cmaj7:

Exercises To Discover New Things

Usually, when you think of exercises, and maybe even practice, then it is about drilling scales and arpeggios with a metronome. Of course, you need stuff like that as well, but it is very useful to also have exercises that help you discover new things. Here, you start with chords that you know and play, and then you develop more options from that, and you can do this with any voicing or chord progression, and as you will see then we can add a lot of beautiful colors to these chords. This is not about repeating material 100s of times, it is about discovering things that sound great and then using that.

Adding More Colors And Tricks

The first thing you can do is make the G7 a G7(b9), so that it has more tension and adds more energy to the progression. This is really just lowering the A a half step to Ab:

and then you can take that through the inversions as well.

Notice that I am also adding a variation to the Cmaj7 chords because I move the 5th up to the 13th for all of them. You could also try to move it down to the #11

But I’ll let you explore that by yourself. For me, it is very important to think of chords as things you can change, not static grips so that you have some freedom to create the sound that you want from some basic chord symbols.

The Advantage of Rootless Voicings and Chromatic Voice-leading

A very common thing to play on a tonic chord like the Cmaj7 is to from the maj7th down to the maj6th in half-steps like this:

When I am playing this then that is not that difficult to do with these 3-note voicings, but if I was playing with the root then that is a very different story.

So playing with the 3-note chords adds quite a lot of flexibility or options for what you can do when playing chords. Which, as you will see, is where all the fun stuff really starts to come up.

When I was in the first few years of my study at the conservatory, then most of the gigs that I did were these long 3-4 hour standard gigs comping singers. Depending on the singer then everything from 1/3 to 1/2 of the songs was ballads. This can get a bit boring, but it is the perfect place to also develop voicings and voice-leading like this. This also helped keep it interesting not only for me but also for the rhythm section while the soloist was still happy (so that I didn’t get fired)

Jazz Chord Heaven!

Let’s try to take that a bit further, so you can start to see all the things that are possible, just starting with those 3 basic Jazz chords.

You have the 7th to 6th thing and you can also work with the 11th on the minor chord. Try to pay attention to how the sound changes when the movement is in different parts of the chords.

What is happening here is often referred to as inner-voice movement, and it is a beautiful way to embellish chords and add some interesting twists and turns that keep the harmony flowing in a nice way.

You also want to notice that I don’t rely on a static fingering for the chords, but instead try to find a solution that helps me play what I want to play. That can be really useful to keep in mind so that you are not stuck with only being able to play a chord in one way.

You can of course also take ideas that start with another inversion like this one:

 

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How To Explore Jazz Chords – A Better Approach

I very often get asked: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” and the answer to that is maybe a little surprising.

There is one way that you should be learning and practicing chords that is really overlooked, and that is a pity because it is very efficient and a practical way to come up with some great sound chord ideas that you can actually use.

Inversions And What You Might Be Missing

Usually when you are starting with learning a type of Jazz chords like Drop2, then the first thing that you focused on is learning inversions of a chord like this Dm7:

Obviously, that is a good way to learn the voicings for a specific chord, and anyway a good exercise, but you also need to learn the inversions for the other chords

And then you would have to repeat that process for voicings when you add extensions or alterations. And in the meantime, you are not working on actually using the chords to make music. It is not put together and used for anything.

So instead of focusing too much on practicing tons of inversions where the chords are not in any type of context and you are not making music with them then there is another thing that is much more useful to explore.

That is what I will show you how to do in this video.

Finding The Music in the Chords

As you can see, I am using Drop2 voicings in this video, but really the same is true for all other types of chords whether they are drop3 or triad voicings.

If you went over the chords that I showed at the beginning of the video then you can put 3 voicings together and play a II V I like this:

And you could go over inversions of this as well, but I think there is something else that is more useful.

If you want to comp with these chords in a piece of music then that could be something like this.

 

So you want to add different melodies and rhythms, and as you can hear I am using a lot of different voicings, but it is really just coming from the 3 basic chords that I started with. So the next thing to do is to take one of those basic voicings and then try to open it up so you can comp like this with it.

And this is not about learning some other chord voicings that you put in instead, it is about knowing variations of these chords, it is about opening up the voicing so that you can create some interesting colors, melodies, and voice movement. When you practThat is what we all love about Jazz chords after all.

How To Remember All The Chord Shapes

If you are using chords to comp or play a chord solo then the most important thing is flexibility. And if you only practice chords as grips and inversions then you are not organizing the chords in a way that helps you make music with them.

So instead it is much more practical to not think about different chord voicings, and instead, just have a lot of variations of the same voicing.

It is a little bit like a Pizza, we just think of it as one thing, but you can have pizza’s with all sorts of toppings and we still think of it as a pizza and don’t have to remember them as separate meals.

Let me show you what I mean.

Voice over example 6

If you look at the Dm7 voicing I am using:

If you know the notes around this chord then you can make some variations of this voicing:

Example 6

And it is still really the same chord, it is just adding different colors to it. Similar to putting different things on top of your pizza.

*Cut-in: The big question now is what extension is the pine-apple on the Pizza, but maybe we can leave that discussion to the comment section

The big advantage is that I have all these voicings as variations on one thing, so I don’t have to practice all of them in inversions, I am checking them out in a place where I can use them, and if you were to try to work through all these in inversions then you would get some pretty difficult chords and maybe not get to making music.

So the answer to the question at the beginning of the video: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” Is that I don’t remember different chord shapes I just know a lot of variations of the same chord, and I practice them so that I can use them together instead of only working on them as separate things.

So I am using that if I can make a pizza with pepperoni then I can also make a Pizza Hawaii.

The next thing to work on is how you practice to think like that

Practicing and Exploring Towards Making Music

Let’s start with the Dm7 voicing and explore some options there around that.

If you want more voicings with different extensions or alterations then you need to understand the context of the chord.

For this video, you can just see the Dm7 as being a part of the C major key and the II chord in a II V I.

If you want to have different options then you need to know the scale around this voicing.

Of course, we only need the top part, but you want to know your scales anyway.

If you look at the first voicing in this example:

then the notes of the chord are put so that we have low to high

3rd – 7th – root – 5th

To make changes to the chord then you still want to keep the core notes in the chord, and those are the 3rd and 7th. The root and the 5th you can change around and replace with other notes you want to use.

So you can play the 9th(E) instead of the root, the 11th instead of the 5th, or both so you have a 9th and an 11th in the chord. You can also replace the 5th with a 13th.

Give Your Comping A Melody

The easiest way to make your comping sound good is to tie together the chords with melody. This is in part, voice-leading so that the transition from chord to chord is pretty smooth, but it is just as important that you think about the melody in the chords and also the rhythm in that melody to really make it a piece of music.

Here is an example of a II V I using the Dm7 voicings and this area to play chords.

The Dm7 you can probably recognize. The main thing to notice is that it is really about the top-note melody.

The G7alt voicings are really done in the same way as the Dm7, but I am using a G7 from the altered scale.

The Cmaj7 is also using the same concept, but for the tonic chords in a II V I you can actually choose between having a maj7 and a maj7 so I am using that as well to make the Cmaj7 into a C6/9.

So what you want to practice is more about exploring the melodies you can play with the chords and not only playing them but also making small phrases as I did here.

A thing that will really open up your comping is also to realize that you can leave out the top note for this set of voicings so that you can play a big chunk of a scale and use that as well in comping.

I do have some videos where I explore this type of thinking on Satin Doll, I will link to one in the description.

 

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Easy Way To Make Your Jazz Chords Sound More Interesting

Just playing Jazz chords isn’t enough to make it sound great. You have to know how to make it interesting and keep the song moving.

In this video, I am going to give you some really easy examples that you can make your chords sound a lot better, stuff that helps you sit in the groove and keep things moving, and it is a simple trick that is more visual than a lot of complicated music theory.

A Basic G7 Voicing

The basic technique that I am using in this video and develop into a lot of great ideas is extremely simple. For a G7(13) chord like this:

You can add a harmonized chromatic melody to this chord like this:

And the rootless version of this which is often a little more practical.

What is happening here is really just that I am playing a melody going down in half-steps and then the chord use the chord on the D, the last note in the melody as a way to harmonize the note leading to it. In that way everything just slips into place and it is also very easy to play.

And this works for other chords as well, not just dominant chords, let’s check that out.

Chromatic Passing Chords on a II V I

Here you can hear how it also works on the II Chord, and of course, you can also use it on a tonic chord like this:

Here I am using a Db6 to get from the Cmaj7 to the C6

Another Great Trick With Chromatic Chords

Now you have one way to harmonize chromatic passing notes, but there is another one that is also pretty easy and works just as well and even makes

In bar 3 I am playing a melody that moves down in half steps, but instead of harmonizing it with the chord a half step above then I shift the first G7(13) chord down a half step, and then the lower part of the chord moves up and the melody moves down

This means that you now have two ways to create some chromatic melodies with chords. Let’s try that out on a few chords.

Exploring More Melodies And Options

To give you a way to get this into your playing let’s go over how this works on a few chords.

If you want to move from this voicings to this voicing:

If you use these two options then you can start with a voicing like this (1st chord in example 6) and then there are two ways you can move the melody down in half-steps:

With the starting chord, you have two ways you can move down, you can use the target chord as we did in the beginning, and you can also start by shifting the first chord.

Here’s another version. If you go from then you have these two options: 7a then there are these two ways to do this:  

Putting this to use on a Jazz Standard

You can put this to use on a song like Ladybird like this. Try to see if you can analyze what is going on.

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Minor II V I – 3 Levels You Want To Know

When you learn chords, and especially jazz chords where there are so many variations and options, it is important that you check them out in the right order and use a strong foundation to explore all the great sounds in there. In this video, I am going to take a basic minor II V, that you probably already know, I and show you how you, step by step, can open that up and turn it into a flexible set of chords that you can use for comping and even chord soloing.

This video is going to get you beyond just playing grips, it is time that we end that once and for all, the campfire era is over.

Level 1 – The Basic Chords

If you know your basic Jazz chords then you probably know this way of playing a minor II V I with it’s somewhat awkward II chord:

The great thing about playing chords like this is that you get to hear what the harmony sounds like and that is very useful for learning a song and getting it into your ear.

This is of course very important if you want to improvise over the progression, so using these chords to become familiar with the sound, the movement of the harmony and the bass line is really useful.

If you are getting into these then make sure to also checking out how to treat them as 2 layers in comping, a bass note, and a chord. This is great for duo playing.

You can think of how you play as accents played on the drums with bass and snare which is mostly how drummers comp in a swing groove, and also what you want to lock in with when you play.

Level 2 – Rootless Chords

The basic chords are great for getting the harmony into your ears, but if you are playing in a band then it is better to leave the bass notes alone and not be exposed to angry bass players

Dave Holland 16:04 + text – Stupid Guitar Voicings with bass notes (busy two-layer comping)

Dave Holland 17:34 + text – Finally some rootless voicings!

While I may be using Dave Holland to joke around, this is an amazing band and one of my all-time favorites you can check out this concert with the link in the description: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvG8B39_Alc

This is really easy because you can just think about the voicings from example 1 but only play the top part like this:

When you play the chords like this then you have quite a few more options to change the notes and create some more interesting melodies and voice-movements. You are not stuck with a fairly static chord that is “just a grip”

An example of how you can add melody would be something like this:

And of course, when you really use this it will be with a bit more rhythm, something like this:

Where there is a lot more happening than “Example 2”

and we can take this even further by adding more color to the chords

Level 3 – Bigger Chords and More Color

Since we started with 4-note chords and turned them into 3-note chords then it is worth exploring what happens if we add notes on top of these. To me, this was always about being practical so looking at what is there but only use what is easy to play and then be creative with that.

This is btw something I think is very efficient in most aspects of practicing and playing, but that is another discussion

If we take a look at what is available for the Bø you get something like this:

And for E7

and finally Am6

The way I use this is that I check out what is there and I try to get an overview of what is easy to play and then that is what I will use. You can try to expand options, but watch out that you don’t get lost in trying to check out too many chord voicings, which  is often taking up a lot of time without helping you play better.

Using these voicings to comp the minor II V I could be something like this

 

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