Tag Archives: jazz chords guitar

Jazz Chords – The 3 Rules That Make You Sound Pro!

I am incredibly lucky that I get to jam with great musicians, and one of the reasons for that is something that Jazz beginners miss: You need to be able to lay down great-sounding chords that feel comfortable to play over. If you can’t play chords and comp then nobody wants to play with you. Let me show you 3 rules that your comping needs to follow, and don’t worry none of them are about difficult complicated chords and with the 3 rules, you can start to play beautiful and swinging comp, and even though I am starting with really simple chords, you can go as far as you want with this, check it out!

Let’s take a simple medium Bb blues, with a focus on playing as if you are in a duo with a horn, a vocalist, or another guitarist which means that when you are comping then you are responsible for three of the main ingredients of the song:

The Tempo, The Groove, and The Harmony.

#1 Be Clear

You need to be clear! Make it easy to understand what you are playing, where the time is, and how the groove sounds.

If we start with Time and rhythm: There is a great Peter Bernstein quote: “Don’t Be Afraid of the one when you are comping” – What that means is you have to communicate the groove to both the soloist and the audience, so stay grounded and play a chord on beat 1 often. That’s what makes it comfortable for the soloist and easy to follow for the audience. Be Clear!

When it comes to notes then being clear is about working with simple chords with a bass note

Like this:

I am playing shell-voicings here, so these easy 3-note versions of the chords: Bb7 and Eb7, Fm7 Bb7.

A trick I am using for Getting the groove across is that I split the shell-voicing into two layers: bass and chord,

You’ll see later just how much you can open that up and how powerful that is! Here it is helping me get the swing feel in there. Like this:

Notice how having two layers already is a melody, similar to how a drumkit has a bassdrum and a snare drum for comping.

A mistake that I sometimes hear is when a student plays too many sustained chords. Long sustained chords make it hard to feel the groove, and that works better if you are playing with somebody else who is laying down the groove, so try to avoid this:

And aim more for this:

Let’s look at the next rule which is more about HOW you play before getting to what you can do with the chords:

Be Connected

Be connected! This topic often concerns something that seems scary to most students trying to learn comping.

As you know, some people have the reputation of being magic at comping behind soloists, think of Herbie Hancock behind Miles or Wayne Shorter, or somebody like Wynton Kelly behind Wes Montgomery, but what makes them magic?

A lot of it is about having the right balance between 3 things:

  1. What is going on in the music or song
  2. What is the soloist playing
  3. What can I do with the harmony and the rhythm

The first two are about the most important part of playing Jazz chords, which is not rhythm, extensions or voice-leading. The most important part of playing Jazz chords is listening, and knowing when to play. You need to listen to the entire band and to the soloist. You can make horrible mistakes with that, for example, make sure that you don’t play a million syncopated chords

if the feel is more relaxed and open and the rest of the band sounds like this:

Another pitfall, that I see in lessons where I am teaching comping is that it turns into being about ear training and being able to, on the spot, transcribe and analyze everything being played while you are also playing the chords. That is not really how it works, of course, you want to hear and catch as much as you can, but you should also keep in mind that if the soloist is really busy and playing a lot then you don’t have to do so much, and you can even stop playing for a bit, or at least pull back to make it very basic. What is also important to keep in mind is that even if you know exactly what is being played then you are much more likely to get in the way if you also play a lot.

So you want to be connected with the song and the soloist so that what you play fits the mood and the energy and is nice to play over. But you also want to be connected to what YOU are playing.

That connection needs to be there, and it is so important to work on getting it in there so that it doesn’t sound like we are starting a new song every 4 beats. There is a great fairly simple way to start working on this: You need to learn to listen to yourself and you need to learn to think in phrases!  The best way to work on this is to start with the rhythm, and I’ll show you some tricks with the chords in the next part of the video. An easy way to train this is to repeat stuff through a song, and you will find that a lot of soloists find that very nice to play over because it is predictable and easy to both play off and get ideas from and you can rely on it.

So spend some time just taking a riff or rhythm through the song and then slowly start to develop or vary it, but keep the longer story in there as well! Once you can do that you can always open it up.

Make sure to practice with a metronome that is the fastest way to get better time and really be able to lay down a groove! If your groove sounds good with a metronome then your groove sounds good. If your groove sounds good with a backing track then maybe the backing track sounds good. I’ve said it before. Now we need top open up the chords!

Be Creative

We all want to play big beautiful chord voicings because that’s probably what we love about jazz chords: all the colors and extensions,  but at the same time it is much more important to get the rhythm right and not get in the way of the soloists or the other band members when you’re comping. If you are playing with a drummer and your rhythms don’t match that will sound horrible. When it comes to chords then If you check, you would probably be amazed at how most people you admire play very basic and simple chords most of the time. The groove and clarity is the most important!

So a good place to start is to add some forward Motion with the help of some easy and basic passing chords. As you will see, There’s no difficult theory or complicated formulas needed, I am just playing something that’s a half step, or a fret,  away from the chord that I want to go to and using that to drive the progression forward with some nice sounding energy! Something like this.

So I am going to the Eb7 from above and approaching the Bb7 from below, simple stuff just sliding the chord in place.

And of course, you can also use that if you just want to change things up while you’re on the same chord for a longer time.

Earlier in the video I showed you how to split the chord in two parts so that you have a bass note and a chord, but check out how you can take that up a few levels because that goes really really far and you can do all sorts of things!

You can probably tell that this is the same principle:  First playing the complete chord, maybe a simple version, to set up and be clear about where we are in the song. But after that then I don’t play the root anymore and instead, I am free to play a chord fill in between.

As you can see then I’m using all these other kind of voicings that are kind of coming out of the shell-voicing but also some drop2 and some triads. You can really do a lot with this and it’s a great way to create some fills. It is also great for adding some blues flavor to the whole thing.  Like this:

Getting Back To The Blues

I am essentially using the same as what I would do in a solo, so grace notes for the 3rd and making it short and simple prases that stay around the triad with the melody.

And once you clearly establish the chord, then you don’t have to play complete simple voicings on every 1 of every bar, that can be much more open, even completely rootless if that fits. I didn’t do anything with the bass yet, so let’s do that!

Bass!

Thinking like this you can also turn it around and then say well I want to have more movement in the bass and add either small parts of bass movement or walking bass like this:

or go to a complete section where you’re playing walking bass all the time, really adding that quarter-note drive which moves the whole thing forward and sounds great!

Once you start to add other chord voicings and complete chord solo fills then you also need to have a way to think about the chords that tie all those different voicings together. I go over a simple system for that important process in another video, and it is a lot easier than you might think and also sort of coming from how Joe Pass approaches chords. Check it out!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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Challenge: Who Has The Most EPIC Jazz Chords (with Rotem Sivan)

Intros and Vamps With Beautiful Jazz Chords

At NAMM, amidst the clamor of the event, we retreated to my hotel room for a candid discussion on jazz chord hacks. Rotem and I, two musicians passionate about jazz harmony, shared impromptu insights into crafting captivating introductions and vamps for vocalists and instrumentalists alike.

 

Jazz Chord Hack #1 – The Altered Maj7

Starting with a simple 2-5 progression – Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 – we explored elevating it into something more captivating. Jens introduced the concept of altering dominants, replacing the standard G7 with an altered chord featuring a flat 13 and sharp 9. This unexpected twist injected fresh color into the progression, setting up a delightful resolution to Cmaj7.

Jazz Chord Hack #2 – Tritone Magic

We delved into the realm of tritone substitution, where the G7 chord was replaced by its tritone counterpart, Db7. This substitution added tension and intrigue, creating a captivating harmonic journey within the 2-5 framework.

Jazz Chord Hack #3 – Harmonic Multiverse

Expanding beyond traditional harmonic pathways, we discussed the idea of exploring parallel movement and chromaticism. Jens demonstrated how starting from a subdominant chord, such as Fmaj7, and descending chromatically to Cmaj7, can yield captivating harmonic motion and unexpected tonal colors.

Jazz Chord Hack #4 – Journey With Jazz Chords

We emphasized the importance of maintaining a melodic throughline amidst harmonic experimentation. By embracing tension and release dynamics, we crafted harmonic journeys that engaged listeners emotionally and intellectually. Rotem used this to extend the progression

Jazz Chord Hack #5 – Wandering Into Minor

Venturing into the realm of minor subdominants, we explored the rich harmonic possibilities inherent in minor chords. Jens showcased how incorporating minor subdominants into a progression can infuse it with lush, evocative colors, expanding the harmonic palette.

Jazz Chord Hack #6 – Tonal Detours

Building upon the concept of harmonic exploration, we discussed the idea of taking tonal detours within a progression. By introducing unexpected chord substitutions and extensions, Rotem created harmonic landscapes that surprised and delighted the listener.

Jazz Chord Hack #7 – Suspense Is Important

We highlighted the importance of suspense in crafting engaging harmonic progressions. By strategically deploying chords with altered tensions and unresolved dissonances, we kept listeners on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating each resolution.

Jazz Chord Hack #8 – Shifting Colors Around

Rotem introduced the concept of shifting chord colors within a progression, demonstrating how altering a single note can dramatically transform the harmonic landscape. By experimenting with voicings and extensions, we discovered new avenues for harmonic expression.

Jazz Chord Hack #9 – Uncommon Chords

Exploring the use of uncommon chord voicings and extensions, we pushed the boundaries of traditional harmony. First with a Dm7(13) for the II chord:

By incorporating chords like major 7#9#11, we discovered unique sonic textures that added depth and complexity to our progressions.

Jazz Chord Hack #10 – Space Voice-leading

In our final exploration, we discussed the concept of space voice-leading, where subtle chromatic movements create harmonic tension and release. By allowing chords to breathe and evolve gradually, we crafted progressions that felt organic and compelling.

 

In conclusion, our journey through these jazz chord hacks revealed the endless possibilities inherent in harmonic exploration. By embracing tension, color, and emotion, we discovered new ways to captivate listeners and elevate our musical storytelling. We invite fellow musicians to explore these concepts further and share their own insights into the art of jazz harmony.

 

Chord Melody – 5 Beautiful Methods You Want To Know

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

When you think about Jazz Chord Exercises then it is probably about learning new chords, but it is more important is that you have exercises that help you use those chords and get them to sound great. That is what these 3 exercises will help you do. The first one is also, by far, the most fun way to practice chords, and the other two will help you use the chords better and add some better rhythms to your comping. In all 3 exercises, you can see how it pays off to work on simple things not making it more complicated.

The Exercise Nobody Does!

If you are nerdy enough with Jazz chords, like I am,  then maybe you can enjoy just listening to interesting chord voicings,

but of course, there is more to it than just the notes, even if they do sound beautiful.

The last few weeks I sort of re-discovered this exercise. As you may know, I was in Taiwan to play at the Taichung Jazz Festival with Nick Javier.

I had an amazing time there, but since it is quite far away then I had to deal with some jetlag when I got back which had me waking up at 3:00 in the morning since that is 10:00 am in Taiwan. While I was re-adjusting, I realized that I really liked getting up before everyone else and then spending some time practicing and getting started before sending the kids to school, one of the exercises I started to do in my routine was to take a song and practice comping it with the metronome on 2&4

There are many reasons to practice like this! The most important one is that it is fun and you are giving yourself a chance to be creative with the chords and the harmony of the song. I’ll show you how you might get started in a bit.

When I work on this then I am working on timing, and rhythm but also how all the chords should sound as a piece of music together and it is a great way to start getting new chords or concepts into your playing.

Working on:

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Making The Chords Music
  • Adding New Material

And, of course, if you want to be good at comping then you should practice comping. Nobody ever spent all their time doing pushups and running to win Tennis tournaments, and if you do then you might get frustrated in the match.

So while practicing chord inversions and diatonic chords is useful then that should not be the only thing you are doing, also just because when you are doing that then it doesn’t matter if you screw up stuff.

Getting Started: Turn The Chords Into Music

If you have never practiced like this then here are a few steps to get you started and also a few simple tricks that immediately will level up how you sound!

Start with a song or chord progression that you know really well, for example, a 12-bar Blues like this one in C.

The first level:  is to just play the song, so turn on your metronome and just lay down the basic chords, don’t use complicated rhythms or voicings but if you can then get the groove across with a simple Charleston rhythm or something like that:

as you can tell I am mostly just using Shell-voicings.

A few easy ways to get this to move a bit more and sound more interesting is to use chromatic passing chords, simply try to use a chord a fret above or under to approach the next chord:

But you can also use this to create some movement on a chord, which sounds amazing on a blues like this:

From here you can start to expand and see if you get new ideas for rhythms or melodies, and if it doesn’t work then you can try it again in the next chords without the soloist wanting to fire you

When you use your chords like this then you might find this next approach to thinking about chords useful, and better than what you are doing now!

A Better Way To Think About Chords And Chord Voicings

You are not thinking about your chord voicings in a way that helps you use them. I am guilty of this as well in my videos: The way that we teach chords and think about chords are in separate categories like Shell-voicings, drop2, upper-structure triads, and stuff like that.

This means that we end up practicing diatonic chords or inversions only using one type of chord, but that doesn’t fit with what you do when you play music at all, so you want to change that!

Chords Across not along the neck

The important thing to remember is that when you are comping then you don’t have to think about a C7 as “Eø Drop2 inversion with the 7th as the last note and a 11th instead of a 3rd” That is much much too complicated, does anybody think like that?

This is more a question of exploring and then using what you discover but it is a great more practical way to connect chords and level up your comping.

Try this out: Most of us navigate the neck by thinking of the root of the chord and finding that on the two lowest strings E and A,

so if you are looking for a C7 then you have a shell voicing here

and here

Notice how adding the G on the B string makes it a Drop3 voicing,

and you also have the C7(13) Drop3 within reach

You can add one more string, and then you are playing Drop2 voicing with a bass note,

and there are variations of this as well:

And it is very practical to sometimes leave out the root to first get this 2-note Shell:

and add notes to have triad voicings

and drop 2 voicings as a part of what is available

Mixing Full and Rootless Voicings

When you think of C7 then you should see all these options and not just be stuck with a single grip.

That way you can add moving voices, melody, and rhythm to your comping and you don’t have to think about inversions that move to another place on the neck where you might not know the next chord. Thinking like this you are still connecting back to the chords you know and you are expanding what you can play without getting lost on the neck.

A great way to use this to open up how you comp or how you use this in chord melody is first to state the basic Shell

or an easy variation of this to be more free before changing to the next chord. For the blues that could give you something like this:

Music is Like A Language

Playing more interesting rhythms in your comping is also not necessarily about learning a lot of short rhythms, in fact zooming out and focusing on a few rhythms is probably the easiest way to improve on that.

And this is a lot easier than you might think. If you start thinking in call-response then a very easy but also very natural way to play something that really makes sense is to repeat a rhythm and then finish the sentence with something different as a conclusion:

When you are playing the same thing several times as a riff then you are giving the soloist something predictable to play against and you are giving the rest of the band something to interact with.

Then you can practice doing that on a song but coming up with different conclusions, so that you train yourself to hear how the different rhythms work together.

Maybe the next 4 bars could have this in the 4th bar

Like this, you are using the rhythms you know to come up with more. And you get a more natural flow if you work with this as a type of call response.

You can also do that every other bar:

This is almost always true; If you try to learn things in the context where you want to use them, then it is both easier and you learn it a lot faster because you can throw away a lot of useless theoretical rhythms or arpeggios inversions or whatever might waste your time.

Just Play Simple Chords!

One guitarist who understood how important it was to make things simple was Joe Pass, and while his playing was sometimes amazingly complex then his approach to Jazz chords was all about simplicity, and that is really the way you want to do this. You can check that out in this video, where it is about both the chords and the progressions being made easier to handle, and he certainly has a point!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

 

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3 Ways To Make Simple Jazz Chords Sound Amazing

Few things in the world sound as great as Jazz Chords, but learning a few grips doesn’t mean that you get them to sound right, so in this video, I will show you some very simple Jazz chords, and then show you how you make them sound great in actual songs because I have a few easy tricks to do that which are effective when it comes to the important things: rhythm, phrasing and sound.

The First Jazz Chords To Learn

With this simple Jazz chord type, you can do everything that you need to do with Jazz chords when it comes to spelling out the harmony, rhythm voice-leading, bass movement, and chromaticism.

I am of course talking about Shell-voicings. These 3- note chords:

A shell-voicing has a root which is usually on the 5th or 6th string

and then the 3rd and 7th of the chord on 3rd and 4th string.

You have a version with the root on the 5th string and one with the root on the 6th string.

So for each of these, you can play a basic II V I in two positions.

and higher on the neck:

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As you probably noticed, this way of playing chords leaves out the 5th but that is something you can use, you’ll see that later.

Split Up The Chord!

What we as Jazz guitarists often forget is that you don’t have to play chords with all the notes at the same time.

Instead, you can use that shell-voicings naturally have two layers: Bass and chords.

You can play like this with a pick, but it is easier to get it to sound right if you play with your fingers.

This opens up for a lot of options in terms of rhythm, and later I’ll show you a great variation of this that goes even further, but first check out how great it sounds on Autumn Leaves:

More Bass Notes?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the video the shell-voicings leave out the 5th, but it is also an option to play the 5th instead of the root, and that can sound great, so for Dm7 you go from the basic version

And all that you do is just move a finger to another string.

This works great, especially for II Vs, even when I am only using one variation of them. Check out how it sounds on There Will Never Be Another You:

Playing the chords like this is a great way to start working towards walking bass lines, but I will get to that later. You probably noticed that I am only using this for the 5th string version, but you can do that for the 6th string bass note chords as well, it is just a bit more work so maybe you want to add those later:

Like this, you have a way to add rhythm to the chords, and voice-leading, and some bass movement is taken care of, and I’ll level that up the bass part in a bit. You can also add some great movement and surprising sounds with chromatic chords, which is surprisingly simple!

No-Theory Passing Chords

The chromatic part of Jazz is often hidden in a lot of music theory and with all sorts of explanations like secondary tritone substitutions, harmonized basslines, reharmonized dim chords, and stuff like that, but you don’t need to make it that complicated!

The point of the chromatic chords is just to create some tension that then resolves on the next chord,

and that just means that you can create a chromatic chord by moving a chord a half step up or down,

so for the first four bars of Sonny Rollins’ Pent Up House I could use this G#m7 to lead to Am7

and maybe Eb7 to resolve down to D7.

Of course, I am not really thinking about what chord it is as much as just shifting up or down a fret. Check out how great that sounds, also adding a bit of bass movement:

Let’s add a bit of walking bass as well.

Take A Walk!

You can build this coming from what I already covered using the 5th of the chord as an alternative bass note, so if we start with something like this using Autumn Leaves: 

Then you have two of the 4 notes you need per bar simply by using the root and the 5th. Now adding notes is just a matter of adding chord tones, scale notes, or leading notes, and here the emphasis is mostly on making it playable.

 A bonus is that often the chromatic leading notes in the bass also automatically  become great chromatic passing chords:

Adding Color and Extensions

As you can hear a lot is going on, but it is all pretty logical and follows the stuff I already covered. The type of things that I covered in this video, but I am not talking about how you also can add extensions and colors to the chords, turning them into melodies and even chord melody and chord solos. That is what I cover in this video following some solid advice from Joe Pass, so that is the next thing you want to check out.

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

An Amazing Nerdy Chord Exercise

This exercise is probably one of the best ways to really explore and discover beautiful Jazz harmony and chord voicings, and it is one of my favorite things to do but I don’t really work on it that often. There are a few weird things about this way of practicing:

  • It is amazing for learning harmony and voicings
  • It is also incredible for developing your fretboard overview
  • If you do it while comping in a band you should be fired, at least I would probably fire you.

I think I picked up this way of working from going to the Barry Harris piano workshops even before I started studying in the Hague, and it is also really fun to do with others if you are hanging out and playing songs to get dig into what is possible, some of the most beautiful details and tricks.

This is going to get a bit nerdy with chords, but I think you’ll find that it is worth it.

Why The Basic Exercises Are Not Enough

There is a problem with the way we practice and look at chords. Mainly because too much of it is about reducing things to exercises(Diatonic chords) and systems with inversions

Exercises like that are not useless but similar to practicing scales and arpeggios it is removed from the music, and you have to keep in mind that playing a bunch of inversions or exercises doesn’t mean that you can magically make the chords of a song sound amazing.

And often we don’t get much further than just using stuff on a II V I progression (II V I with drop2) which is fine, but there is a lot more happening in Jazz harmony than just II V I progressions, so that is nowhere near enough.

This exercise is more about taking what you already know and then exploring what you can do with that, and also just opening up what a chord is without being too restricted by theory and chord symbols.

Learning Is Easier When You Are Not Alone

In a way, I got the exercise or this way of working from the Barry Harris workshops. Going to the Barry Harris workshops in the Hague exposed me to two things that changed my musical and my real life. At the time I was living in Copenhagen and went there for the workshop at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.

Of course, one of the things that changed everything was how and what Barry taught us which I have talked about many times, but the other aspect was probably just as important, I just never thought about it like that until I started working on this video, and I will return to why that might be something you want to keep in mind.

This was not about the large classes teaching how to make lines, but more about all the piano workshops in the evening which were much smaller and in smaller rooms (with a lot of people smoking because that was still a thing back then). In those workshops the topic was mostly specific songs and how to harmonize them, what to do with the chords and it was not a lecture or a lesson but much more an exchange of ideas and showing how you play something. The first year, I was there I could not follow a lot of what was going on because I did not know the theory and most of the songs, but the attitude of exchanging ideas and exploring the songs was inspiring and also made me realize that I needed to be in a place with more people who were exploring Jazz, and I had probably found the perfect place to for that.

Not Everything is A Chord!

We want to dig into the harmony and find some great ways to connect the chords, so let’s focus on a song that is not just a bunch of II V’s like “It Could Happen To You”.

Later I will understand why this way of working should get you thrown out of the band.

For the first 5 bars you could play these chords, maybe let’s start with shell voicings

Just to have a little bit more to work with maybe let’s use Drop2 voicings, and pay attention to how these chords are very much connected in a flow:

Like this, the basic chords are already flowing, but instead of just playing them in time and leaving it at that, you can also go over it rubato and find some stuff that

1- sounds amazing and 2- is easy to play in this chord progression.

The first chord change going from Ebmaj7 to Edim.

An easy way to add a bit of inner voice movement is to move from maj7 to 6 and then to the dim chord, you can look at it as a chromatic enclosure in the middle of the chord:

Of course, you can do a lot of other stuff and that is exactly what you want to explore, you use more voices to move to the Edim.

This one doesn’t work here probably because I am hearing the Bb in the melody in the back of my mind,

but maybe in some other song, it sounds great?

Beautiful Wrong Notes

As you see, I am not naming the passing chord,

and that is because I don’t think making it an independent chord makes sense, it is just voice-leading and more horizontal movement than a chord symbol. Here’s a way that you can use wrong notes to add a bit of counter-movement and a suspension going from Edim to Fm7

I am sure you would agree that, usually, Ab is a less-than-fantastic note on an E dim chord, but as you hear then it works really well here, and what I am doing is just moving the two top voices, one up and one down

and using notes from the scale that fits this dim chord: F harmonic minor.

Of course, you can also do great things with adding chords and using substitutions, but this way of really getting into the song opens up a lot of options, and if you are starting with a different chord then you might find very different but still practical sounds:

From A Static Voicing To Moving Music!

So you can do a lot with the chords and not have to try to name everything with chord symbols that have to make sense or follow some rule.

And, what you are doing and developing is your fretboard overview by seeing the voicing in the scale on the fretboard

and then using that to create movement and connect to the next chord

And, you could use a simpler version of this on the F#dim while also adding a little melody on the Fm7:

You’re Fired

Obviously, you don’t want to get fired, but I am sure that if you work enough on stuff like this then you can learn to do some of it in real-time while you are playing, but to work towards that, then isolating a section of the song out and exploring what you can come up with will help you discover some great new things. The reason why I say that this exercise will get you fired is that I have seen both guitar players and piano players be very busy with the chords like this and in doing so, completely fail in being a part of the music. This is for practice, and NOT something you want to distract you when you are playing with other people, and working through stuff like this is still fun.

What you really need to work on this is having a good overview of the chords, not thinking in static grips but instead having a more flexible way of understanding chords, and you can check out how to develop that in this video:

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

 

 

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II V I – Who Has The Best Approach For Jazz Beginners?

Your II V I Approach Is Wrong

Your approach to II V I progressions is probably wrong, and that is getting in the way of your solos sounding right.

A small part of this is what you play because it is much more about how you think about the chords.

There are different strategies for this which all work even if they don’t agree at all, I’ll cover my approach but also show you methods from Barry Harris, Pat Martino, and Joe Pass. Once I got my thinking on this right then things really started to fall into place and my solos really started to make a lot more sense, and then you can take it a LOT further than II V I progressions.

The first thing you want to get right, and I think this is true for all progressions, not just a II V I, is that if you want to solo over it then you should also be able to play the chords, that is how you hear the flow of the harmony and what your solos lines should sound like.

Essential II V I basics

Before we get into the approaches of different people then let’s look at what a II V I is. The progression is described as a II V I because it is in a key, and that key is the I chord. Let’s take C major, and look at what key and a II V I is:

Here you have the notes of a C major scale:

C D E F G A B C

and for each note in that scale you can build a 7th chord:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

with these chords, called the diatonic chords of C major), you usually assign Roman numerals so that you know which key you are in and what this chord is relative to the key.

Now you can pick out the II V I to be: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7,

and you  can play the chords,

maybe play them a few times to get the sound into your ears. You can use these voicings and then vary the rhythm a bit.

II V I licks – Essential Ingredients

Before we get into the different strategies you need to have the basics of Jazz solos down. In Jazz,  you mostly play melodies that are related to the chords, so your solo should consist of lines where you can hear the chords even if there is no one actually playing them. Try and listen to this, you probably hear the chord changes in there:

The easiest way to play solo lines like that is to use the same notes as the chords, so the arpeggios of those chords.

And since the whole progression is in one key, in this case, C major, then you want to think about those arpeggios as a part of the C major

scale, so this scale:

and then you have these simple 1-octave arpeggios:

And, of course, you want to practice playing licks with just those basic arpeggios, because they can sound great, something like this, remember to use rhythm as well:

But, as you heard in the beginning, they are in a key, so that scale can also be used to give you some more notes to add in there. Visually you think about the scale as the thing that holds the whole thing and You think of some notes being more important than others,

but you can use all of them, and notice how I don’t always use all the notes in the arpeggios, there is no rule that says that you have to do that.

But you want to make the melodies flow right too, just playing the right notes won’t cut it:

And this is about the one thing that is so incredibly important about the II V I.

It is One thing!

The problem with the previous example was not the notes, they are perfect and also in terms of following the chords. The problem is that they don’t connect and there is no connection between the melodies per chord.

But the II V I is not just 3 random chords next to each other, you can’t just change the order and get the same result, which is a part of the reason that I don’t like the modal description of Dorian, Mixolydian, Ionian. What makes this work is that there is a development and that the chords flow forward to the end on the I chord.

And, the easiest way to get that flow in there is to play lines that move to the next chord, and that is not as abstract or difficult as it might sound.

Target Notes – An Amazing Strategy!

If you want the solo line to flow from one chord to the next then the easiest strategy is simply to think of a note you want to hit and play a melody that ends on that, but you do want to have the right target note, I’ll get to that in a bit. Moving from Dm7 to G7 then B is a good target note, notice how especially the last part of the phrase aims for the B on beat 1

Being able to play phrases that connect chords like this is an essential skill, and also something you will see in solos all over Jazz. It is not the only thing to learn, but it is a great place to start.

When it comes to choosing target notes, then it makes sense to focus on the clear notes of the chords that really describe the color like the 3rd of the chord, and you make it easier for yourself by choosing a note that was not in the previous chords, like I took B which is the 3rd in G7 and not in Dm7.

In my approach, I am showing you how to spell out each chord in the II V I but there are other ways of negotiating this 3-chord building block, and I have my own take on those as well.

Barry Harris and Pat Martino Disagree on II Vs

This sometimes becomes a sensitive topic because you are inclined to follow one strategy and not like the rest, but I’ll talk about that in a bit as well.

There are 3 chords in a II V I, and no matter how you look at it, then the point of the progression is that something is moving and that there is a resolution. But how you choose to interpret the II V side of the progression is a lot more open.

You have Pat Martino, who likes to convert chords to m7 chords, as he talks about here with Giant Steps

The way he would approach the II V I it sort of becomes II I, so he will play lines over the II chords and not really think too much about the V chord. He talks about how this was something he learned from experience, and there are passages in Wes’s solos that suggest that he often thought in the same way, and that may well be where Martino got it since he was very influenced by Wes.

The advantage is that there are fewer chords, the disadvantage is that you are not playing V I which is probably the strongest part of what is happening, and the II chord is just a suspension of the V chord.

Barry Harris and Joe Pass do the opposite of this as you have probably heard in this clip:

So here the II chord is ignored and you focus on the V I resolution which, as I mentioned earlier, is the strongest movement in the II V I. Both Barry and Joe talk about this, where Joe is maybe a bit more practical in his explanation, and this is also something you will see in a lot of solos of Parker, so it is clear where it came from.

Again it is great to have fewer chords, but as I have also said quite often: there are no rules in music, so this rule also becomes a bit strange if you have a secondary dominant leading into the II chord, maybe like an A7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7. If you are only thinking about the G7 then you have to learn to play A7(b9) to G7 which is maybe not the most natural thing to do, and also not what is really there.

So my take on this, which will certainly be a hot take for some, is that the strongest of the two is probably Barry Harris. Still, in my experience then you want to be able to play all 3, simply because it will give you more options and also connect better with the music so that you hear the harmony. You play over what you hear without having to translate or ignore something in the music. But only focusing on one of the chords in the II V can also be a great way to get inspiration for melodies so it is incredibly useful to play Dm7 Cmaj7 like this:

Or just thinking G7 and creating lines like this:

If you can play all 3 chords then you can also easily choose to only play two of them, and with target notes, it is fairly easy to get from one chord to the next, that is one of the biggest strengths in that system.

Learn The Language

The melodies you play are probably more important than what chords you think, and you want to focus on that aspect of learning to play Jazz, so that your solos flow though the chords but also have the right feel and sound. This is not so much about finding the magic scale but more about what you do with the material that you have, and THAT is what makes people like George Benson or Wes so amazing. You need to develop your basics for Jazz lines so that your solos sound better, and I cover some of the strongest concepts in this video.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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Jazz Chord Secrets Every Jazz Beginner Should Learn

You know how this feels: You are playing a song and then the chords look like completely insane (Db7(b9,b13,no5)

and your brain is thinking (picture of hand knot on the fretboard), and that is just one chord, because they keep on coming all the time. But we can’t all be like BB King and just hire somebody to play chords while we say “I am horrible With Chords” And the main reason for that is that you will have a lot of fun playing chords and you can make great music with them, you just need to know how!

In this video, I am going over the 3 I’s as a way of dealing with chords and making it easier to deal with chord progressions,

 

hearing, understanding, and turning them into music. It should not be complicated to play music, so first you want to make the whole thing a bit simpler.

#1 Ignore

When you look at a chord like C7(#11,b9) then that is a lot of information, and you don’t want to spend too much energy on it while playing. Figuring out what those notes are, or trying to remember a grip that works like this C7(#11,b9) but is far away from the Gm7 I was playing or doesn’t really fit with where the music is or where it is going is not going to be useful. But you can actually also just ignore all of that and just play a C7, especially if you are a beginner, that is probably the best way to go, but you do need to play the right type of simple C7, as I will show you, and later in the video I’ll show you how to be much more strategic and flexible with the chords, and not a slave to some numbers and letters, because numbers and letters are not music.

This is about not getting stuck with thinking about each chord so to begin with then a m7 chord will work if it is just a m7 chord and a dominant works if you play it without extensions as well.

Start by just playing the simple harmony.

As Joe Pass says:

“you must think of the chords in their simplest form….”

In the beginning, if you just ignore all the extensions and alterations you can easily play the chords as shell voicings, and as you probably know, a shell voicing is a voicing consisting of root, 3rd and 7th,

so it doesn’t clash with any b9s, #11 or b13s that might also be in the music. For a II V I then you could have these chords:

But you can also reduce those to something like this:

Or the other position:

And using shell voicings you can clearly spell out the harmony:

And there is still a lot of room for adding rhythm to the music:

With chords like that, you can pretty much play any progression and get it to sound tight, you can be rhythmical and you hear how the chords move, so you still get the essential flow of the harmony. It is important that you remember that, in Jazz, the chords are not isolated islands. They are a part of a progression and you want to think of them as words, not get stuck spelling the letters, which is exactly where you get stuck if you think too much about the extensions of one chord and not on how the chords flow together.

Which is the next thing to learn.

#2 Interpret

When you read the chord and start to analyze the extensions and alterations, then you are thinking about something that isn’t music, it is numbers and letters, and in the moment it is not helping you play any better. I came across this interview with Joe Diorio where he talks about asking Wes about this, and Wes’ answer is so spot on:

“What do you think when you see Dm7 G7 Cmaj7? – It is a Sound!”

But how do you turn chords into sounds and what does that have to do with reading chord symbols? For most people, the easiest way to do that is by connecting chords to songs, so learning how they sound in one song and then using that to hear the chords in the next song,and you do that not by thinking of a single chord but by learning to recognize the building blocks that make up the song.

That’s also why there are 2 billion lessons on II V I tricks, it is the most common building block for Jazz songs, but far from the only one, and whenever you learn a song, it pays off to think about the building blocks in there!

Let me show you how this helps you deal with complicated chord symbols in a more musical way. Because, if you ignore the extensions and then look at what the chord is a part of, then you can treat it as a piece of music and use the vocabulary you already have.

Let’s say that the music you are reading says D7(b9b13)

If you only look at the chord then that is all the information you have, but if you ignore the extensions and zoom out a bit and see that it is part of a minor II V I: Aø D7 Gm6

then you have a way of playing it where you are worrying about playing a specific chord, but you are working on playing a passage in the music that has melody and rhythm, not numbers and symbols,

and that context will also tell you what extensions and alterations might be a part of the sound because instead of trying to calculate what the b13 of D is and how to play that, then you are playing a D7 resolving to Gm. Adding that context to a chord is much closer to a sound and also easier to hear.

The important thing here is that you start to look at songs as having chunks that are smaller chord progressions and recognize how they are similar and when something sounds similar,

it does take time to build a vocabulary of chord progressions and get them into your ear, but it is worth it! Then you know what you can do with the chord, what notes you can add, and which melodies might work. You need that because Jazz is about improvising, also when it comes to chords.

#3 Improvise

One of the great things about playing Jazz is that soloing and playing chords is really pretty much the same thing, you are taking the chords and improvising to turn them into music, but in one case you create a melody and in the other, you are creating a background for somebody else’s melody. So the point of playing chords is mostly to improvise and to connect the chords with voice-leading, rhythm, and melody. But one of the problems here is that a chord symbol is a static thing, and not really something you can improvise with., so instead of thinking of D7(b9b13) then thinking of it as D7 resolving to Gm is going to give you a lot more options that you can make melodies with and turn progression into a piece of music, and check out how this example uses a b13 but it isn’t there all the time

So you want to learn to see a chord symbol not as a single grip or a few grips, but instead, you zoom out a bit and see it as a lot of options that you can put together as a piece of music, and depending on the context, then if it says D7(b9) you don’t have to play the b9, and you can often add a b13 that will sound great because those two notes are both a part of the sound of that chord, whether they are written in the chord symbol or not.

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How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

Beautiful Jazz Chords are chords like this: rich-sounding chords with lots of colors and extensions, they are the amazing pastry of harmony, and like cakes, it is not the only thing you need. But it is Nice, VERY NICE!

What makes a chord beautiful is in part the chord itself, but it is as much about the chord progression, so I am going to use a lot of rich and colorful chords but also show you how amazing they sound in some great chord progressions that work as II V I alternatives if you need to add a bit of variation to your chord playing.

So the starting point is this progression:

But as you will see then we can pretty much go anywhere starting here, and you can easily make your chords a LOT more interesting!

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

The first thing you can try is to not play a normal II chord, but instead, use a half-diminished chord so in this case a Dø.

Another thing you want to notice is how I am not playing a maj7 chord for C, but instead going with a 6/9 chord.

You want to get used to mixing those up because they can pretty much always replace each other:

B-roll: C major diatonic + C minor diatonic chords (maybe highlight Dø?)

A theme you will see in a lot of these examples is that the progression is in C major, but I am using chords that are in C minor to change things up:

 

#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant

 

The strongest pull in music is probably the dominant resolving to the tonic like G7 to C.

But it is then also a bit obvious and not so interesting, so in that respect, it is a pity that so many people try to explain all theory as V I resolutions, it makes it boring, and you can replace a V chord with a subdominant chord that is much tastier and mysterious with an Fm chord that has some nice colors added:

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

This next progression is using a bright chord for a minor subdominant, namely the bVI maj7th, but that then resolves via the dominant to an even brighter maj7 tonic. This is the main cadence in Cole Porter’s Night And Day,

and maybe the lyrics are actually fitting the harmony by starting in minor and ending in major?

For this one, I added a #11 to the tonic chord making it even more bright and shining,

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

You can also choose to stick to only using maj7th chords and create a mysterious progression where it feels like every chord could be the resolution. Here I am starting on the IV chord, Fmaj7,

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

The Neapolitan subdominant is, in this case, a IVm triad, so Fm with a Db in the bass as a leading note down to Cmaj7, so it is still a minor subdominant and it always sounds fantastic.

Here’s the entire progression:

The next example will also add some pentatonic chord tricks on the Cmaj7 chord!

#5 How Is That Even A II V I?!

Before diving into the pentatonic passing chords, then I need to introduce another minor subdominant variation: The Backdoor dominant, in this case, Bb7 which is the bVII in C major, so this dominant chord is actually a subdominant chord in the context.

 

The next chord is a classic Jazz trick: The Tritone Substitution

This is a pretty simple idea: In C major, the dominant is G7, and a G7 chord actually shares a tritone with another dominant: Db7. So you can exchange one for the other and the basic flow of the harmony still works.

Check out the example then I’ll explain the pentatonic chords on Cmaj7.

Let me know which of these progressions or chords is your favorite in the comment section!

In this example, I am playing 3 chords on Cmaj7 (example) and if you take away the C that I sometimes add under it, then really this is just playing chords made from Em pentatonic:

This works because we need to hear a C in the bass and then notes that give us a maj7 sound, and Em pentatonic

Em pentatonic will give us a lot of nice colors against C:  E G A B D – 3 5 13 maj7 9 and the chords are pretty easy to play.

Here’s a different take on changing the chords with a progression pretending to be a II V

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

This way of using maj7 chords can work as a nice suspension but here it also becomes a sort of motivic development with the chord progression that is really smooth combining the bVI

and bII maj7 chords.

There is another even more weird way to use maj7 chords, that I’ll show you after this one.

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

In this next example, I am moving around maj7 chords, starting on the bVI so Abmaj7

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

which is really like a Db7 with a B in the bass, so it is a disguised tritone substitute or altered dominant which then resolves beautifully to Cmaj7:

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

With a progression like this then you can also hear how you have a creative component to putting together chords both in how you voice-lead them and how you choose what chords to add to the progression. The best place to develop that is to use it in chord melody where you can color the chords and really add your own take to the melody. If you want to explore this way of playing then check out this video where I cover both the basic approach and some of the ways you can create variations of common progressions that actually fit the song.

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

The way you think about Jazz chords is most likely wrong, and that is because you have been taught to think about chords in the wrong way from probably the first guitar lesson you ever had.

When it comes to playing Jazz then you should take the advice of Joe Pass:

“You must think about the chords in the most simple possible form”   

As you will see, that way you will avoid a lot of problems. This is probably connected to what made you interested in Jazz chords  in the first place:

When I first started to learn about Jazz chords then I heard all these incredibly beautiful sustained chords with a lot of colors, and I loved how they sounded.

And that is how most of us start out thinking about chords: as separate grips and each with its own name that tells you exactly what extensions and alterations are used.

The problem with that is that it is impossible to remember all those different chords, and when you are playing Jazz then it is as important that you can get from one chord to the next, which doesn’t get easier if you have to fit together thousands of different chords

Instead,  you should work on a way to think of groups of chords, Which will make it easier to play music because:

#1 It’s Visual And Easy To Remember

#2 You can improvise and Connect Chords

#3 Makes it Simple To Add Chromatic Chords

And as you will see later in the video, it is also a direct and incredibly effective shortcut to playing Chord Solos, something that is quantum physics if you have to think about each chord separately! In fact, I will clear up 3 misunderstandings about Jazz chords along the way because there is a lot of bad information out there.

Making Jazz Chords Simple!

But we are not going to start with the chord solos and chromatic passing chords. Let’s start with this C7(13). It is a fairly common voicing, but what can you do with it?

First, you want to boil it down to a simple more flexible form, similar to what Joe Pass said, because that is something you can improvise with. Instead of using this 4-note chord voicing then maybe look at what is the core of it: The 3rd and 7th, which in this case are on the middle strings, are what you want to focus on.

These are the important notes that get the sound of the chord across. The fact that it is a C7 is more important than the 13th, that note is just an extension and one of many options. The bass-note you can leave to the bass player, that way you don’t get in the way of him or her and you have one more finger to do something interesting with the chord.

When it comes to remembering chords then we get very used to navigating chords using the 5th and 6th strings as reference points because that is where we play the root.  Now, what you want to make a habit, is to be able to play the chord and see it on the neck as a C7 with that root, but you are not playing it.

So if you played a II V I in F major then you think or visualize the root but just play the top part

As you can hear from the II V I example then you can reduce all chords like this, and for now, then you can keep the 3rd and 7th on the middle string set, because then you have room above for melody and extensions and below for bass notes, depending on what you need to play.

Now that you are getting rid of one Jazz chord misunderstanding and have a way to think about simple chords then you might as well kill another one and then we can get into a hack for chromatic passing chords so that they are incredibly simple! (voiceover?)

Adding Melody Not Extensions

In Music, and certainly, in Jazz, context is everything! And the idea that chords are these isolated and static things and not really a part of a piece of music is completely misguided, that is in fact the 2nd misunderstanding I want to clear up. Most of the time, Jazz is all about connecting those chords and making the transition beautiful and creative.

Instead of thinking of chords like that then you want to think of a chord as something much more flexible, almost like a scale where you play the sound of the chord but you can add notes if you want to and you should also think about it as something that has movement built into it, a Chord is not just a chord it is in a context.. Peter Bernstein says it nicely here:

 

The most important part of that movement is melody, but

adding the melody is not that difficult now that you already reduced the chord to two notes.

I’ll first show how to find notes that work and then talk a bit about how to create melodies.

It is a little bit like taking the chord

and the scale that goes with it, and then seeing what notes are available on the top strings that also fit with the sound of the chord.v

In this case, with the C7 you get all of these options:

And you can see a C7 not as a C7(13) or a C7(9) but as a place where you can play a melody using these notes, and notice how I just call all of them C7

Now, my point with writing C7 doesn’t mean that you should not know what the extensions are, it is just to make it clear that when you see C7 like this then you can use a C7(13) or a C7(9). It’s a little bit like most languages have words that contain letters that we don’t pronounce anymore but we do know how to spell it and use all the letters in writing.

You can do the same thing for Gm7 and Fmaj7 and add notes over the 3rd and 7th of those. Notice that I am leaving out the Bb over Fmaj7 because that doesn’t really work in that chord, but you probably already know that.

Making Chords Into Music

Now you can start working on making melodies. This example is possibly a bit busy, but it is also a bit to show you what is possible:

You can go over a progression like this one or a song and then explore how you can improvise melodies.

For now, this is for comping behind a soloist so make sure to:

#1 Play mostly stepwise melodies

#2 Don’t play too many notes and chords

#3 Make sure to once in a while clearly lay down a long chord on a heavy beat.

Misunderstanding #3: Never Play Chords On The Downbeat

The last one is the 3rd misunderstanding, and it is something that I sometimes see in comments online: “You should never play chords on the downbeat”

Which is of course pretty insane and not what you hear on any recording of any Jazz musician, you of course want to learn to play off beats but you are supporting the music and the soloist and that means that you once in a while need to lay down the groove with clarity and give the soloist something to work with. There is really no reason to be afraid of playing a clear chord on the one or on the three so that you are really connecting to the song. Your off-beats only make sense when they are in balance with your downbeats, it is like trying to cook but only use pepper and no salt.

Let’s move on to a visual hack for chromatic passing chords and get into some chord soloing!

Chromatic Chords – Melodic And Visual

With this approach then you can see how the chords are turned into a core set of notes and then a lot of notes that you are free to improvise with, and what you play is more about hearing a melody than thinking a lot of complicated chord formulas.

But Jazz melodies have chromatic notes as well,  and you can incorporate that very easily into your comping like this:

The simple way to look at chromatic passing notes in Jazz lines is that they are there as an outside tension that is resolved by moving up or down a half-step. Like this Ab between A and G:

If you have this melody over a C7 then the first chord is clearly a C7(13), and the last one will be a C7, and you can use the last one as a way to come up with a chord for the Ab because you just play the same chord and move the entire thing down a half step:

And in the same way, you could get another passing chord moving up from C to D with a C# leading note, here you have a B7 moving up to C7:

This is both easy to figure out and easy to play, since you just think of the resolution and use that, there is no need to think about the passing chord.

And that means that you can play something like this:

It Is Already A Chord Solo!

And improvising while you are comping in fact means that you are learning to play chord solos. You are already working on making phrases and melodies with the material so you just need to start using it as a solo and not as a way of comping.

Let’s say that instead of the II V I in F then it is a Blues in C. For the first 4 bars, you only need an F7 to play a solo statement, so  with a basic F7 like this

then you reduce it to these two notes

and a practical set of notes could be:

And with that, you can play something like this, and notice how I am repeating riffs on the C7 and also using call-response to tie together the melodies:

This very practical way of approaching Chord Solos is something you will also find great examples of in the playing of Joe Pass. If you check out this video you can see my breakdown of chord solo phrases and some amazing Jazz Blues from a true master!

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

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