Tag Archives: jazz chords on guitar

How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

You want to learn how to play Jazz Chords. An important part of playing Jazz is to be able to interpret and play the rich chord language of the genre. This list of lessons is an ordered way to work your way through this from getting to know a basic vocabulary to having more freedom in comping with different types of chord voicings.

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I have also collected the videos in a Playlist on Youtube if you prefer that:

Playlist: How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

The Jazz Chord Survival Kit and vocabulary

The first three lessons deal with a basic chord vocabulary and how to use it when playing important chord progressions and jazz standards

Leaving out the root and getting used to upper-structures

Once you know some chords and can play a few songs you can start to expand your vocabulary.

There are two main topics you should add first: Triads as Jazz chord voicings and Drop2 voicings. These two are the foundation for most other voicings and you can build on this knowledge to really build an extensive chord vocabulary.

The Essential Drop2 Voicings

Drop2 chords form a huge chunk of all the voicings that are used in jazz. These lessons will take you through a lot of material using drop2 voicings. If you want to hear Drop2 chords in action then just put on a Wes Montgomery album, he used them extensively in his chord solos and comping.

Developing Comping skills beyond the chords

Playing Chords does require more than just knowing what chord to play where. Some of the other skills that are equally important are discussed in these lessons:

More Modern sounds

If we look beyond the triads and Drop2 voicings it is of course possible to start checking out more modern sounds that may not immediately be covered in the lessons I already included. These voicings are both more extreme with having large intervals or much more cluster like with second intervals:

Allan Holdsworth Chord Series

One of my favorite players when it comes to modern jazz chords is Allan Holdsworth. Since I have made several lessons inspired by his chordal language I though it only right to include some of these lessons. 
I am obviously a huge fan, but there is a lot to be learned from him and the chords are very beautiful and worthwhile checking out. Even if they are not all easy to play.

Chord Solos

One way of getting good at comping is to get good at playing chord solos. Being able to improvise solos with chords really helps develop your freedom and ability to play solid comping behind others. 

For that reason I have included a few of the lessons I have on chord soloing that you can dig into if you want to take this approach.

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Modern 3 note voicings and voice leading – How to find new voicings

In this video I am going to explore the type of modern jazz chords that you can hear players like Lage Lund, Gilad Hekselman and Nelson Veras use. These compact 3 note voicings are very practical but also very beautiful. 

This lesson will give you some insight in this type of voicings and also a look at how I work with new types of jazz chords and use one voicing to find more options and get the most out of and example.

High register incomplete 3 note voicings

To demonstrate the type of voicings I will first go over a few examples of cadences to demonstrate the sound of these chord types.

In the first example here below you see a Dm7 voicing that consists of the notes E, F and G. Since these are hard to play next to each other the E is placed an octave higher.  As you can see there is no 7th(C) in the chord, so even though it is used as a Dm7 it is not a complete 7th chord.

The G7 chord is  a G7b5. This chord is complete with F,B and a Db. The Cmaj7 is an Esus4 triad so in fact it is an C6/9.

The 2nd example is using a complete Dm7 voicing. The chord consists of E, F and C (low to high) so it is a DM7 with and added 9.

The G7 is a G7b13 which low to high is Eb, F and B. 

On the Cmaj7 the voicing is again a C6: E, G and A. As you can see from this and the previous example I will use the Cmaj7 term quite loosely to mean anything that is a C tonic chord in a C major cadence, whether it is a C6 or a Cmaj7.

Finding other Diatonic voicings

In the next part of the lesson I will focuse on the first Dm voicing in example 1.

All voicings are of course diatonic to some scale, and since we are using it on a Dm7 in a cadence in the key of C major then the C major scale seems a good place to start.

Here in eample 3 and 4 I have written out the voicing taken through the C major scale on first the top and then the middle string set:

Extracting some more Dm7 chord options

The voicings that are the most obvious choices for a Dm7 are the ones that have an F in them.

SInce there are three notes in each chord we have three options. For the two that I didn’t already have an example. The first one is shown below in example 5 and the other one you can see in example 10 a bit further in the lesson.

Other ways of making variations of these voicings

Probably the biggest advantage to three note voicings is that they only have 3 notes and therefor are flexible and it is quite possible to add inner-voice movement and change other notes in the chords.

Two examples of this is shown here below in examples 6 and 7.

 

Other scales: Using the voicing in Melodic minor.

Another option is to look for other scales where you can find the voicing. For this lesson I will use the G altered scale/ Ab melodic minor scale as an example. In general it can be a good idea to also think about pentatonic, harmonic minor, diminised and other options that might be possible.

Below in example 8 I have written out two examples of where the voicing could be placed in Ab melodic minor.

Examples of using these two G7alt voicings are shown in the examples 9 and 10 here below.

In the context of a cadence we can be quite liberal with what is in the chord in terms of having a complete harmonic sound with 3rd and 7th, Because the chord for the rest will contain alterations that are not found int the scale then it is easier to get away with in complete versions. The 2nd G7(b9#9) is a good example of this.

Diatonic voicings in Ab melodic minor

Similar to what I did with the Dm7 voicing we can also explore the options that are found by moving the chord through Ab melodic minor. This is shown in the example here below:

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As I mentioned in the previous paragraph here will be a lot of voicings that will work as G7alt voicings in the context of a cadence because the voicings for the biggest part consist of altereations. 

Of the examples that work I have made cadences for three of them: 

 

I hope you can find some useful voicings and that you get some ideas on how to generate more material with the voicings you already know from this lesson. The idea of using a scale as a back drop for generating more voicings that we can then try to put to use is always a great way to explore the chords and since we are using the rest of the information that is surrounding the chord (ie. the scale) it will mostly give you some useful jazz chord ideas.

 

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Modern 3 note voicings and voice leading

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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6 Triads for a Cmaj7 Chord (well 10 actually..)

Using triads to play jazz chords is a great way to get the sound of the chord and have a flexible three note voicing that you can change the extensions and melody on. This video is going over 6 triads that I use for my Cmaj7 voicings and will also demonstrate how you can use them in a II V I cadence in C major. At the end of the video I go over 4 more triads that are a bit tricky to use but also yield more interesting sounds!

Finding the triads

The most important note in a Cmaj7 voicing is probably the major 3rd: E.

If we want to find the triads that can be used it is probably a good idea to just look at what options are available with the diatonic triads that contain an E.

As you can see here below I have written out the triads where E is the 3rd, the root and the 5th. Which gives us C, Em and Am triads. But we can also use the sus4 triads. The second half of the example below are the sus4 triads where E is the root, 5th and 4th.

The Bsus4 is not really diatonic to C major, but is a great sound to use for a Cmaj7(#11) or Lydian sound.

The Tonic triads

The C major triad is of course a good candidate to convey a Cmaj7 sound. The example below shows how that might be used:

The C major is of course lacking a bit of color, but it can still be used. I chose to use it with the E in the melody because if it has  the root in the melody it immediately sounds like the ending of the song.

Em triads – Triad from the 3rd of the chord

A lot of very common Cmaj7 voicings are in fact just Em triads with a C bass note (as I demonstrate in the video) This of course means that yet again the structure from the 3rd of the chord is incredibly useful as a voicing for the chord.

The Am triad – C6 chords

When using the Am triad we don’t actually get a Cmaj7 sound but instead a C6 sound. As you probably already know, the two are interchangeable so this is also a useful triad to have in your vocabulary

Esus4 The super triad

A very rich Tonic sound is the Cmaj7(13) and this is what you get if you use an Esus4 triad to spell out the Cmaj7 as shown here below:

Asus4 The 6/9 upper structure

Using an Asus4 as a Cmaj7 voicing gives you an C6 chord with an added 9. This sound is very common in Bossa Nova and other Brazilian styles but is in general of course also a beautiful sound on a tonic chord and a great alternative to the more common Cmaj7 sounds.

Lydian with a Bsus4

The last sus4 triad is the Bsus4 which is in fact diatonic to G major not C major. Bsus4/C gives us a maj7, 3rd and b5 (or #11) which is a lydian sound.

Combining the triad sounds

Now that we have 6 different ways to play the Cmaj7 chord we can combine them to get a varying set of colors on the tonic chord.

This is shown in the example below where I am first resolving to Asus4 then Am and further on to Esus4. This small move on Cmaj could also be a riff for a song with a period of static Cmaj7.

The second example is starting with a very basic II V voicing set. From there it resolves to C using Asus4, then an inversion of Asus4 that moves up to a Bsus4 and on to Esus4 before it resolves to a Gsus4.

The Gsus4 is a great choice for a Cmaj7 but it is a little more context sensitive as it does not contain an E.

The secret triads

There are four more triads that I often use for voicing a Cmaj7, but these last ones are a litte more difficult to work with because they are more incomplete or very specific in the sound that they convey.

The four triads are shown here below:

The first three are difficult because they don’t contain an E, and the last one is tricky because it has the #5 of C in the voicing.

The beautiful incomplete voicing – Gsus4

In the example here below I am using the Gsus4 triad. The Gsus4 mostly works as a C voicing because the fact that is missing the E is somehow compensated by the C in the voicing.

G/C Upper-structure triads

This voicing is fairly open sounding and not too specific as a Cmaj7 sound. This comes from it only containing the upper part of the chord. One way that it still sounds great as a Cmaj7 voicing is to have it preceded by a G7alt, because the strong pull from the G7 will then automatically make it sound like a resolution.

The Lydian Upper-structure

Another example of only using an upper structure is the D major triad. This triad spells out the 9th, #11 and 13th over the chord. Since we are missing both 3rd and 7th it is not really giving us the sound of the chord, at the same time the Lydian sound is so  heavily represented that it is still fairly clear what is going on.

The Augemented Maj7 – E/C

In this last example the chord sound is actually altered, but since it is by now a very common sound I chose to include it anyway. The E major triad is in fact a Cmaj7#5 without a C, so it is in that respect a very clear sound. That said you should probably be a bit careful with what is going on in the music before you start using this sound.

How to use these 10 triads

This exercise is mostly and overview of what triads you have available as voicings but it should give you some idea on what you can try to use. 

You probably want to spend some time with each one that you want to get into your vocabulary and work on them one at a time to get used to how they work in different contexts.

This can ofcourse also be applied to solos, so maybe that is something to do a video on at some point.

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6 Triad Voicings for Cmaj7

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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