Tag Archives: jazz chords tutorial

Make Your Jazz Chords Sound Amazing (for normal people)

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

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

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

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

An Easy Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Difficult Cliches

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

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

Partly Voiceover Ex6 end of sentence back to talking head

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

A Turnaround of many tricks

This is the turnaround:

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

 

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

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

Or an Abmaj7:

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

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

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

The Diminished Dilemma

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

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

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

Some Beautiful Huge Chords

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

 

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

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

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

Comping With Pentatonics, Tricks, And Intervals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

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

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

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

The Chords That Didn’t Make Sense

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

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

Tonal Harmony in (almost) 1 minute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Tonal Trick

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

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

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

For C natural minor:

You have these chords:

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

#1 Dø

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

#2 Fm7

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

#3 Abmaj7

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

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

#4 Bb7

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

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

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

A minor (subdominant) misunderstanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make It Closer to The Key

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor Dominant – What Is That Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful chord that doesn’t fit

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

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

The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

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

 

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The Basic Jazz Chords That You Can Expand into Amazing Sounds

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

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

What is a Shell-voicing

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

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

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

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

 

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

You can probably hear this is going to go places.

Exercise #1 Play songs

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

The chords I am going to cover here are:

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

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

and starting on the 6th string:

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

Playing The Chords of Satin Doll!

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

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

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

Rhythm And Groove

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

 

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

Exercise #2 diatonic chords

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

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

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

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

What about the other chords?

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

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

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

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

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

Am6 which is A, F# C

G#dim which is G# F B.

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

Am6 is A C E F#

A dim is A C Eb F#

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

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

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

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

and the other version is this

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

The Joe Pass Groove – Chords and Walking bass

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

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

Bossanova – Beautiful Rhythm

 

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

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

This sounds great on a song like Girl From Ipanema:

Making The Harmony Interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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Jazz Chords – Drop2 is a Powerful Tool

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

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

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

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

The Basic Chords And What To Play

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

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

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

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

then it is Back to Cmaj7

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

Cmaj7: G C E B

Fm7: Ab Eb F C

Bb7: Ab D F Bb

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

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

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

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

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

Why Drop2 doesn’t matter

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So when you see Cmaj7 then you are free to play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B-roll: sheet music replacing the diagrams and tabs

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

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

Getting Out Of The “Grip” Of The Chord

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

This is because:

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

and

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

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

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

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

Rule #3 – 13th instead of 5th

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

Example (+adding examples of Bb7(9) )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Caught In The Grip of Chords

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

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

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

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

Rule #4 – 11th instead of 5th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Melodies – The Most Important Rule

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

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

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

 

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Jazz Chords – Easy To Advanced in 5 Levels

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

Chords, Rhythm, and Melody!

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

#1 Easy Jazz Chords To Great Jazz Chords

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

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

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

#2 Rhythm Is As Important

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

Here’s a solid riff you can use:

This demonstrates two important things  about comping rhythms:

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

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

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

#3 Melody and Fills (and more rhythm)

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways you can use these:

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

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

They sound like this:

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

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

Why Don’t You Write G7(13)

I often get this question:

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

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

#4 More Chords!

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

This next example uses two ways of doing that.

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

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

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

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

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

Two Ways To Think About Alterations

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

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

#5 Secret Melodies

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

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

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

In context, that sounds like this:

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