Tag Archives: jazz chords

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

If you are trying to learn Jazz and especially the first time you are looking at how to learn a Jazz standard, then you probably know how it is to look at a piece of sheet music and then feel that the chords are flying by in an impossible tempo.

I started thinking about this because a few weeks ago I was playing a gig with a saxophone player that I know for a long time, and we were talking about what songs to play.  It was a gig in a cafe and we were just playing standards. One of the songs he suggested was Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”

Sophisticated Lady is a song that I first learned very early on when I was still living in Copenhagen and actually I never played it since. When I was talking to the saxophone player then we could both remember looking at that song for the first time and thinking what the “hell is going on and why are the SO many chords in this?!”

And that is of course how many jazz standards will come across,  with a lot of chords that are hard to remember and even harder to improvise over.

But there is a way to make that easier, both to solo over and to remember, and the way I do this also shows why I lean so heavily on functional harmony and just how powerful a concept that actually is, but also want to talk about Pat Martino’s and Barry Harris’ systems for this which can get a bit strange but are also often very practical as well.

Learning a Jazz Standard By Heart

There was one thing that really slowed me down when I was learning songs in the beginning.

The first time I set out to really start learning a Jazz standard, then I spent two months alone in a house learning Stella By Starlight and There’s no Greater Love. Just recording a simple chorus of the chords, practicing the melody, and improvising on them every day. I kept going until I could get a simple solo to sort of make sense over them, I could hear where I was and knew the chords by heart.

The problem is that I learned everything one chord at a time. I was not thinking in groups of chords that follow each other, or groups of chords that sound similar. Chunking the chords together will make it a lot easier to learn a song because you can reduce it to a few building blocks and you know how those blocks sound, so remembering and internalizing it becomes a lot easier.

Music is a language, so I will use that comparison to help you see just how powerful this is, but first you need to clean up the chords a bit.

Don’t get distracted by extensions

A problem that I get many questions about is ho to think extensions, and whether you can use a C7(13) instead of a C7(9) and so on. And that is not really how you want to think about chords if you play Jazz. A chord is a lot of options and what notes you play, or extensions you add are more about what you want and what is going on around you in the band and in the song.

It is not thinking “now I want to play a C7(13)” Because that is not really a music thing it is a symbol that you can maybe turn into music, but you need to know how and often that means ignoring the extensions.

In the beginning, you are probably learning songs from a lead sheet like in a real book, and first you really just want to get rid of the extensions,

because what is important is the type of chord and the context, so just focus on the basic 7th chord, forget about 9ths and 11ths. You want to understand that from the other chords around it and the melody not a chord symbol, after all, a piece of music is not a row of letters in iReal.

Of course, you don’t have to literally change the sheet music, just how you think about it. Now we can get to work!

A song is a sentence

 

It is difficult to memorize and make sense of long rows of letters,

but if you start grouping the letters into words then you are attaching meaning to them and that is a lot easier to remember.

And this, of course, also works for Jazz songs, so if you can sum up 32 bar song as a bunch of smaller progressions then you have to remember a lot less, and if you are used to improvising over those smaller progressions then soloing on the song is also going to be a lot simpler.

But there are actually quite a few more advantages!

The Basic Vocabulary and where to get it

For this to work then you need to get used to thinking and recognizing the words or building blocks in the chord progressions, and you use the songs you know and the songs you are learning to spot chord sequences that you see more often. Essentially this is also why it is beneficial to analyze chord progressions.

Some of the common things you certainly want to start recognizing are things like:

Of course, the II V I as you see here in Perdido, and take the A-train

I VI II V turnaround in Rhythm Changes or Blue Moon

The V of V which you also want to notice very often is placed in certain parts of the form, so at the end of the first half as it is here in There Will Never Be or at the end of the bridge as you see in Satin Doll

The same can be said about the II V to IV, it is also very often placed in the bridge or positioned so the IV chord is at the beginning of the 2nd 8 bars of the form what you see in There Will Never Be Another You. – There Will Never Be and Satin Doll

Another useful block is IV IVm I progression which is also very common and something you want to recognize. Here it is in There Will Never Be Another You and you also have it in All The Things You Are.

The next thing will make it even more clear why you want to learn this from songs, and then we need to get into the Barry Harris and Pat Martino thing.

Hear the Harmony

A problem when you look at a lead sheet for the first time, or even just the chords in iReal, is that it is hard to have any idea about how those chords sound, but if you are used to thinking in turnarounds, II V Is, V of V etc then you are actually working towards being able to hear the harmony just from looking at the chart, and that is incredibly useful and makes it a lot easier to play a song for the first time.

It is similar to how you probably find it really easy to play a song if you are told it is a blues, something that you just already are very familiar with the sound of.

But for that to happen the words or building blocks should not be only theoretical things, they need to be something that you know the sound of, and that is the easiest to achieve by recognizing them in the songs you know really well. At the same time then you can probably also see how this will help you pick up songs faster by ear since you can rely on hearing groups of chords and not each chord in the song, and there is a good chance you are already doing this with things like turnarounds.

Chord Progressions Are All The Same (sometimes)

A danger with trying to learn building blocks is that you get stuck on the details, which is similar to getting stuck with the extensions that I talked about earlier. With stuff like this it makes the most sense to focus on how chord progressions are similar more than how they are different.

So it is a turnaround if it resembles that and all of these progressions are essentially the same thing, but maybe for this song or this arrangement one of them fits better than the others, but it is more important to also realize that it is a turnaround.

Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 A7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 D7 G7

E7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 Ebdim Dm7 G7

Bb7 A7 Dm7 G7

The reason why I consider these the same is that they will often be interchangeable and will work in the same way in a song. If you want to take this into the language analogy then these would be synonyms, words with essentially the same meaning, give or take a nuance.

You can expand this to other things as well like IV IVm I progressions which are essentially subdominant – minor subdominant to tonic.

Fmaj7 Fm6 Cmaj7

Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7

Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

F#ø Fm6 Cmaj7

And here a big part of why that is important to know is that these progressions sound similar, and have the same important notes and voice-leading, which means that you can approach soloing over them in very similar ways.

The Opposite Methods

One thing that is often very practical when looking at chord progressions that you want to solo over is to reduce the amount of chords in there, and this is where Pat Martino and Barry Harris sort of have opposite approaches.

The reason that you can leave chords out is that a lot of chords are really just embellishments and can be ignored without the solo losing the connection to the song, and it is easier to play strong melodies if you are not tied down by having to spell out a lot of changes.

A very useful example of this is the A part of Rhythm changes where there are a lot of chords but you can really reduce it to just one chord per bar.

The reduced version of the chords still contains the basic movement of the song and this will work great for solos.

As I mentioned, both Pat Martino and Barry Harris have systems for this, and they are both very simple rules.

For Pat Martino, everything is a II chord, so a II V becomes just a II chord.

Barry Harris goes the other way and throws away the II chord and says it is all V

Both of these can be useful, I think it really depends on the song. I think that Barry Harris’ approach gives you more natural chord progression when you have thrown away all the II chords, where Pat Martino becomes a bit strange giving you a Blues in F that looks like this:

At the same time, for guitar players connecting everything to minor seems to make it easier, maybe because we are all stuck in the minor pentatonic box 1 for eternity?

But to be fair then applying Barry’s rule to a song like I Should Care or Wes’ Four on Six also becomes a bit strange, so maybe you want to be aware of both systems and be flexible enough to use the one that works the best for you in whatever song you are playing. At least, that is what I have taken away from that. In music, context is everything.

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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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This Solo Exercise Changed Everything

“This was fixing two of the things that I wanted to improve in my playing, and I also discovered two new things that I could learn from it!” 

Some years ago I had a period where whenever I sat down to practice in my room, I felt stuck with my playing. I could improvise through the changes and make lines but it didn’t really sound the way I felt it should, it was just a lot of notes and something was missing.

I had started to realize that, while longer 8th note lines work pretty well in a higher tempo, they don’t sound nearly as interesting in a medium tempo and I had mostly been focusing on getting better 8th note lines by checking out Pat Martino and Joe Pass. When I was playing a slower tempo, I wanted a different sound. It felt like the 8th note lines lacked dynamics and it sound like too much thinking in a tempo when you want to hear more groove and rhythm.

When you are trying to improve something then most of the work you need to do is to really understand what needs to be fixed. There is a famous Einstein quote where he says that “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” And this certainly applies to Music as well. The better you understand what is wrong the easier it is to fix it. What I hadn’t realized at that point was that I actually had a solution right in front of me.

I wanted to get a better idea about what should change. I knew that I wanted to get better at playing phrases that were not Bebop lines. But I was stuck with only knowing what I did not want, and I needed to figure out what I did want because doesn’t make sense to practice not doing something, you need to practice doing something else that works. So I needed examples of what I wanted the phrases to sound like. Examples that I could emulate and get some inspiration from. This meant diving into my cd collection (this was before the internet and Spotify).

Here I ran into a problem, I was looking for people who played fewer notes, and still had that sound I wanted. And I realized that I did not really have a lot of music from people who play like that, it was much more Pass, Martino, and Metheny, and not as much Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, and Charlie Christian. In hindsight, that of course explains a lot….

I did have a lot of Wes and that came pretty close. On a lot of the albums that I really liked he was playing a lot more short statements. So I started to listen and learn solos from Wes, trying to find things I could make my own, but I also wanted exercises that were more open open-ended and could help me develop this. And there was one really solid exercise right in front of me.

I was teaching a lesson when I realized that I had an exercise that would help. We were working on improvising over a Jazz Blues with a student and building it up from soloing with chord tones.

For a beginner in Jazz then improvising with chord tones have a lot of advantages:

There are only a few notes

They all work great on the chord

It is pretty easy to make melodies with an arpeggio

You learn to hear the chords in your solo.

But While I was demonstrating to the student by improvising a solo, I realized that  this really connected to what I was trying to learn myself:

Because. when you have only 4 notes then you are not going to play a lot of notes simply because that doesn’t really sound great

If you are playing the arpeggio you are not going to get lost trying to add the material that you usually use with extensions, chromatic enclosures, etc

After I was done teaching that day, I immediately sat down to try this out. It was in many ways a perfect exercise, and I could work with it in a few different ways to really improve my playing like this. And this is an exercise that I find myself returning to fairly often.

Getting this exercise to develop your playing, especially when it comes to rhythm and phrasing can be seen as a 3 step process:

Step #1: The Raw Material

The first thing to do is to choose a song or progression, and then make sure you have all the arpeggios in one place like I am doing here with the first part of Days Of Wine And Roses.

Fmaj7

Eb7

Aøv

This is just to make sure that you have all the arpeggios in one place and to make it easier to go from one chord to the next without having to jump around the neck.

But you need to do more than just know where the notes are, they still need to become music.

Full position arpeggios

For this exercise, it is useful to have the full position of the arpeggio because that gives you more freedom to be melodic once you start improvising, and I am sure that you also already worked on this at some point, so now you get to use it!

Step #2: Refining It

I worked with this exercise in two ways. The first is to build vocabulary, so compose licks or improvise slowly:

So you can hear that I try to use small 2-3 note fragments and then either use them as a motif to go from one chord to the next, or use call response so that one phrase is a call(b-roll)and the next is a response(b-roll)

When you work like this you focus more on making melodies, seeing the connections, and how the notes move from one chord to the next. Because that will help you make much more interesting solos

There are easy ways to work with this. Take this motivic line on Fmaj7 Eb7

Here I am using that A and C can move up to Bb and Db and then I can make that into a nice repeated riff tying together these two chords.

But of course, this is mostly about the notes and becoming better at making sense with short 2 or 3-note phrases, so you need to work on the next step as well to get the final ingredient:

Step #3: The Finishing Touch

Now you can take a medium tempo and start to solo using just arpeggios. If you have the first two steps down then this becomes the place where you really start to develop your solos and integrate them into your playing.

And this is where the limitation part of the exercise really starts to pay off.

A limitation exercise is an exercise where you limit yourself to focus on improving something specific. With music, you do this all the time and it can be a great way to develop many skills. Think of exercises like a chromatic exercise where you play something really simple to focus on your right hand.

In this case, the limitation is that you play the song and improvise over it, but you only use the arpeggio or the chord tones.

The advantage is that you play fewer notes and you don’t have to think too much about the notes, so you can really focus on the rhythm and how you play those notes, making your solo more dynamic and more interesting when it comes to rhythm.

I guess, I had an extra bonus because I was doing this exercise for myself, but also using it with my students, so I could actually practice while I was teaching.

And this was fixing two of the things that I wanted to improve in my playing, and I also discovered two new things that I could learn from it! Playing shorter phrases and more statements than long lines was already getting better, but I also discovered two other things that I had never thought about with Jazz melodies and Bebop lines.

And this was fixing two of the things in my playing that I really wanted to improve by letting me play shorter phrases and use more interesting rhythms. But I also discovered two other things that I had never thought about with Jazz melodies and Bebop lines.

The Sacred Quarter-note

The first thing was about rhythm: When it comes to rhythms then often we think that everything has to be complicated, odd note groupings and syncopations

but one thing that I found to be incredibly effective and overlooked was phrasing using quarter notes.

Quarter notes are very useful and if you go back to people that are closer to the swing era like Charlie Christian and early Jim Hall, then you will hear a lot of quarter note rhythms as well.

The quarter notes often get to work as a resolution so that your off beats sound more interesting as a sort of tension. They are also just a great way to sound more grounded and connect to the groove and the tempo.

Less Notes More Times

The other thing that I discovered improvising like this was that when you improvise 8th note lines then you rarely repeat notes. Mainly because that doesn’t sound great in an 8th note line:

but if you are improvising with shorter phrases and trying to make melodies that are focused on rhythm and locking in with the groove then repeating notes is a great thing to do, actually also something you will hear Wes do as well.

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10 Levels of Turnarounds – Unlock Amazing Jazz Chord Progressions

Jazz harmony is a huge topic, and learning to understand and analyze chord progressions can seem like an impossible task, but if you understand a few of the techniques involved you can both create beautiful chord progressions and have an easier time figuring out how to solo over them, and you can see these techniques in action on a very simple progression that you already know.

Level 1 – The Basic Turnaround

For this video, I will use this turnaround and show you how you can create some nice surprising sounds using that.

What is important to understand with the basic turnaround is that it is just an embellished version of a I V progression, which you might know if you have followed some Barry Harris videos.

The first thing to add is to turn the V into a II V which is really just a glorified version of a G7sus4 to G7

Then to add some extra movement then Am is added to have a little variation in the bar with the I chord.

This is the basic progression, now you can start making variations to it. Along the way you also want to realize that I don’t really think in substitutions that much, simply because that is not a very useful way to use or understand harmony.

Level 2 – A Secondary Dominant

The first variation that you want to add to the progression is a secondary dominant. In this case, a way to get the progression to flow a bit more towards the Dm7 chord:

 

The turnaround is in the key of C major, and the A7 is not the dominant in that key, that is G7. Like this, you are using the A7 to create a pull towards the Dm7 and add movement to the chord progression. When the A7 appears like this then it is described as a secondary dominant, so a dominant resolving to something else than the tonic of the key. Since the A7 is resolving to Dm7 then you can treat it as an A7 in D minor and the logical scale choice is then D harmonic minor making it an A7(b9b13)

Written out Dm harmonic highlighting A7(b9b13) – D E F G A Bb C# D E F G A Bb C# D E F

You could also use the same principle to have a D7 resolving to G7.

Can you see why the D7 is not a D7(b9b13)?

Level 3 – The “Easy” Diminished Chord

You can also take the secondary dominant and turn it into the “easy” diminished chord:

Here the A7(b9) is turned into a diminished chord. Also sometimes referred to as a secondary dominant diminished. This is really just an A7(b9) with a C# in the bass, and you will solo on it using the same material that you use on the A7 chord, so D harmonic minor.

On-screen comparison of A7(b9) and C#dim: A C# E G Bb – C# E G Bb

The reason for using the diminished chord is usually just to have a different type of bass melody.

Later in the video, you will also see an example of the “difficult” diminished chord which is a great example of where thinking substitutions is going to make things more difficult.

Level 4 – Doesn’t Have To Be THE tonic chord

Of course, you can also start on a different chord than the Cmaj7, other chords in the key have a tonic function and the III chord is a beautiful option that also highlights that the progression is still moving not standing still:

You also want to notice that it sounds great to use a G7 that is borrowed from minor, so a G7(b9b13). The b9 and b13 become chromatic leading notes that help pull stronger towards the resolution to Cmaj7.

Let’s have a look at the difficult diminished chord.

Level 5 – The “Difficult” Diminished Chord

The basic progression was Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7, and then you can add more momentum by playing an A7 or a C#dim chord in the second half of the first bar.

I already mentioned that this was not a substitution, what does that mean?

When you talk about substitutions then it is about taking one chord and replacing it with a related chord, but there is not really a connection between Am7 and A7(b9) in this progression, It makes more sense to just view that progression as a different route when moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7 and that is also what you have in this example:

The star of this example is the Ebdim chord. This diminished chord is an altered subdominant chord that resolves back to the more regular subdominant chord Dm7. I have some older videos on this type of diminished chord if you want to dig deeper into that. I often come across people trying to turn these dim chords into dominants that don’t resolve, personally, I don’t think that really helps me hear how the progression moves so I like this analysis a lot better.

Since it is a subdominant chord then it is usually written as derived from the IV in the scale, and in this case the #IVdim.

Let’s get rid of the tonic chord so that it doesn’t even sound like a turnaround in C.

Level 6 – Where Did The Tonic Chord Go?

As you can see then quite a few things have happened compared to the I VI II V that we started with.

There are two main things happening here: The first is extending how much is borrowed from C minor, so now you have the entire II V coming out of C minor, but probably the most curious one is the first chord which until now was reserved for a tonic chord like Cmaj7 or Em7, but now it is a secondary dominant, namely E7 resolving to another secondary dominant: A7 and then the minor II V before resolving to Cmaj7. The E7 is a secondary dominant that would resolve to Am in the key so you would use A harmonic minor when soloing over it and it has a b9 and a b13.

Choosing this as a turnaround is a way to emphasize movement, so it is not so important to have the tonic clear, but instead, it is important to keep the song going for example at the end of an A-part going to the next A-part. You will see an even more radical version of this later in the video.

Level 7 – Altered Dominants & Tritone Substitution

I have of course talked a bit about why substitutions aren’t the best way to approach harmony, but this example has two clear examples of just substituting chords with similar functions.

Here you have the secondary dominant in bar 1, A7, being substituted with an Eb7, which is the dominant that shares the same tritone interval as the core notes: C# and G

The other substitution is using an altered dominant for the G7 which is a sound that is a bit further away than borrowing from minor, and actually also related to tritone substitutions. It is a great sound to create a lot of tension and movement toward the resolution to the I chord.

Level 8 – My Favorite Turnaround

This turnaround variation is a great way to incorporate Minor subdominants and Coltrane changes into a turnaround

Here you have the first 3 chords as being straight out of a Coltrane cycle in C: Cmaj7 Eb7 Abmaj7  B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7

Another way to look at this, and probably the reason why it sounds so great is that it involves a beautiful minor subdominant chord: Abmaj7

The first two chords are similar to the previous example and sound similar to what we pretty much expect in a turnaround, but the Eb7 resolves as a V chord and not a tritone substitution which takes us to Abmaj7,  a nice but still satisfying detour.

Using the Db7, the tritone substitute of the G7 makes it easier to move from the Abmaj7 back to Cmaj7.

This turnaround is often referred to as a Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but not everybody agrees on what that is, so it is a good idea to check. In emergencies, the Blues always works 🙂

Level 9 – Chromatic Passing Chords

Let’s step it up and add some chromatic chords. This one probably came from the diminished chord progression that I talked about earlier, just stepping out of the key and approaching the Dm7 from a half-step above:

Here you have the Ebm7 that just quickly jumps out of the key to slide back in on the Dm7. You will quite often hear people like Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarret reharmonize dim chords to parallel minor chords and even Parker does it sometimes so it may be coming from that. Again calling it a substitution for a dim chord is really a stretch though.

Level 10 – What?!

Having a turnaround where the first chord is not at all what you expect is great, and this example uses a chord that does that, but still really works in with the progression.

When the ear expects a Cmaj7 and gets a Bb7 then that still is acceptable because the Bb7 moves on to an A7 and then continues in the turnaround. The Bb7 is there as a tritone substitute for the E7, the secondary dominant for A7.

I don’t think this one is that common, but it does sound really great so you should give it a try in a Jazz standard as a reharmonization.

Put It To Use In Chord Melody

You can create amazing things by taking songs and adding chords to them while also exploring different sounds and options with the chord progression. If you want to explore how to make your own chord melodies then check out this video.

It is a great way to build your knowledge and skills with jazz chords and in the process get started making some beautiful Chord Melody arrangements.

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

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How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

I am sure you have looked at a chart with jazz chords and asked yourself, why do they play a m7(11) chord or how come that is a (b9b13) dominant? And if you ask, you get an answer which is very often a scale, like altered dominant or diminished scale, so no information that tells you that much about the choice of chord.

How do you get to that point where you can take a basic chord progression and then turn it into a piece of music with a flow of beautiful harmony? You hear it all the time but if you look at transcriptions then you are probably left wondering why is that m7(11) or how come that is dominant with a b13, and if you try to play that then it doesn’t fit together.

Instead of solving difficult music theory equations then you need to work on something else, let’s look at that process.

Get The Basic Harmony Down

For this I am going to use the beginning of All The Things You Are As An Example and built it up from the foundation.

The first thing you want to do is to just get the basic chords into your system, into your ears, and you can add a bit of rhythm to it. In the end, that is anyway more important than the notes:

I am keeping the chords sort of close to each other so it doesn’t sound like a huge jump moving from one chord to the next.

These are all pretty basic chords, and you probably know them already, so we want to start doing more to them in terms of adding color and also making the voicings fit together and tell a story.

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

Next, you want to turn them into rootless voicings. That way the voicings become a lot more flexible and you have more room to change things around, add notes and play melodies.

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

As you will see, the secret to getting comping to sound great is not knowing the most difficult exotic voicings, it is about being able to make music with them, and already with these 3-note voicings that actually becomes a lot easier.

The big difference here is that it is not about thinking vertical chords, it is about tying the whole thing together with melody making how you play the chords into something that is a musical statement and not a bunch of notes next to another bunch of notes, because that is not how music works.

So you can practice making simple step-wise melodies like this and use different voicings to get it to work

And with this then you can hear other colors in the chords, but the whole thing works because the chords connect with a melody.

Practicing playing through chord progressions and making these simple stepwise top-note melodies is one of the best ways to explore harmony and make it into something practical that you can use because you are working on a song

I am sure you also recognize these chords as rootless versions of chords you already know:

First, you want to open up how you use the melody, and then we can go over some more advanced approaches to make the way you play chords more interesting.

Let The Melody Lead It

If you start thinking of the way you play chords as a slow chord solo or chord melody and not worry too much about extensions then it is easier to get the whole thing to sound good and you will anyway start finding the extensions but you can get them into your playing much more naturally.

For the first Fm7 chord it is already reduced to the Ab major triad, and you can add a lot of sounds and easily play melodies by just grabbing the notes around it that work with the chord, so more chord tones, and common extensions. In fact, you can just try stuff out and see what your ear tells you and then figure out what it is later.

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

And don’t think about the Fm7 or Bbm7 variations as separate chords, you should think of them as stuff you can use when you want to use the basic Fm7 or Bbm7 voicing.

So if it says Fm7 Bbm7 you can play melodies like this:

or maybe even hint at another song:

This is about connecting material and making it flexible not about learning a bunch of chords that you can’t put together.

With this approach and an extra trick that I will get to, you can already do something like this:

You want to notice that I am using the techniques that I just covered and then there are two places where I add some extra chord voicings:

On the Eb7 the first chord is this triad voicing which is a very smooth transition coming from the Bbm7, and on the Abmaj7 I am also adding this shell voicing to transition to Dbmaj7.

So once you start to explore different ways of playing the basic chord then it is also a good idea to be aware of the chords around it, because It is all about finding practical ways to play the chords.

You also want to notice that the melodies are there to sit behind a soloist so you mostly use step-wise movement and try not to steal the attention from the soloist, unless you want to get fired, then you can just bring out your spiciest reharmonizations, and you might be gone before the 2nd set.

Start Using MORE Chords

The next steps are not nearly as important for how well you play the chords, they are more like icing on the cake where you can add some extra chords to take you to the next chord

 

In this example the chords that are added are written out as secondary tritone substitutions, so to go from Fm7 to Bbm7 I add a B7, and an E7 is helping the transition to Eb7.

This is a great thing to mess around with, but you do need to watch out that it doesn’t start clashing too much with whoever you are playing behind.

Another way you can add passing chords is using chromatic chords like this:

Here you have Am7 as an approach to Bbm7, and Amaj7 taking you to Abmaj7.

Often just thinking in chromatic passing chords on the guitar is a lot easier because it can be done visually and you don’t have to overthink what is going on.

Move The Other Voices

You can also take the chords and not only use the melody but build it with more layers which can open up for some amazing things, but it does come at a cost

The feel of this type of playing works better if you are a little less active rhythmically and it works better with sustained chords which makes it a little less useful for getting the groove across, but it is a great sound for the beginning of a song or with a soloist that leaves a lot of space.

The Fm7 moves the lowest voice down to the Ab on the Bbm7 and I am also introducing an Eb7 altered that is resolved to a single Eb on the Abmaj7. Under the sustained Eb there is room to move the chords a bit and this concept is also used on both Dbmaj7 and Cmaj7.

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

It is incredibly important that you work with jazz chords on a song and get better at putting them together as music. Another way to work on this skill is to also work on making chord melody arrangements of songs, so taking a melody and turning it into a harmonized piece that you can play as a solo guitar piece. If you check out this video then you can see how this will teach you a lot not only about harmony but also about melody, and open up how you think about Jazz chords and how you use them in your playing!

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Minor Chords – Unlock Some Beautiful Jazz Chords In Your Music

When you play chords or if you are writing songs then you reduce the harmony to chord symbols like Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7. But the great thing about Jazz harmony is that you can make a lot of choices when it comes to how you want to color the chords, and especially with minor chords there are some incredibly beautiful choices that are not getting the attention they deserve, so let’s start easy and then go to the extremes with some minor chord options.

Level 1 – Jimmy Page Got It Right

The basic chord where it all begins is of course just a minor triad:

You have a root, a minor 3rd, and a 5th.

But it is only 3 notes, so you can add combinations of the remaining 9 notes and get a lot of different colors. The first, and most common one is level 2.

But Minor chords can even work as substitutions for altered dominants, which is a great way to make some interesting chord progressions. I’ll show you in a bit.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness. I am going to give this the minor triad a “This is great if you are in Guns And Roses or another stadium rock band”

Level 2 – They Are Everywhere, So What!

The most common extension to add to a minor chord is probably the b7 which makes it a m7 chord:

This is the typical first chord in a II V I

But you actually have m7 chords in 3 places in the major scale, on the II, III and VI:

And two variations of a m7 chord that you can very often throw in there would be chords with the 9th:

or the 11th:

These are all nice, beautiful, calm sounds but also sometimes a little bit boring.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

So this is a clear “You Still Need To Check Some Things Out But Don’t Use The Real Book!” on the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness.

Let’s take this in a different and more colorful direction!

Level 3 – You Are Missing Out!

This is what I probably consider the most overlooked option.

Instead of adding a b7 you can also add a major 6th to the chord:

A C E G → A C E F#

And the m6 chord is a great sound that works especially well with tonic minor chords for example the Gm6 in Autumn Leaves which is also what is often played as a riff under that chord.

When you are soloing then the m6 chord is usually associated with melodic minor:

A B C D E F# G# A

This sound is often with the next type of minor chord, but a very common variation that you want to know is the m6/9 chord:

You want to explore how to use this chord and test how it sounds in different places, it can be a great sound and also add some much-needed variation to playing m7 chords everywhere.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness this gets a “Now we are talking!”

Level 4 – So Much More than Pink Panther!

You most likely already know this sound as the ending chord of this:

Or a more recent song like this:

The basic chord type here is a mMaj7 chord,

so that is a minor triad with a maj7 7th

A C E G#

This chord is dissonant and at rest at the same time and is a nice more spicy color you can add to a chord progression:

 

The mMaj7 chords sounds great if you add a 9th to it:

or even a 13th:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness, this gets a “Rick Beato Approves”

Level 5 – You Are Playing A Wrong Chord!

This chord is almost like a mistake!

Most of the time when you have a m7 chord then it is put to use as a suspension of a dominant chord, so a more independent version of a sus4 chord.

If you listen to a II V I then that is:

and it is really just a bass note away from:

If you look at how this chord works then the point of it is to move one note.

The 7th of the m7 chord down to the 3rd of the dominant. Here that is a G on Am7, down to an F# on D7.

That means that the one note that you don’t want on the m7 chord is probably the 13th because that is the note that you are trying to save for the next chord.

But if you just listen to it m7(13) chord is a great chord to use as a sound in itself, and as Herbie Hancock has demonstrated quite often. Paired with an altered dominant it sounds great in a II V I.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

Clearly, this should get a “There Are No Wrong Notes” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. But there are even minor chords that are so strange that almost don’t exist.

Level 6 – This Doesn’t Even Exist

If you have watched any mediocre YouTube guitar lesson on improvising then you have probably learned that Lydian is way better than Major. While that is of obviously complete nonsense then that does make you wonder:

“What is a Lydian m7 chord?”

The pragmatic and boring people will tell you that it is Dorian because of the major 6th interval, but the truly visionary out there will tell you about the legend of the m7(#11) chord.

This sound is mostly just a special effect that you can throw in there if you want to change things up on a minor blues or a song with a static minor chord for some time, but you can use it in a cadence:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness, this is an obvious “Don’t Play The Butter Notes“

Level 7 – That is Not Even A Minor Chord!

With all these options then you can start to use the different minor chords as substitutions for other chords.

A great example of this is to use a mMa7 chord as an altered dominant, here it is EbmMaj7 instead of D7alt:

You can hear Jobim do this in the bridge of his song Dindi, and it is something you can get a lot of beautiful harmony out of.

You can also use a CmMaj7 instead of the D7:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

These need to be somewhere between “You Are Fired and Don’t Steal My Gig” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. Let me know in the comments which one!

Why Your Comping Doesn’t Work

Colorful chords are great and a big part of what is fun to explore about Jazz harmony and playing jazz songs, but if you want to get started playing Jazz then it is as important that you dig into the type of chords that have room for you to add extensions and colors to them. This video will introduce you to shell-voicings and also show you how they are fantastic for a lot of things from walking bass and chords to bossa nova and a great starting place for building some beautiful chords.

5 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That You Want To Know

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

Chord Melody – Making Music Is The Exercise

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

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

How do you get started with this?

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

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

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

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

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

Make It Your Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fills & Creative Voice-Leading

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

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

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

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

Getting Creative With The Chords

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

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

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

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

Comping!

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

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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Jazz Chords And The Best Way To Think About Them

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

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

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

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

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

So how do you do this?

Start Simple

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

Here is a C7 Shell voicing:

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

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

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

The Great Thing About Using Only A Few Notes

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

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

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

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

Completing The Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Usually Do This With Chords

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

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

If I use legato then it just sounds different

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

The Blues Slur and the Chromatic Slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level Up Your Comping

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

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

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