Tag Archives: jazz guitar lesson chords

How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

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

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

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

Get The Basic Harmony Down

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

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

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

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

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

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

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let The Melody Lead It

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

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

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

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

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

or maybe even hint at another song:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Using MORE Chords

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Move The Other Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

Chord Melody – Making Music Is The Exercise

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

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

How do you get started with this?

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

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

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

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

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

Make It Your Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fills & Creative Voice-Leading

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

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

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

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

Getting Creative With The Chords

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

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

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

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

Comping!

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

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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Jazz Chords And The Best Way To Think About Them

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

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

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

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

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

So how do you do this?

Start Simple

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

Here is a C7 Shell voicing:

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

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

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

The Great Thing About Using Only A Few Notes

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

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

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

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

Completing The Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Usually Do This With Chords

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

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

If I use legato then it just sounds different

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

The Blues Slur and the Chromatic Slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level Up Your Comping

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

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

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New Beautiful Jazz Chords With This Powerful Triad Strategy

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

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

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

Basic Jazz Chords

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercises To Discover New Things

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

Adding More Colors And Tricks

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

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

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

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

The Advantage of Rootless Voicings and Chromatic Voice-leading

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

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

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

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

Jazz Chord Heaven!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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From Basic Jazz Chords To Beautiful Comping

You probably already know how beautiful Jazz chords can sound and how great Jazz players just seem to flow through the progression getting it to sound amazing.

But when you learn Jazz chords then you are stuck looking at chord progressions and trying to read diagrams, and it has very little to do with actually making music!

In this video, I am going to help you past that, starting with simple chords, and then show you how you can turn them into beautiful harmony with fills, rhythms, and interesting sounds. so you sound a lot better.

Level 1 – Basic Chords With Extensions

Let’s start with this set of chords for a II V I. You probably already know these:

Notice that I am playing chords with extensions, so there’s a 9th on the Dm7 which becomes a 13th on the G7. Extensions are a big part of the sound of Jazz chords, but there are some other things that you also need to get right so we need to change the chords a little!

Level 2 – Something To Work With: Rootless Voicings

As you saw in the intro then I am not playing the complete voicing all the time, and you want to learn to use voicings that leave out the root:

When you are playing Jazz chords on the guitar then there are two important reasons to not play the root:

  1. Get out of the way of the bass player so he or she is happy
  2. Free up a finger and can start to create great variations and fills

Playing the Dm7 voicing like this:

Means that you can figure out how to add or change notes and really just play something like this:

This is a very important part of learning Jazz chords, that you don’t get stuck with static grips, you want to see a voicing as something you can change, move the melody, add and leave out notes.

Also because that is a lot easier to remember than 1 million different chord grips.

Quick side note: As you will see, I am not using substitutions in this video because that is not nearly as powerful a tool or skill as the other things that I will cover, and it is much more important to learn to be creative with the chord progression that is already there.

Level 3 – Get The Rhythm Right

You already know that rhythm is one of the most important parts of Jazz, but when it comes to getting comping to sound good then something else is much more overlooked: The length of the chord!

What really makes the difference with the rhythms is how long you play notes, and so many rhythms sound so much better if you use short notes.

You want to use rhythms like these:

There are two things you want to learn to do:

#1 – Anticipation

Anticipating the 1: Try to get learn to play the chord on the 4& and anticipate the harmony in the next bar as I am doing on the G7.

Maybe:

You can do that by just playing through the progression and playing on the off beats an exercise like this:

#2 Length of the Chords

You also want to be aware of whether you are playing long or short notes in your comping. There is a big difference between

And:

Nothing is as important in Jazz as rhythm! Let me know if you agree in the comments, or if you think something else is more important, then tell me what that is!

Level 4 – Making It Into Music

Now you have the chords and you can play better rhythms with both long and short notes. The next thing you want to focus on is to not just play separate and isolated chords, but really turn the whole thing into music, and give it a flow.

Level 4 example

What you want to work on is trying to play the chords, but also have something in there that makes it sound like each bar is a part of a larger story, not just isolated things next to each other.

In this case, you can hear how the melody on the G7 is a variation of the motif on the Dm7 chord. Ant that is one way to connect them. I made a video on Patreon with examples of different ways to do this, maybe that is something I should also make a YT video about? Let me know in the comments.

Next, Let’s look at a secret weapon that you can use that sounds amazing and really levels up your comping in a very subtle way.

Level 5 – The Inside Job

This is a hidden gem when it comes to playing chords, but it is such a great thing to also add in there every now and again.

Here you can see how there are things happening inside the chords, so moving the inner-voices. Here it is going from Dm7 to G7 and also moving the 7th down to the 6th of Cmaj7.

The way you start exploring this is by finding melodies and ways to move voices on the chords:

On guitar, this is about being practical and finding the places where it is possible and still playable. In this example, you see inner-voice movement on the G7 and a variation on the Cmaj7.

But it does sound great and is worth exploring to add a bit more polyphony to the music.

 

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Add Beautiful Colors And Fills To Your Comping

When you are comping Jazz songs then it is good to also change the textures you play, not always full chords but also fills and small polyphonic ideas. In this lesson, I am going to show you how to use intervals and counterpoint as a way of comping and as a way to add a new sound to the way you play chords. It will help you when you are comping but will also be great in a solo or in a chord melody arrangement.

Get the PDF on Patreon:

You can get the PDF and GuitarPro files on Patreon here:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/38217738

Content

00:00 Intro 

00:50 From Real Jazz Comping to Improvised Chords 

01:25 Reducing the Voicings – Example #1 

02:12 Reducing the Voicings – Example #2 

03:03 Intervals for fills and Block Harmony 

05:05 How to practice and explore the neck for this type of playing 

07:29 6th intervals and a Pentatonic trick 

09:14 Harmonized Arpeggios and more Pentatonic Chord Patterns 

10:44 Polyphonic Call-Response 

11:20 3-Note Voicings 

11:38 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

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