Tag Archives: jazz guitar voice leading

The Ultimate Jazz Chord Guide – 12 Most Important Voicing Types

What you can do with Jazz Chords is pretty incredible! I am sure you already know that if you click on this video. I am going to give you an overview of 12 practical and important types of chords that you will come across if you start exploring Jazz guitar.

I am going to start with the ones that make the most sense as a beginner, but also add something that I often think is left out in teaching and understanding Jazz chords is that I will show how they fit together, because if you check out how Jazz chords are used then it is rarely just one type of chord used all the time, we mix it up quite a lot and often that is what makes it sound so great. Having that connection in there also makes it a lot easier to have an overview and remember all the chords.

#1 Shell-Voicings

These simple 3-note chords are the best place to start because they are easy to play, easy to hear, they cover all of the basic harmony, and as you will see they are also an amazing foundation to build a lot of other chords with.

The basic harmony in Jazz is built around 7th chords which is 4-part harmony, but you can get there using 3 notes instead of 4.

You want to look at the shell-voicings like this: Root on the 5th or 6th string and basic chord tones on the 2 middle strings. The note that is left out is the 5th.

So for a Cmaj7 chord you have C E G and B in the chord, we leave out the 5th, G, and then you can play the C either on the 5th string giving you this chord

Or on the 6th string giving you this chord:

Most Important Exercises For Chords

There are two ways that you want to explore chords if you are trying to get them into your playing:

Take them through a scale, so for the shell voicings that might be this:

And you also want to play some chord progressions to hear what they sound like in music.

Most of the chord voicings in this video will come from adding notes to the shell voicings or taking away notes,

as you will see, they are surprisingly important to know! I am also a bit surprised that there are quite a few types of chords that are very common, but you don’t have a good name for them, we’ll get to those a lot quicker than you think and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.

#2 Drop-3 voicings

Shell-voicings are a great example of how you can get things done with fewer notes and a bit of context, but as we all know then the Swedish Guitar Wizard says:

“How can Less Be More? More is More” – Yngwie Malmsteen

So let’s start adding some notes to the shell voicings and since “More is More”

The Shell-voicing with the root on the 6th string can have the 5th added like this:

So now you have a way to play all four notes again, and we call this a drop3 voicing because of how it is constructed. I’ll explain the Drop-something concept a bit later.

It is pretty clear how the Shell-voicings and drop3 voicings fit well together because you can treat them as just shell voicings with added notes, and that makes it possible to play short riffs mixing the two:

And of course, it is also useful to take these through a scale. Here’s an F major scale:

With the way Shell voicings are constructed then inversions don’t make sense, but it is more common with Drop3 voicings. For the Fmaj7 that would be:

But, it still is not something you want to spend too much time on. The root position version is by far the one that is used the most. With later voicings like Drop2, the inversions are much more useful.

This was only adding a note to one of the shell-voicing types, let’s look at what happens when you do the same with the other one, which starts adding extensions. That is also what will give you a way to play some smooth progressions using the drop3 which wouldn’t really work right now.

#3 Shell-Derived

The same process with a 5th string shell-voicing would give you this Cmaj7(9):

Because this adds a diatonic 9th to the chord then taking it through the scale does not yield only voicings that you are likely to use:

As I mentioned then there is not a common name for this chord construction, so I made one up for this video. If you have a better suggestion you can always leave a comment.

Together with the drop3, you can add more color to the chords because “more is more”

#4 Drop2 with a bass note

It’s maybe a bit odd to introduce these before I go over Drop2 but I think it makes more sense in linking the chords and how you use them.

You started with a shell-voicing, then added a note to the drop3 and you can even add one more note to create a Drop2. This is probably easier to demonstrate with a G7 chord:

The advantage here is that you really just learn a Shell-voicing

and then add notes to expand your options in terms of what melodies are available:

If you move these through the scale then you get something like this, but they are a bit difficult to play:

These are very practical for chord melody playing, even if some of them are a bit tricky to play.

To get to the Drop2 chords and some other very practical voicings it is useful to look at the smallest possible jazz voicings.

#5 2-Note Shells

Adding notes make things a bit more complicated both in terms of technique and having an overview of what notes are played, so this will make things easier!

When you play in a band then most of the time somebody else is taking care of the bass line, and that means that you don’t have to play that and it might sound better to get out of their way.

Going back to the shell-voicings then that is pretty easy:

For the 5thstring root:

And for the 6th string root:

With these chords you can easily play progressions and you are not very likely to clash with the soloist and get in the bass players way.

You can take these through the scale as well, but maybe you can also just think of the shell-voicing with the root

#6 Triads

If you take the drop2 voicings and remove the root:

Then you are left with a triad. You can see it if you write out the notes as well. Cmaj7 without a C is an Em triad, Dm7 without the D is an F major triad and G7 without a G is a B diminished triad

The biggest advantage here is that you can use this with the inversions as well.

The basic II V I could be:

 

And you can turn that into 2 more II V I progressions using the inversions of these triads, but maybe one of them is a bit mysterious:

The one for the G7(9) is in this case an F major b5 triad,

which sometimes causes a bit of discussion, and you have one more inversion:

The biggest advantage with the triads is that they become something else and are both very flexible and easy to work with for comping and chord solos. They also immediately connect to the next type of voicing:

#7 Drop2

Again you can lean on adding more notes to the shell-voicing and then end up with a Drop2, so the concept stays the same as when there was a bass note:

What Are “Drop Voicings”?

But maybe it is probably also useful to cover what the Drop concept means in voicings, even if that is not something you ever use when you are playing, that is a very common misunderstanding.

It isn’t super complicated. If you look at a root position G7 then you have

Constructing a drop2 is taking the 2nd highest note, D, and moving that down an octave. With a more practical way of playing the notes you have this voicing G7 drop2:

And, in the same way, if you take the 3rd highest note, B, and move that down an octave you have G7 drop3:

Knowing this is nice, but to get anything out of it in your playing then you need the voicings in your fingers and your ears. Just knowing is not knowing, because we don’t have time to think about constructing chords while we play. I think most people who use them never think about constructing them, they just learn the voicings.

With Drop2 it is useful to check out how they move through the key:

and also check out the inversions:

And the inversions make it easy to play chord progressions with smooth movement from chord to chord, like this turnaround:

Drop2 chords are incredibly flexible with what extensions and voicings you can put together, so they are worth the effort to study and way to big to cover in this video, because there are other sounds to explore, and now we can let go of starting with the shell-voicings.

#8 3-part Quartal Voicings

The way you usually construct chords, as you have seen earlier in the video, is usually by stacking 3rds in the scale, so from the G you create a G major triad by adding the B and the D on top

But you could also stack 4th intervals from G, giving you this 3-note chord of G C F:

With quartal voicings it becomes a bit more open, you don’t always have one chord that spells out the sound of the chord but rely on a few to get the sound across. That is also why I did not give this chord a name.

But it is still useful to take the chords through the scale and get some voicings to work with:

And you can put these to use on a II V I like this:

#9 Spread Triads

The construction of Drop2 chords where you move one of the notes down an octave also works very well for triads and can give you some nice open sounds.

If you have an F major triad like this:

And you have inversions for this as well:

You can put this to use on a II V I like this, and notice how beautiful they sound:

Again this works with the inversions as well, and what is great about them is that you can move the voices in beautiful melodies:

Let’s look at some beautiful voicings that are the opposite of open

#10 Cluster-like

It’s difficult to describe these chords with one construction since there are a few similar and common examples. The important part is the minor 2nd interval, and as you will see it is less important to have a complete voicing all the time.

One you want to explore using is, maybe surprisingly, the inversion of the shell-voicings. For Fmaj7 that will be:

And the shell-voicing that leaves out the 3rd and uses the 5th is also a good candidate:

You can use that for a II V I like this, combining it with Cmaj7:

There are more options for this that you can explore, but that is for another video, there are 2 more types of chords that should be mentioned here:

#11 4-Part Quartal Harmony

Similar to the 3-part Quartal harmony you also have 4-part quartal voicings which can sound great, even if they are a bit trickier to fit into progressions.

First, you can check out the chords through the scale, but again I have not given the voicings names, since that is a bit more open with this type of harmony:

You can put them to use on a II V I with an altered dominant like this:

Let’s look at another beautiful type of drop voicing that have sort of a Holdsworth sound to them.

#12 Drop2&4

You already know about the drop2 and drop3 voicings, but a more open version which is also sounds a bit like a colorful version of the spread triads, is Drop2&4.

You can create those by starting with a Cmaj7

which needs to move the 2nd and 4th highest note down an octave, so C and G.

The drop2 version of this chord would be:

and then moving the C down you have:

Taking this through the scale will give you these beautiful chords:

And you can use them as upper-structures as well giving you Fmaj7, Fø and Em7 as a beautiful II V I with an altered dominant:

But what about my favorite chord?

Is there a voicing type that I didn’t cover that happens to be your favorite? Maybe you use a lot of power chords? then let me know in the comments. I know Gilad Hekselman uses drop2&3 quite a lot but, it is as far as I know not that common.

When it comes to playing chords then there are other important things to work on than which voicing to play. You also need to be able to get the rhythms, the phrasing, and the progressions to make sense, and if you want to develop that side of your playing then the exercises in this video will help you level up your skills., and I know that because that is what I practice

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

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

An Amazing Nerdy Chord Exercise

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

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

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

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

Why The Basic Exercises Are Not Enough

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

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

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

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

Learning Is Easier When You Are Not Alone

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

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

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

Not Everything is A Chord!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first chord change going from Ebmaj7 to Edim.

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

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

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

but maybe in some other song, it sounds great?

Beautiful Wrong Notes

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

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

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

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

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

From A Static Voicing To Moving Music!

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

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

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

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

You’re Fired

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

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

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

 

 

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