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:
- Get out of the way of the bass player so he or she is happy
- 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.
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
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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