Gypsy Jazz Harmonics in the Style of Django Reinhardt

A look at the chords, harmonies and changes of Gypsy Jazz to the likes of Django Reinhardt. Learn what makes up the feel and drive of this music.

Gypsy Jazz Harmonics in the Style of Django Reinhardt
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For a quick overview on how to play gypsy jazz, check out this excellent lesson by TheWall27! It covers all the basics. I will be focusing more directly on the harmonic and chords aspect.

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) was one of the most innovative guitarists of all time. At 18, he was injured in a fire, leaving his third and fourth fingers heavily burnt and paralyzed. Years later, he became an amazing player, using only two fingers for soloing (he reportedly managed to use his third and fourth digits for chords).

A lot of the charm and feel of Gypsy jazz is made up by its harmonies. The chords create the strong warm drive and different feels of this music.

We can learn to play hot jazz ourselves (or take inspiration from it) by looking at the harmonies, chords and changes.

Harmonies and Chords

Specific intervals are added in basic major or minor triads to give them extra flavor. The most common are 6ths, 9ths or minor 7ths. Major 7ths and others (13ths, ...) are played less common. These "flavor notes" can be complimentary to the melody or simply used to create a special tension or ring. The notes are mostly spread apart across the strings in high intervals.

Am6

On guitar, most of the chords are movable shapes that you can slide up and down the neck. That makes it easy to play any chords if you shift the shape to the root you want. I marked all the root notes red.

Here are some examples for...

Minor chords (tonic):

E|-------------|-------7-----|------(3)----|
B|-5-----7-----|-6-----6-----|-7-----3-----|
G|-5-----5-----|-4-----7-----|-7-----4-----|
D|-4-----7-----|-7-----------|-5-----2-----|
A|-------7-----|-5-----5-----|-7-----------|
E|-5-----5-----|-------------|(0)---(8)----|

These m6th-chords have a special extra "minor" feel to it and create lots of tension. The m7th and m9th can be very light and uplifting. Their drive is the pulse of many of Django's tunes (eg. "Minor Swing," "Anniversary Song," ...)

Major chords (tonic):

E|-------------|-5-----------|-------------|-------------|
B|-5-----3-----|-5-----5-----|-3-----8-----|-5-----7-----|
G|-4-----4-----|-------2-----|-4-----7-----|-5-----5-----|
D|-5-----2-----|------(2)----|-2-----7-----|-4-----7-----|
A|(5)----------|-3-----3-----|-3-----------|-------7-----|
E|-3-----3-----|-------------|-------8-----|-5-----5-----|
The major-6th-chords have a folky and positive undertone. I hear them more commonly played in slower tempo: "Artillerie Lourde," "Nuages," "A Little love, a Little Kiss..."

Major dominant chords:

E|------------4-----|-8-----3-----|-------------|
B|-7-----7----3-----|-7-----3-----|------(7)----|
G|-7-----5----4-----|(7)----4-----|-------6-----|
D|-6----------------|-------2-----|-5-----5-----|
A|-7-----7----2-----|-5-----------|-4-----------|
E|(0)---(7)---------|------(0)----|-5-----5-----|
You know these. They "want" to be shifted into the tonic.

D7

Diminished chords (dominant):

E|---------------------|
B|-6----3----3----5----|
G|-7----2----1----3----|
D|-7----3----3----4----|
A|------2----2----5----|
E|-7-------------------|
Most tension. Used only rarely in turnarounds or as passing chords.

Here are all the shapes from the chords shown above:

Changes and Progressions

Chord Progressions in Gypsy jazz are often based on bass lines. That's why you'll often have to play a chord voicing with a bass other than the root like:

G/B 7x57xx

C/E x7555x

Am6/E x7577x, Am6/Eb x6577x and so on...

Commonly found progressions are for example:

ii - V - I

in C: Dm9 x5355x - G7 3x353x - C x3555x

i - VI - V - i

in Am: Am6 5x455x - F7 x8786x - E7 x7675x - Am6

At the ends of a musical idea you will often find a "turnaround" (like in blues):

Here's an example in minor:

Am6 Cm6 Bdim E7
E|-----------------------|
B|-5-----8----6-----5----|
G|-5-----8----7-----7----|
D|-4-----7----7-----6----|
A|------------------7----|
E|-5---7-8----7----------|
In major with a bass walk:

C Ebdim Dm7 G7
E|-------------------------|
B|-5-----7------6-----6----|
G|-5-----5------5-----4----|
D|-5-----7------3-----3----|
A|-7-----6------5-----5----|
E|-------------------------|
Other ideas used in hot jazz are chromatic shifts (E7 -> F7) or even bass "walk-ups" (like in bluegrass) to the fourth and fifth like this Am to Dm:

Am6 G/B C6/9 Dbm6 Dm6
E|-----------------------------|
B|-5----------------------10---|
G|-5-----7----9-----9-----10---|
D|-4-----5----7-----8-----9----|
A|-----------------------------|
E|-5-----7----8-----9-----10---|

Try to apply these ideas to any Gypsy jazz (or other!) tune that you like. There is hundreds of Gipsy jazz sheets available in Django Fakebooks like this.

I hope you liked this lesson.

By Saitenstechen

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    shwilly
    By far the coolest lesson I've seen on this site for quite some time! This music has fascinated me for years, but I've never sat down to actually try and figure out how to play it. Many thanks man, keep up the good work!
    F.M.v.Keulen
    I'm an absolute beginner with chords and with guitars, my fingertips of my left hand hurt. Years ago I played earlier from a printed out paper copy the song "Dinah", 2 and 1/2 pages standard notation, because my reported dead mother, Diena van Keulen (Boon)'s name was like that. Also from Traditional Music.co.uk. Not to be found in Free-scores.com. I can't use the library Coda nearby, for am boycotted, so can't make new copy. My younger halfbrother, whom I don't love anymore, because of him locking up my mother, I was her oldest son, played also percussion, had banjo and guitar, would have looked more like Django Reinhardt, sadly enough. He became more powerfull then I, was member of local Fanfare, called Concordia is married has children work still got his driver's license took over controll. I played a minute ago the chords for their sound, won't be able to learn them by heart that doesn't work for me.