Jazz Chords

This lesson will be about common jazz chords, how they are written, and common ways to play them.

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This lesson will be about common jazz chords, how they are written, and common ways to play them. And common practices to sightread them. I highly recommend reading my other lesson, "Identifying Intervals", I use a lot of that information in this lesson. The Dominant Seventh. The dominant 7th chord is the most used chord in jazz. A dominant seven is a flatted 7th. A dominant 7th chord consists of the Root note, the Major 3rd, an optional 5th, and the dominant 7th. A Dominant (or minor 7th). 7th can be identified when you have a note on the same fret, two strings above. It is sometimes called a "Major Minor" chord.
   C7
|--8---------|
|--8-----5---|
|--9--3--3---|
|--8--2--5---|
|--10-3--3---|
|--8---------|
The Major Seventh Chord. This can be a really nice sounding chord if played and used correctly. The Major 7 chord consists of the root note, the major 3rd, an optional 5th (makes the chord sound fuller in this case), and the Major Seventh. The major seventh is a step below the octave. The major 7th chord is usually notated in jazz as a maj7, because if it just said 7, it would imply Dominant. This chord is sometimes referred to as a "Major Major" chord, or a Delta chord.
  Cmaj7
|--8-----3---|
|--8-----5---|
|--9--4--4---|
|--9--2--5---|
|--10-3--3---|
|--8---------|
The Minor Seventh Chord. This chord is also extremely common in a lot of forms in music. The -7 Chord consists of the root, the minor 3rd, optional 5th, and the minor/flat seven. A common way to notate this in jazz sheet music is either like -7, m7, or min7.
   Cm7
|------------8--|
|--8---4-----8--|
|--8---3--3--8--|
|--8---5--1--8--|
|------3--3-----|
|--8------------|
9th Chords. A 9th chord comes in a few different ways. The 9th is a compound Second interval. It can be an added voice to either a minor or dominant 7th chord. The 9 ALWAYS implies the 7th in the chord unless it is written ass an add9 chord. When simply stated as a C9, it consists of the 1, M3, P5, m7, M9. The -9, m9, or min9 chords are the same thing, but with a minor 3rd.
   C9
|------------|
|-----3------|
|--7--3------|
|--8--2------|
|--7--3------|
|--8---------|

   Cm9
|--10--------|
|--8---3-----|
|--7---3-----|
|--8---1-----|
|--10--3-----|
|--8---------|
b5 or Half Diminished Chords. Flat 5 chords are all too common in jazz. Almost in every jazz song in a minor key. The ii chord in a ii v i progression is half diminished. The b5 chord is played like a Minor 7 chord, but the 5th is flat. When playing in a combo or ensemble, it almost 100% necessary to add the b5 in this chord. It can also be notated as a circle with a slash through it, meaning half diminished.
   Cm7(b5)
|------------|
|------4-----|
|--8---3-----|
|--8---4-----|
|--9---3-----|
|--8---------|
Diminished Chords. Fully Diminished chords are used a lot in fast paced jazz. It's the same thing as the Half Diminished chord, only the 7th is boubly flat. bb7, if you will. It's very complicated to play, I'll admit. In the third example, the root is in the high voice. This chord is not the most beautiful thing ever. Sometimes notated as just a small circle.
   Cdim 
|---------8--| 
|------4--7--|
|--8---2--8--|
|--7---4--7--|
|--9---3-----|
|--8---------|
13th Chords. 13th chords have a little debate going on with guitarists. In classical music and technical theory, a true 13 chord consists of the 1, 3, 5, m7, 9, 11, and 13. But in classical writing, You only need the 1, 3, 5, m7, and 13, because there aren't enough parts, or fingers to have the 9 and 11. So, for what were learning here, you should only voice the 1, 3, 5, m7, and 13. And maybe omit the 5, it's sorta redundant at this point. The 13 is a compound 6th.
C13    
|------5------|
|--10--5------|
|--9---3------|
|--8---5------|
|------3------|
|--8----------|
6th Chords. Simply put, the 1, 3, 5, and 6. A happy little chord.
C6
|-----5------|
|--8--5------|
|--9--5------|
|--7--5------|
|--7--3------|
|--8---------|
Minor Delta Chords. Okay, in the key of Harmonic minor, which is natural minor with a raised 7th, means your tonic chord would be this awkward, relatively bad sounding chord. So, basically its a minor chord, but with a Major 7th, it's a relatively uncommon chord, but hey, it's out there. Sometimes called a Minor Delta, or a Minor Major chord. It can be notated like I have it, or a minor chord, with a triangle, which stands for Delta.
  Cm(maj7)
|-8---3-------|
|-8---4-------|
|-8---4-------|
|-9---5-------|
|-10--3-------|
|-8-----------|
Altered Chords. Altered chords are pretty much self explanatory. They pretty much alter the chord slightly to give different feels, or to create chromatic voicings from other chords. Like if a chord says Cm7(b9), You'd play the 1, m3, 5, m7, and b9. Not too much to cover on this, you just have to figure out the voicings for yourself on the spot, there are way to many to Cover. Altered Bass Chords. Altered bass chords are also self explanatory. Most of the time, guitarists do not have to worry about them because it usually means the bass is hitting the note. Basically, in an altered bass chord, it is signified with a slash, with another note next to it which should be in the bass. Same thing with these go with altered chords, you have to figure out the voicings yourself because there are just to many to cover in a lesson.

How To Use These Shapes

Okay, so you got all this down, but you still can't keep up in your jazz band with the chords because you don't have them all "memorized". Well, all you really need to know is how to form most of these shapes, and move them around on the neck. All of these chords are movable. They are all different forms of C chords, of you move them all up a whole step, they will become different forms of D chords. That should be simple. So, all you really need to do is find your fifth and sixth string roots of the chords, and place the root note on the correct note. My words of advice: you don't need to memorize the entire fretboard for this, I'd just get extremely familiar with the 6th and 5th strings, where most of these chords should be played. It's bad to play a 6th string root F chord, because it's so close to the nut and not all the notes are clear as you'd like them to be. It's also not the best idea to play a 5th string root G, because that's really high up there and the guitar will stick out a lot more than you'd like it too in a combo. A comfortable spot to play these chords is from a 6th string G and the 5th string G. (in standard tuning, of course). When looking at a piece of sheet music with chords on it. The most common strumming pattern would be to follow a "2 and 4" type pattern, accent the second, and fourth beats, and hit the bass note on 1 and 3. Hitting the bass note on 1 will give you an extra beat to get your fingers ready for the rest of the chord. It takes a long time to get used to sightreading chords like this, I still have trouble myself. When I first started in a high school jazz band, I was completely lost, nobody to help me. I learned that the easiest way I could sightread was to play powerchords on the root of the chord being played. This got me familiar with the 5th and 6th string notes and how jazz patterns usually move. Although this sounded really really really bad in the music, it was start and helped me down the line with fluency. Then I played the basic bar chords after I could comprehend dominant, major, and minor 7 chords. This is fine if you can play it like this. It is a really good thing to leave out the 5 of the chords, because it only makes chords more filled out, which isn't really jazzy in my opinion, which is the only part of bar chords I don't like. Once you get used to the voicings that do not require the fifth, you will notice the difference. It takes a lot of time, practice, experience, and the will to learn in order to become a fluent chord reader. Do not expect to get these as you read them. Print them out, look over a page in "The Real Book" or any other sheet of music, look through it, practice sightreading over it, and go to the next one, and repeat. That's it for now, I hope somebody learned something from this.

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    mis.po
    Just two remarks on the Cm9 diagram: -10- -8-- -7-- -8-- -10- -8-- 1) it requires too many fingers 2) it lacks the minor 3rd which makes it a minor chord thus the more realistic fingering would be: -10- x---- -8-- (E flat) -8-- x---- -8-- Both G's are omitted here, making it even more "jazzy"
    bamsenn
    thank you!!! i was hoping someone else would notice this and post what was needed!
    SethMegadefan
    Well, I like the concept of this lesson a lot. I really do. I'm not too big on jazz chords yet, and this is seriously a rock solid awesome guide to a bunch of stuff I've been meaning to learn. So I thank you for that. However, it would've been nice if you would've explained more on how to use these chords, as opposed to how to just form them. Like, you explained what notes a dominant seventh chord has, yet explained no theory as to where you'd use a dominant seventh chord. For instance, if you're in the key of C, which dominant seventh chord would you use? G7, because it's the fifth of C. In many instances, you could've pointed out things like that, or so I personally thought. Other than that, this was still a great lesson. I really got a lot out of it. Nice job; 9/10.
    miller30times
    kind of sort of confused but expected when i just learn regular chords...lol and i only have 5 figures not 12 or so...well it looks like u need 12 figures alot of frets to be held at once...i'm such a nob..but i'll just keep playing reading, studing playing some more reading some more and i'm sure i'll get it all some day...only been playing for 4 months shrugs oh well
    Peanut1614
    Umm you dont need a fifth for maj7 chords? And muting strings can have an advantage is you want to remove, for example, the fifth to give the chord a less 'filled out' feel.
    AiryckD
    Your lessons are great!! I really hope you write more! A Jazz Chord Part II would be a welcome addition.
    GuitarMunky
    for your Major 7th chord voicings: A jazz player would practically never play the voicing you gave. The root is generally avoided in the melody on a maj 7th chord. Also Jazz guitarists more commonly use 4 note voicings and their inversions. If you took out the 1st string and the 5th, you would then have a more commonly used maj 7th jazz voicing. While the chords you list have the "correct" notes in them, they are not presented in a way that is consistant with how jazz players would play them.
    fatboy1969
    outstanding lesson thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and talent i learned
    paynee89
    Wow - i understand all that but applying it to the guitar will take me ages, i play trumpet currently and have jus picked up the guitar... great lesson though - hope i'm that good in a few years. Haha
    coffeeguy9
    ^Nope, the seventh is in the bass in that chord. Btw guys, some of the chord shapes aren't meant to be played exactly how they are written here, more like to show you where certain intervals would be. like that first maj7 voicing, its impossible and impractical, but still you can use it to find a voicing that fits. I mean, it's jazz, make it your own.
    eaglemike
    this is nice, helped me alot with some stuff ive been trying to work out for a few weeks now... thanks!
    floutist
    um, no you don't. you still need a fifth for a maj7, and muting a string you can play has no advantage.
    The string is muted as a result of the fingering of the chord.
    allislost
    @coffeeguy9 The first maj7 voicing is not impossible. I've been playing that chord in some progressions and it sounds good. But i do admit that the other voicing provided in the comments is easier to play. BTW i just found this page... so yeah...
    Punk Poser
    6th Chords and 13th chords are not the same thing. 6th chords are chords with the MAJOR 7th being replaced by the 6th. They can not be used in place of a 7th chord, only a major 7th. 13's can be used in the place of the 7th chord and both have the minor 7th. Also, those barre voicings you provided are not sufficient as jazz chords. Furthermore, your advice is not sufficient for big band guitarists and obviously you still have trouble reading charts because you aren't doing it correctly.
    coffeeguy9
    Punk Poser wrote: 6th Chords and 13th chords are not the same thing. 6th chords are chords with the MAJOR 7th being replaced by the 6th. They can not be used in place of a 7th chord, only a major 7th. 13's can be used in the place of the 7th chord and both have the minor 7th. Also, those barre voicings you provided are not sufficient as jazz chords. Furthermore, your advice is not sufficient for big band guitarists and obviously you still have trouble reading charts because you aren't doing it correctly.
    Someone certainly fails to read my comments. The chords I gave were shapes, not voicings. Sorry for the confusion. You only have to play a few of the notes in some of the shapes I made. The Maj7 one for example, you don't need to play all 6 strings, maybe just the 6th, 4th, and 3rd strings to fill out the chord as needed. And I assure you, I can read big band music sufficiently. Probably better than you.
    howangcturtle
    Agree with below, and can you give us a lesson on turning a normal song structure into a more jazz structure?
    FeenicksFlayme
    very nice lessons i just started jazz band in high school because i thought it would be a good decision. I thought that i should focus on my rhythm skills more and become chord guru. First day i felt really stupid but my guitar teacher helped out. Just a few pointers all dominant chords are interchangeable. If you can't remember how to play a 13th for some reason you can a sub a dominant 7th or 6th. Same goes with altered, maj, and min chords. Also, the fifth is optional because it is not a tone defining note. only the third and 7th are. That's why the fifth is not played in most jazz. And finally a double flat seventh is a double flat seventh, even if it is a sixth. There's a reason, if you want to write a diminished seventh as a opposed to a half-diminished seventh (root, flat 3rd, flat 5th, flat 7th), the actual formula is 1, b3, b5, bb7.
    logcabinjohn
    I think one of the tricks on playing jazz guitar, or for that matter any guitar, is knowing what not to worry about. One thing that can be ignored is the names of the notes being played - other than the tonic. After that you only need to know the numerical relationship of the notes of whatever scale you are on, to the tonic. So learn tonic on one of the base strings and then always know where the third, fifth, seventh etc. with respect to that tonic. In fact I think that should be the first lesson for every new guitar player. It makes everything that follows so much easier. Does this make sense to anyone?
    logcabinjohn
    I think one of the tricks on playing jazz guitar, or for that matter any guitar, is knowing what not to worry about. One thing that can be ignored is the names of the notes being played - other than the tonic. After that you only need to know the numerical relationship of the notes of whatever scale you are on, to the tonic. So learn tonic on one of the base strings and then always know where the third, fifth, seventh etc. with respect to that tonic. In fact I think that should be the first lesson for every new guitar player. It makes everything that follows so much easier. Does this make sense?
    grunge_kid
    well you do need a 5th if your playing diminished or aug chords other wise it would be a minor or a major ...i think, dont hold me to it these are just my thoughts
    kennethdave
    Hey its a good lesson, been wanting to get somethin different instead of playing rock, metal and blues...by the way, i can't seem to find your other article, identifying intervals?
    5:15_Whofan
    could have been more in depth. i hope you do that at a later date. maybe some inversions or differences in voicings and names. 8/10
    wasp2020
    Excellent! I was just looking for a jazz chord lesson!I'm trying to get through an online jazz lesson (type it in google, it's a huge one, first thing) - but it's hard to grasp some of the progressions as it doesn't give you tab (which is very useful when trying to distinguish 9ths and 7ths and 13ths etc... apart from each other in different voicings). So thanks. But yeah, considering that, I think you should have included some uses for the chords too. That and your second last paragraph dragged on a bit. But excellent 9/10
    cmonfeelthenoiz
    just to throw this out there, if you break down any 6 chord, it coresponds to a 7th chord. for instance, c maj6 is an inversion of a min7, and so on.
    Brandon_leigh
    I'm gonna print it, put it in my favorites mail it to all my friends and learn some jazz :p yayy!! Thanks a lott :d
    coffeeguy9
    mis.po: I have no idea what I was thinking... wow thats bad, I use the second voicing I mentioned almost 95% of the time.
    MAINCORE2
    Wow! i never thought the jazz cords were so easy once you know the basics when i first herd jazz i was confused i guess im an ediot if i thoght it was hard.
    floutist
    While this is a sweet lesson, some of your fingering/layout of the chords use one too many notes (as mis.po previously stated). For example: When you finger the Fmaj7, off the E string, the A string is muted. Fmaj7: -- -1 -2 -2 -x -1 -- I
    joeyramoney
    a "doubly flat seventh" is a sixth. maybe you could have given a few pointers as to how to use these chords.
    joeyramoney
    For example: When you finger the Fmaj7, off the E string, the A string is muted. Fmaj7: -- -1 -2 -2 -x -1 --
    um, no you don't. you still need a fifth for a maj7, and muting a string you can play has no advantage.
    coffeeguy9
    You don't "Need" a fifth in a chord, it gives the chord no definition unless it is diminished.
    mis.po
    The simplified version posted by floutist is perfectly sufficient. All 4 notes (for Fmaj7 there is a nice mnemonic FACE) are included, with the fifth on B string. I would also add this Fmaj7 variation on the 5th fret: -5-- -5-- -5-- -7-- -8-- x---