How to Play Chords Like Jeff Buckley, Part 3

More Jeff Buckley chord ideas to inspire your own playing.

Ultimate Guitar
Welcome to the third and final lesson on Jeff Buckley style chord playing. I'll be referring to a lot of the ideas I talked about in part 2, so if you haven't already then check it out! 

Example 1 is the bridge and outro of "Lover You Should've Come Over" (2:47). It is an ascending chord sequence that uses the open B & E strings to create interesting harmonies. Here are the chord shapes, listen to the song for the timing and strumming rhythm.

D/F# Gm6 A6/9 G/B A/C# C/E D6/9
Notice that the G/B, A/C# and C/E chords are all exactly the same shape. The A6/9 and D6/9 shapes are similar to these shapes, and could also be written as F#m/A and Bm/D respectively. Despite being the same shape, each chord has a slightly different sound due to the way the open strings work with it.

I won't delve too much into the theory of this part because it's more of an ear-led thing. What is important is to get these new shapes under your fingers and try to use them in your own songs. You can use the G/B chord in place of regular G chords, and likewise A/C# and C/E in place of A and C chords. As always, use your ears to judge whether they work in particular places or not.

Here are the chord shapes moved up a set of strings so the root note is on the A string instead of the E string:

C/E D/F# E/G
As always, experiment and come up your own shapes!

Example 2 shows Jeff using a jazz-influenced chord progression in the song "Lover You Should've Come Over" (1:18). For those who haven't ventured into the dark world of jazz, the ii-V-I chord progression is a main element of the genre, and is the central chord progression behind jazz tunes like "Autumn Leaves," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "All the Things You Are." You can find more information about the ii-V-I chord progression here. In this case we're dealing with a minor ii-v-i, as the progression resolves to B minor.

C#m7b5 F#7#5 Bm
The main point here is that the V chord is an altered V chord, containing the #5 interval that gives the chord more tension. Again these chord types are very common in jazz music but rarely make it to pop or alternative music. Stevie Wonder's music is another place to find jazzy extended chords in pop music.

Here are two more altered chords you can play here, I've simply added an extra note onto the 1st string. The first chord contains the b9 and the second has the #9. These are big jazz chords so might be a bit of a stretch, but if you're playing with a bass player then you can omit the note on the 6th string and just play the top 4 notes.

F#7#5b9 F#7#5#9 Bm
Example 3 is from "Eternal Life" (2:58) and is an interesting chord progression of C#m7b5 - C - F#7 - Fmaj7. These chords are entirely undiatonic, meaning they don't all belong within one key. The F#7 can be seen as an example of Tritone Substitution, a common technique in jazz where a dominant chord is substituted with the dominant chord a tritone away. Jeff studied at MI in LA for a year so he was likely aware tritone substitution, but he may have simply used the chord because he liked the sound of it. More info about tritone substitution here.

In this case the F#7 is a tritone substitution for C7, which is the V chord of F, and therefore resolves to the Fmaj7 chord at the end.

C#m7b5 C

F#7 Fmaj7
We can extend all 4 chord using open strings to get some really tasty sounding chords:

C#m7b5 Cmaj7 F#11 Fmaj#11
If the last 2 chords are hard to finger then omit the notes on the 5th string.

The F#11 chord has a sound reminiscent of bands like Rush and Dream Theater ("Overture 1928" and "A Change of Seasons") and the Fmaj7#11 is almost identical to the chords from "Mojo Pin" and "Grace" that I looked at in Part 2

The bridge of "Grace" (2:59) is Example 4, and features 6/9 chords. 6/9 chords are like Sixth chords, but feature the 9th interval as well as the 6th. It's also not a big deal if these chords don't have the 3rd, so they can sound ambiguous like suspended chords, meaning they're not major or minor.

The shape Jeff uses here is played (again in drop-D) by barring across a fret and adding the 3rd finger on the G string. He keeps this shape the same and moves up and down to the following frets:

Eb6/9 G6/9 A6/9 Ab6/9 G6/9 E6/9
Here are some standard tuning friendly shapes to try, all in G.

Example 5 is the strummed triplets in the bridge of "Mojo Pin" (3:45). The chords used are a simple shape played over an open D string. Because of the open D string in the bass, all the chords are some variation of a D chord. I'd hazard a guess that Jeff came up with this part by simply moving the shape up and down the fretboard and using his ears to determine which positions sounded like what he was trying to achieve.
Example 6 is the chords from the verse of "So Real" (0:11). Listen to the recording to get the timing right as it's a little tricky at first. I really like this part as it offers some insight into how Jeff wrote his songs. Here are the chord shapes:

Edim E5 D6 A6 G C Bm
Notice how the D6 and A6 are the same shapes but in different positions, and the G C and Bm chords are all the same shape moved up and played with the open D and G strings ringing. You can also notice how smoothly the E5 chord leads to the D6 chord. This part was most likely written by Jeff jamming with his guitar and using his ears as a guide, as opposed to relying on theory to come up with a chord sequence.

The outro of "So Real" (3:25) is Example 7. The part itself is quite complex both rhythmically and harmonically, and is easier to learn by listening to it then by me attempting to write it out perfectly. Instead I've included a simplified version that simply shows the main chord shapes Jeff uses. Use the recording for timing and strumming.

Gsus2add Bm Gm Am
Here we have a new chord, the Gsus2add6 at the beginning. This is like a variation of the standard open-position G chord, only more colourful as it contains the 2nd and the 6th. This shape can be used in place of regular G chords in other application for a richer sound.

For the Bm chord Jeff keeps the 7th fret on the 6th string and the open D string the same, but plays about with the top two notes to create a melody within the chord part. The notes he changes are notated in brackets above, listen to the recording to hear it in action.

He then plays between a Gm chord and an Am chord. He lets the D string ring out in both chords, which has a really cool effect on the Am chord. Compositionally the Gm chord sounds so dark because it is G minor instead of G major, and we're in the key of D / Bm at this point in the song. This is another use of a minor IV chord that we also found in "Lover You Should've Come Over" in part 1

Finally, the whole outro is super-cool because it alternates between being a 4 bar phrase and a 3 bar phrase; every second time he plays it he skips the last bar. Listen to the riff and count the bars to see what I mean.

Example 8 is a cool idea from "Mojo Pin." In verse 1 & 2 at 0:53 Jeff is playing simple C6 to Am arpeggios using the following shapes:

C Am
However as the song builds in intensity and gets darker the harmony of this part changes slightly. Listen to verse 3 at 4:04 and notice that the bass is outlining slightly different chords; now it's going between F and A. The F underneath the C6 chord creates the sound of an Fmaj7 chord. If we want to incorporate this new bass note into the guitar part we can play the chords as so:

Fmaj7 Am Fmaj7 Am
e|------0-------0--------|    e|------0-------0--------|
B|------1-------1--------|   B|------1-------1--------|
G|------2-------2--------|   G|------2-------2--------|
D|------2-------2--------| or D|------3-------2--------|
A|--------------0--------|   A|--------------0--------|
E|------1----------------|   E|-----------------------|
Notice the notes on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings don't change, just the lowest bass note has changed. This is a really cool device that isn't so obvious but can subtly change the mood of a guitar part.

Our final example is from "Last Goodbye" (3:03) and is a great chord part that features the same top notes while the bassnote underneath changes. We've in open G tuning for this song (D G D G B D) and we have some changing melody notes being played on the 2nd string. Here are our chord shapes:

D (sus4) Aadd11 Gmaj7 (G6)

Remembering what I said about slash chords, the last two chords here can also be thought of as D/A and D/G. Essentially the top 4 strings are a D chord and we're just moving about the bass part to A and then G.

Although the above chords sound harmonically complex, this is a super-simple guitar part and is really easy to play once you get the shapes under your fingers. I use my 1st finger for the notes on the 5th and 6th strings, the 2nd finger on the 3rd string, the 3rd finger on the 2nd string and then my pinky to add the 8th fret on the 2nd string. For the 5th fret at the end I use my 1st finger. Playing it like that, the 2nd and 3rd fingers don't move throughout nearly the whole part (they move for that last note).

What I want you to take from this is just how simple and individual this little part is. It's not complicated to play but it still sounds great on its own and in the context of the song it fits perfectly. I think Jeff would have come up with part just jamming out with his guitar, as opposed to overthinking chord shapes and theory. Learn the chords, get their shapes under your fingers and their sound in your ears, but remember to sometimes forget about all of that and just play what's right for the song.


Another point to note about Jeff is his use of different tunings. Whilst most of the songs on "Grace" are in standard tuning, "Mojo Pin" and "Lilac Wine" are in drop D tuning, "Hallelujah" is played with a capo on the 5th fret for a brighter sound, "Last Goodbye" is played in open G tuning (D G D G B D), and "Corpus Christi Carol" is played in open Gsus2 tuning (D G D G A D) with a capo on the 7th fret. This second tuning is identical to open G but with the 2nd string detuned from B to A, the 2nd of G. His playing on "Last Goodbye" and "Corpus Christi Carol" show that he was confident playing his musical ideas in alternative tunings, probably due to his fantastic ear for harmony. 

Finally, it is worth noting that I haven't really looked at any of his songs from albums other than "Grace," as I'm not as familiar with them and haven't transcribed them. For anyone wanting to delve deeper into his playing style, check out the albums "Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk," "Grace (Legacy Edition)" and "Live at Sin-é" and try to listen for unique and interesting chord ideas. His live videos are also fantastic to watch as he sometimes varies the guitar parts from the album recorded versions. 

This concludes my 3-part series on Jeff Buckley chord ideas, I hope you learnt as much from reading them as I did from writing them. We've covered 6th chords, slash chords, moving shapes with open strings, jazz chord ideas and learnt a whole bunch of new chord shapes for use in our own songs. Thanks for checking the lessons out and if you have any requests for more lessons on specific guitarists or musical ideas then please comment below or send me a message. Thanks again!

About the Author:
This article was written by Dan Carr, a professional musician and guitarist from London, England.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great lesson! I just had one little comment. The C#m7b5 is technically correct but it's much simpler to just say it's a C#dim7. I know it's a really small thing but it's easier to interpret when looking over it.
    No because a C#dim7 has both a diminished 5 and b7 (i.e. a bb7 = a 6th), and there's no A# in the chord. So C#m7b5 is correct.
    you are correct in azz you call it a whatever flat 5 in classical you would say half diminished different ways of saying the same thing though
    sorry I was referring to half diminished, forgot to mention that. thanks for the heads up
    Rebel Scum
    I like playing the chorus of So Real with my middle finger on the 11th fret on the A string for the first two chords. Adds a bit more tension and makes muting the D string easier.