Jazz Chords And Progressions

The purpose of this page is to give the curious guitar player some insight of a few different ways to look at what they do with guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Contents- I. Introduction II. Pointers III. Chords IV. Relative Minor V. Dominant Chords VI. Introduction to Modes VII. Progressions Introduction: The purpose of this page is to give the curious guitar player some insight of a few different ways to look at what they do with guitar. To me the term "Jazz" has a universal context, because any musician who wishes to stretch and redefine the rules can call himself that "pioneer." A problem that many guitar players make is that they allow themselves to stay within a simple scope of music, and do not allow their full potential to come out in full form. Do not allow yourself to be subject to "power chord mayhem" any longer. Jazz promotes a smarter, sharper, and culturally inclined individual. With a little work, and some imagination, you too can bring yourself a step closer into the realm of "Jazz-dom." Some initial pointers for the aspiring Jazzer. Okay, with that said the first obvious step is to learn at least some rudimentary Music Theory and basic notation. It is not very hard, you just have to study like you would a subject in school. You have to remember that a Jazz musician can take what is applied to Classical Theory, and take it further, while breaking rules. The second step would be to listen to Jazz of course. I will list some good musicians you can check out (although they all are not guitar players): Wes Montgomery- guitar, Joe Pass- Guitar, John Mclaughlin-Guitar, Miles Davis-trumpet, Louis Armstrong- trumpet, John Coltrane- Sax., Thelonious Monk- Piano (excellent listening), and Charlie Christian-guitar. These are just a few musicians you can check out to get a grip on the sound of jazz. (I tried to include musicians from a wide time range). Listening to Jazz is a great way to subconciously learn Jazz. Okay so now your ready to learn some chords? No, not yet. The one last thing you could consider (that is of relevance at this time) is your guitar setup. If you want to envoke a thicker Jazz sound that has a message (like Wes Montgomery) your not going to do it with your Ibanez shred machine (even though Ibanez does make a fine hollow body guitar). I would suggest an entry level hollow-body guitar from Ibanez, or if you have a good bit of money, an Epihpone Sheraton is an excellent Jazz Guitar. Now for your amp... I would suggest a solid state amp with reverb but not something with a million knobs. For the money, a Roland Cube 30 is a very good buy. You may also try E-bay to find an amp that suits your needs. (If you dont know what you want, but know that you want a Jazz guitar setup, e-mail me and I'll suggest something for your price range if you want me to). A Chord Issue. Hopefully I can make some sense out of this issue. (I am also assuming that you have made at least half the effort to meet some of the stated above pointers). A "Jazz Chord is defined as being one that has added tone or extensions. So if you have a C chord, you can add different tones of a C major scale to it to make it more interesting. Examples would be a C major7, C major6. These are common subtitutes for an average C chord. You can impress your friends when you jam if you throw a chord like that into a progression. (the patterns are moveable and are easily found all around the internet). The same can go with minor chords, so if you are in C major (easy theoretical key), the order of chords would be: C major, D minor (7th), E minor (7th), F major, G major, A minor, B diminished 7th, and then on to C again. If you were to use the number system to outline this it would be: I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viii (dim is a small dot to the upper right), I. When you play the notes of a C major scale.. you are playing C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Those are the notes that make up the scale and tonalities of chords do not matter much if you are just practicing, however, If you go to play an actual chord progression in C. You can use the variety of chords above to shape your progression, then of course you would use the C major scale (and relative minor: ), I'm big on that) to solo over your chord progression (Modes are also useful with this, and all modes are, are when you start the C major scale on a different note of the same scale). I'll explain that for you in a sec. So back to the numbers. All the numbers are, are a system that musicians can use to communicate quicker with each other in jam sessions. a capital roman numeral is a major chord... ex. I (1), IV (4), V (5). a lowercase roman numeral is a minor chord.. ex. ii (2), iii(3) vi ( 6 ) the only exception is the 7th diminished chord which has lowercase roman numerals and a small dot to the upper right (I cannot add it for you on a computer, its just to let you know what it is if you are ever looking at jazz lead sheets). So anytime you see the Major progression, no matter what the key is... it could be written in Numerals to save time transposing if everyone is familiar with the key. The order of those numerals in the major scale is: I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viii (dim is a small dot to the upper right), I. and that goes for the chords I might add in case I did not. So to give you another example... if you were to go by the above matrix... and your band or friends wanted to do a tune in G... you would know by memorizing this (or just knowing it), that if your in G the first chord would be G major of course ( I ), the second chord would be A minor ( ii ), the third chord would be B minor ( iii ), the fourth chord would be C major ( IV ), D major ( V ), E minor ( vi ), F# diminished ( vii ) then to G major ( I ) to complete it. (This is also a useful tool in figuring out simple recorded music because if you know the tune is in G, then you have the chords related to it laid out for you). So back to the minor chords, since the same can apply to minor chords, (you already have a basic foundation of the order of the chords) you can begin to create embellished chord progressions with Major and Minor 7th and 6's. These are great ways to envoke the Jazz feel and once you learn your scales and modes, you can improvise over things that you make up. Other chords that you should learn are: Diminished 7th, 7th, 9 chords, etc. A quick note on Relative Minor. At this time, I would like to mention something about relative minor chords. I think that this one of the most important things for a Jazz guitarist to grasp the concept of. Here is an example: if you take the key of G major, and play the 6th chord of the chords family, which is Eminor... you may notice that they are similar in sound. That is because many of the notes in a G major chord are also in an E minor chord. If you are playing a solo in G major, you can also go up to E minor and play licks there too. This is a very useful little device when you are doing stuff in Major keys and want to get a different sort of feel for it. Dominant Chords: These are chords that other chords just seem to want to lead to. Examples of these are V chords, IV chords, and the I chord. A diminished chord with pull to the one chord. The 3rd and 4th minor chords can pull either to the I, IV, or V depending on how youwant it to sound. Same goes for the V chord. The V chords are used many times to end a progression and begin another. (or the repeat the measures). About Modes. This is very hard for me to explain with out being there to show you or without Scale diagrams.. Now that you know each Note in the major scale has a different chords with it... you can derive that I scale also goes with each of those chords. There are called "Modes". If you know your major scale then you know evey mode. All you have to do is start the scale on a different note. So.. for instance if you wanted to play the second mode in C ( D minor), you would play the following notes: D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D. Do you see the relation of this scale to the C major scale? If you take the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C... Notice that the above scale is the same really but only starts on a different note. The same would go for all the degrees of the scale. Once you learn all of those and the chords, you can build very good sounding little peices. I hope that this has helped you significantly. I know for sure it helped me.. and I also understand that you may not have a deep understand of music theory. It okay actually... Just start out by learned the notes of the guitar neck (If you have not yet). To get you started the order of the notes starting with the Open low "E" are: E (open), F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E again (that should be the 12th fret). If you know what octaves are.. then you can figure out with some practice all the notes on the neck. Progressions. A good progression to start off with is the I, IV, V. 4/4 timing 12 measures. C minor
  Cmin7    Cmin7     Cmin7     Cmin7     Fmin7     Fmin7
/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | 

  Cmin7     Cmin7    Gmin7     Fmin7     Cmin7     Gmin7

/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |
This is a fun little progression to tinker with your minor soloing. Here is a Blues Progression: 4/4 12 measures in Key of C7.
   C7       F9        C7         C7       F9        F9

/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | 

   C7       C7        G9         F9       C7        G9

/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |
This is a good chord progression to jam on Blues. Here is one last fun little Jazzy Diddy I made up just for this purpose.
  Amin7      D9       Amin7     D9       Amin7     Fmaj7

/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | 

   E7#9    Bmin7       E7      Amin9      G13      Amin7

/ / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |
I realize that the lines on the progression above may not appear correctly. Just e-mail me if you have any question at all. I am happy to help anyone. If it takes me a while to get to you, don't worry I haven't forgotten. - Eric K B (Guitarplayer8888@aol.com)

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    hey man, awesome lesson, i really didnt understand anything you sayed about theory, or modes, or even the roman numerals but i got what i came for, some basic jazz chords, so thnx man
    Spamwise wrote: Isn't the third chord in a key major, not minor? good lesson anyway.
    The 3rd chord is minor, the flat 3rd is major. In Cmajor, Em or Eb.
    Iwould have to second that ii-V-I is most popular. I really must commend you on the lesson though
    Great lesson. I want to just add that the ii-V-I progression is by far the most widely used progression in Jazz, and that modulation and voice leading (the progression and voicings used) are just as important, and in fact, moreso, than the chords themselves. I don't think we can call any chord a "JAZZ CHORD", because you'll find just as many maj/min7s, dominants, and tensions in good pop music, and especially in funk. It's the progression itself, and modulation that matters most.
    if you're unsure how to play some of those chords, go here: www.looknohands.com Click on chordhouse and choose your thingy...
    I actually read all of it and it all came in handy mostly, good lesson
    el conrado
    I know quite a few chords but not many moveabale jazz chords. does anyone know a source tht can tell me common jazz chords
    in those last few progressions, how would you fret those chords? like E7#9, G9, G13, etc..
    That is actually called the "D" dorian mode, I think you have the same problem as I did when I first learnt about modes, I thought if you played from different degrees of the scale (Dorian or Phyrigan in C) you would name them after the key note, but you actually name them after the root note (D Dorian and E Phyrigan) make sense? if not please feel free to e mail me your questions at Sabbath@vodafone.ie
    So.. for instance if you wanted to play the second mode in C ( D minor), you would play the following notes: D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D
    isnt that C Dorian???