The Jazz Guitar Chords

As a guitar teacher with decades of experience, I know how overwhelming it can be to make the switch to jazz guitar from acoustic. If you can understand the basic chords for Jazz guitar, the sky really is the limit for your mastery over this complex instrument.

Let’s get right into it and outline what a jazz guitar chord is and which ones you need to know about to become a pro on this musical instrument.

What is a Jazz Chord?

First, let’s explain that there is no such thing as a definitive jazz guitar chord. There are specific types of chords that jazz musicians and composers tend to use in their work. Most rock and pop music requires only three-note triads, on the other hand.

So, instead of just playing C, A, Bm, Dm with a m7 chord or two added to the mix, you’ll be doing extensions beyond those triads with four, six, and five-note chord shapes. Playing those same chords as Dm9, A7b12 etc., is the result of these triads. In other words, there aren’t any jazz chords that are specifically for jazz, but you would be using these as a guideline.

You may be new to these chords, but given enough time you’ll slowly begin to gain confidence using them. You’ll also start to pick out these extended chords as you play them over the course of your work with this instrument.

Chords You Need to Know

No matter what, you should know the following chords before you begin your work with jazz guitar:

• Major 7

• Minor 7

• Minor 9

• Dominant 9

• Min7b5

• Dom7#5

• Diminished 7

These basic chords will help you gain a better foundation before you explore the more complex chords in jazz music.

Practicing Beginner Chords

Before you move on to practicing more complex chords, perfect your beginner chords. First, ensure that each note of the chord is clean and easily heard once strummed. Don’t be afraid to take things slowly at first to get comfortable with the new shape of your fingers on the fretboard.

Next, experiment with moving the chord up and down the fret board. This enables you to get a feel of how you’ll play later on, and helps you gain knowledge you previously didn’t have. You can also switch back and forth from different chords. Increase you speed slowly as you change chords. After you’ve done all this, bring together your new skills with a jazz standard that resonates with you.

Conclusion

Jazz guitar chords aren’t completely different from standard guitar chords, but they do require a different set of skills. When you practice your basic chords, you’ll begin to stretch your musical interests and eventually be competent in a new form of musical instrument. Embrace these chords and start practicing today. The sooner you begin to practice, the sooner you’ll master the jazz guitar.

Learn The Jazz Language

When I first started playing in a band as a keyboard player, I was not familiar with the speaking part of the music language, as a musician. Sometimes as musicians, we get introspective and start looking at why we play patterns or chord progressions the way we do.

A wonderful comparison between speech language and improvising in music is that everyone learns to speak and have a conversation, as well as write in our given language. Unfortunately, many musicians never learn the “speaking” portion of the musical language.

When I first started taking piano lessons, I was classically trained to read all the notes on the music staff. After several years of advancing through different levels of music books and applying lots of music theory, I still wasn’t able to find a music teacher who wasn’t afraid of improvisation.

In short, music educators were not taught the history and evolution of improvisation in “classical” music. During the baroque period of music, improvising was a basic part during that time. Musicians needed to learn this skill in order to work together effectively.

Some say it is a skill that one learns unconsciously, without effort and fear. So it is with my grandchildren who are learning a verbal language. Hopefully, no longer talking like a baby but the English language. They seem to improvise with that language every time they have a conversation with someone.

So, we learn to read and write the language and that means we need to learn grammar. But with music, we learn it differently. Most musicians, including myself, learn to read the music notes at first but we can’t speak with one another unless we’re looking at the notes. We simply do not know how to “jam.”

When I first came across a very popular website online that teaches one how to play by ear, I would read about how easy it is to read the language of music and that it was not difficult to play by ear.

I was challenged at first because I could hear the difference in my playing without sheet music compared with the pros. It is necessary to have something worth saying when you speak the Jazz language. There is a huge difference between a beginner improviser and a great one. It’s not about skill, technique or memorization, but it’s about the concept and content.

As a piano teacher, I am trying to stay balanced with my students in finding the balance with their technique and developing their musical personality and composition.

A great tip is recording your self. Play the keys and playback your song and analyze the harmony and rearrange things a bit. The more you practice and get familiar with your instrument, your style becomes more fluid. Then you’ll merge more with the other band members.

When I play with a group of musicians that I have known for quite sometime, you can just feel the chemistry. A transformational event takes place when we are playing live and we become one unified voice.

After all, improvising is the art of making up music on the spot. It is fun to learn the Jazz language.