Lyman Lipke from Jazz and Grass here again. I wrote an article a couple weeks ago giving an introduction to jazz. I’m going to talk about common chord types in jazz and how you can voice them simply on the guitar.
Yeah, we all want to play the scales and the notes, but we need a solid grasp of the harmony before we can play super sick solos. And 90% of the time, while we’re playing jazz, we’re going to be playing chords for other soloists, so I think it’s the perfect place to start.
My philosophy on chords and changes is a relatively simple one. There are nuances and a few rules that I like to adhere to, but I’ll keep it basic for now. To me, there are 3 types of chords; Major, Minor and Dominant. For the following examples, I’ll use C as the chord in question. C CMaj7 CMaj9 C6 and C69 fall into the major family. Cm, Cm7, Cm11, Cm9, Cm6 and (to a lesser extent), Cm7b5 fall into the minor family. The tricky one is the dominant family. A dominant chord is a chord that has a major 3rd and a minor 7th, and can also include alterations. I also include augmented and diminished chords in the dominant family. A few examples of a dominant chord could be C7, C7b9, C13, C7#5, C#dim7, C7#11 and many others. I won’t get too deep into altered chords, but I’ll include a few examples of common altered chord movements.
Now that I’ve explained a simplified framework of how I conceptualize chords, I’ll give you four shapes of the following chord types: Major, Minor, Dominant, Half-Diminished (m7b5) and Altered Dominant. I’ll be using C as the root for each chord type. There’s a lot of information here, if you’re an absolute jazz beginner, start with major type, minor type and dominant type. Once you’ve got those voicings down, use them to play over the chords from example 1. Once you’ve got a grip over that, go ahead and move on to half diminished types and altered dominant types, and work on example 2.
These typically function as a I(1) chord or a IV(4) chord. They all include an E natural, the major 3rd. D, B and A are also acceptable color tones to play over this chord. F# can be acceptable, especially if the chord has a IV function.
These chords can function as ii(2), iii(3) or vi(6) chords. The last voicing might sound a little funny if it’s functioning as a iii chord, use over iii with caution. All of these chords contain an E flat, the minor 3rd B flat, the minor 7th is also typically included. D is an acceptable color tone over ii and vi function chords. F is also an acceptable color tone.
These chords typically function as a V(5) chord, but there are some exceptions, but we can save that for later. They each include an E natural (the major 3rd) and a B flat (the minor 7th). D and A would work as color tones.
These were always a little tricky for me to wrap my head around. These chords have a minor 3rd, a diminished 5th and minor 7th. You can also think of them as a Major 7 chord with the root moved up one half step. They typically function as a ii(2) chord in a ii-V-i in a minor key. As far as color tones go, I’ve only really experimented with adding an 11th, and that works reasonably well, depending on what chord voicing you decide to play after this one.
Altered dominant type chords are basically dominant chords (1 3 and b7) with some sort of alteration. These alterations can be a combination of b9, #9, #11/b5 or b13/#5. I typically use them as V chords resolving to a minor I chord, but they can be resolved to other chords, if you voice them right.
Examples of Common Movements and Changes
I’ve written out a couple of examples using the chords notated above. The first one is a ii-V-I-VI, something you’ll see a lot of in jazz. The second one contains some changes I like and how I would voice them. These aren’t the only possibilities, just a starting point to give you an idea. I encourage you to experiment and have fun.
This might seem like a lot of information, and that’s because it is. My recommendation would be to go slow. Learn the voicings, get comfortable with them, and then start using them in context with the exercises. Happy practicing!