So you’re a guitarist and you want to start getting your jazz chops together. Awesome, let’s start with jazz chords!
Here’s the great news:
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t need to know a million shapes, chords, or scales on your guitar.
In fact, if you know just the basic shapes, you can play them anywhere on the neck and immediately start comping through jazz standards.
Even better news:
Jazz is mainly about learning language by ear. And while that may sound intimidating if you are used to looking up guitar tabs, it’s actually incredibly liberating.
With the right training and guidance you can defy the maze of the instrument that is the guitar, and start playing chord changes like you wouldn’t believe (I’ll talk about that more at the end of this post).
But before we jump off the deep end, let’s get together some basic guitar jazz chord shapes.
As a comping instrument, it is important for you to have some basic voicings in your repertoire.
Most jazz voicings are 7th chord voicings.
This means that each chord is built: Root-3rd-5th-7th, with those notes being altered depending on the chord quality.
Let’s start walking through basic voicings, quality by quality.
Major 7 Voicings – Guitar Jazz Chords
Major 7th jazz chords are built: R-3rd-5th-7th.
But the notes don’t have to go in that order, and that’s often not realistic or practical for guitar voicings.
Notice as well that sometimes I have a 9 added. This means that we are simply adding an “extension” to the chord.
Think of the 9 as the second scale tone of a major scale. This adds more color to chord and jazz guitarists and pianists do this all of the time.
So if you see a “Cmaj7” chord on a lead sheet, know that you can add any colors you’d like that fit a major chord quality.
One last thing to mention for these major 7 voicings and all of the voicings I’m about to show you is that they are “moveable.”
This simply means that as long as you know where the root notes are on your guitar, you can play these chords in any key.
To learn how to play more major 7 voicings on guitar, check out this post.
Minor 7 Voicings – Guitar Jazz Chords
Minor 7 jazz chords are built: R-b3-5-b7.
Again, this doesn’t mean the notes have to be played in that order. Here are some of the most common voicings.
Once again, you’ll notice that one of the voicings includes the 9 extension. This is a common voicing on guitar that you can easily sub for a regular minor 7.
You’ll also see an 11 included in one of the voicings. The 11 is an acceptable extension for minor 7 chords, but doesn’t quite work so well for major 7 chords.
To learn how to play more minor 7 voicings on guitar, check out this post.
Dominant 7 Voicings – Guitar Jazz Chords
Dominant 7 chords are built: R-3-5-b7.
These are important in jazz, from the blues to V-I relationships.
The voicings that include the 13th are very common jazz guitar voicings for dominant 7 chords. Having these basics in your arsenal will immediately have you engaging in that jazz sound.
To learn how to play more dominant 7 voicings on guitar, check out this post.
Half-Diminished and Diminished 7 Voicings – Guitar Jazz Chords
I’m combining the last two of the 7th chord qualities, because there really are only two or 3 common voicings for each.
Half-diminished (or minor 7(b5) chords) are built: R-b3-b5-b7.
Diminished 7 chords are built: R-b3-b5-bb7.
You’ll see half-diminished chords come up in minor ii-V-i chord progressions, and you’ll see diminished 7 chords come up in several different situations, such as passing from one minor 7 chord to another.
To learn more half-diminished voicings on guitar, check out this post.
To learn more diminished 7 voicings on guitar, check out this post.
These are some great basic jazz guitar voicings to get you started and I would encourage you to pick the ones you like the most and play them in all 12 keys.
What to do next:
Okay, great, you’ve got some basic jazz guitar voicings down. So what’s next?
There are many different directions to go depending on what you already know and don’t know. And since I don’t know exactly where you are at in your playing, let me give you some options.
Option #1: Get some basic jazz theory down.
If you need help with scales, building chords, chord progressions, and using all of this to start improvising, check out my eBook and Companion Course “Zero to Improv”. It’s not guitar-specific, but it doesn’t need to be.
Option #2: Start learning jazz standards.
Now that you are equiped with some chord voicings, the best way to learn how to start playing jazz is to start learning jazz standards, of course! Get my free “Learn Jazz Standards the Smart Way” Guide, and I’ll teach you how to do it the right way.
Option #3: Start mastering a jazz blues.
When it comes to getting started learning jazz, there is no better place to start than with the blues. Considering most guitar players are familiar with some blues stuff, even better. My free “Boost Your Jazz Blues” masterclass will teach you how to start mastering a jazz blues to give you an unfair advantage with all the rest of jazz improv.
Any one of these should help you get started and continue your jazz journey!