Instructor: Dwight H.
From big bands to rock ensembles, and even R&B groups, Dwight has played with them all. He's been teaching guitar for over 10 years. When teaching, he draws from his experience on stage, injecting the knowledge of what it takes to be a gigging musician into every lesson.

Learn Jazz Guitar Chords in 5 Easy Steps


Major 7 Chords Minor 7 Chords Dominant 7 Chords Chord Progressions Scales and Arpeggios

To most, jazz music on the guitar is a beautiful art form. Even those who don't appreciate the sounds of swing and bebop can respect the talent of the musicians who perform it, and acknowledge that their playing could benefit from learning some of the principles of the style.

The rub, however, is that jazz can seem intimidating -- even mystifying -- to newer players, to the point where they don't even give it a shot.

If you count yourself among the many who have wanted to dip their toes in the deep end of the jazz pool but felt too befuddled to give it a try, then we encourage you to read this guide.

Today, we're going to be providing and introduction to playing jazz music on the guitar, complete with the information you'll need to start learning jazz chords, playing jazz melodies, and memorizing the scales you'll need to improvise like a seasoned jazz professional.

Getting Started: Intro to Jazz Guitar Chords

Like any form of music, harmonies and rhythms are essential to jazz. The first thing we'll be covering are some basic chords that you'll see frequently throughout your endeavors in the genre. These include the Major 7, Minor 7, and Dominant 7 chords; we'll look at these variations in several keys to serve as examples.

Like any chord, the recommended fingerings we provide aren't the only way you can play them. They are a good starting point for beginners, though, so commit these versions to memory, then start exploring other fingerings to see what works for you.

You may find that you prefer playing some of these as bar chords, for example, and you're more than welcome to do so if you feel it fits the song or will make your playing more fluid. Stay open, and learn as many fingerings for your jazz chords as possible so that you can get to them from anywhere on the fretboard.

Lastly, the chords we'll be covering today are a good base to get started, but are by no means all the jazz-style chords existence. Don't hesitate to look up new chords as you encounter them to find the ones that work for you.

Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chords

This chord includes a scale's root, major third, perfect fifth, and major seventh tones. You'll often see Major 7 chords displayed with one of these symbols: maj7, M7, Δ, 7+. If you were playing a C Major 7 chord, for example, you'd play the notes C, E, G, and B. Here's how you'd tackle it in open position.

C Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

C Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Play strings 2 and 3 open
  • Mute string 6

Simple enough. Next, let's move on to G Major 7, which includes the notes G, B, D, and F#. Here's how it goes in open position.

G Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

G Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 6th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 4th string/4th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/5th fret
  • Play strings 2 and 3 open
  • Mute string 1

Moving around the horn again, we have D Major 7, comprised of D, F#, A, and C#. Your open position fingering is as follows:

D Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

D Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your first finger to bar strings 1, 2, and 3, at the 2nd fret
  • Play string 4 open
  • Mute strings 5 and 6

Next up is A Major 7. Your notes for this one are A, C#, E, and G#. Here's an easy open position fingering for the chord:

A Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

A Major 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 3rd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 2nd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/4th fret
  • Play string 5 open
  • Mute string 6

Are you starting to get a feel for the Major 7 chord sound? Excellent. Remember that you can also use a bar chord to get to your Major 7 chords quickly. Your root note for these will always be on the 5th string, so if you were playing C Major 7, for instance:

C Major 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

C Major 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 3rd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/4th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/5th fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/5th fret
  • Mute string 6

Keep that same shape and move your bar up or down the fretboard, and you'll be playing the Major 7 chord for the note you're covering with your 1st finger on the 5th string. Now, with that out of the way, it's time to take a look at a few Minor 7 chords that will come in handy.

Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chords

Minor 7 chords contain a scale's root, minor third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh tones. You'll see these represented as an m7 or -7 in your music. We'll start with D Minor 7, with the notes D, F, A, and C:

D Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

D Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your first finger over strings 1 and 2 on the 1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Play string 4 open
  • Mute strings 5 and 6

A Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

A Minor 7 is another chord you'll see frequently. It includes the notes A, C, E, and G:

A Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Play string 5 open
  • Mute string 6

E Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

Last up, we'll tackle E Minor 7, which uses E, G, B, and D:

E Minor 7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Play strings 3, 4, and 6 open

Again, you can use a bar for Minor 7 chords. We'll use A Minor 7 as an example for using string 6 as the root:

A Minor 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord (6th as root)

A Minor 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings at the 5th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/7th fret

D Minor 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord (5th as root)

If you prefer using the 5th string for your root notes, let D Minor 7 here be your guide:

D Minor 7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings at the 5th fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 2nd string/6th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/7th fret
  • Mute string 6

Now, let's round out our chord introduction with a few Dominant 7 chords.

Dominant 7 Jazz Guitar Chords

When playing Dominant 7 chords, you'll be using a scale's root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh tones. You'll recognize the symbol as the telltale "7" after the root note. We'll start with the C7 chord, which contains C, E, G, and Bb:

C7 Jazz Guitar Chord

C7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Mute strings 2 and 6

Next is G7, which consists of G, B, D, and F:

G7 Jazz Guitar Chord

G7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 1st string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 6th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret
  • Play strings 3 and 4 open

The last Dominant 7 chord we'll learn is D7. You'll need D, F#, A, and C for this one:

D7 Jazz Guitar Chord

D7 Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 1st string/2nd fret
  • Play string 4 open
  • Mute strings 5 and 6

And of course, you can incorporate bar versions of Dominant 7 chords in your playing as well. For the root on string 6, take a look at G7 as an example

G7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord (6th string root)

G7 Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings at the 3rd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/4th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/5th fret

You can move the root to the 5th string as well. Here's how it would look using C7:

C7 Jazz Barre Guitar Chord (5th string root)

C7 Jazz Barre Jazz Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/5th fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/5th fret
  • Mute string 6

Don't forget to learn the Dominant 7 fingerings for your other keys as your encounter them. For now, though, let's talk about some the trickier jazz chords you'll come across on your journey.

Diving Deeper: Advanced Jazz Guitar Chords

The chords we touched on above are a great start, but they aren't the only chords you'll be encountering along your jazz journey. You'll be running into plenty of Augmented, Diminished, Sustained, 9, 11, and 13 chords (among others) so keep your chord library nearby and stay prepared to look up any chords you don't immediately recognize when you're learning a new song.

Essential Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions

You might already know that chord progressions are groups of chords commonly used in various song structures. When you're playing jazz, the two most important ones to remember are the ii-V-I and I-vi-ii-V progressions.

Remember that the "I" is your root, and the chord are formed in relation to that root chord (so you can always get to your chords in these progressions if you remember the root). Here's an example of the former, using the key of C as our root:

  • ii -- D Minor 7 Chord
  • V -- G7 Chord
  • I -- C Major 7 Chord

Using C as our root again, this is how you would create the latter progression:

  • I -- C Major 7 Chord
  • vi -- A Minor 7 Chord
  • ii -- D Minor 7 Chord
  • V -- G7 Chord

Take these progressions to heart, as they'll form the basis for much of the music you'll be playing.

Jazz Scales and Arpeggios

When it comes to playing melodies and improvising, learning your scales and arpeggios will go long way toward your success. Check the piece you're playing to identify the key (which will either be explicitly stated by the song's key signature or something you can derive from looking at a tune's first and last chords). Today, we'll take a look at two that you'll be crossing paths with frequently.

The Major Scale

Also known as the Ionian scale, your typical major scale will consist of 7 degrees (the eighth note in the scale is the same as the root, just an octave higher). The sequence of intervals between the notes in a major scale is whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step. So, if we were playing in C Major, you'd use the following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

The Minor Scale

There are actually three main variants of minor scales (natural, harmonic, melodic), as opposed to just the one associated with major keys. What we'll be covering today is the Jazz Minor scale, a derivative of the melodic minor scale. We'll use C Jazz Minor as our example; see if you can pick out the relationship between the notes as you play: C, D. Eb, F, G, A, B. Your Jazz Minor scale will always contain that flat-third -- one of it's hallmarks -- and another way of thinking of this scale is as the ascending portion of your melodic minor scale.

Further "Notes" on Scales

Are there other scales you'll be using in jazz music? Naturally, but these two will get you started on playing melodies and improvising. You can start incorporating other scales as they become pertinent to your playing. You'll need to remember the position of your notes on the fretboard to execute any scale properly, so make sure you study your fretboard chart and memorize the positioning of your notes. Coincidentally, that memorization will also come in handy once it's time to start playing arpeggios...

Arpeggios

You can think of arpeggios as chords that you play broken up, note by note. If you to execute a C Major 7 arpeggio, for instance, you'd play C, E, G, and Bb. For a D Minor 7 arpeggio, you'd play D, F, A, and C. Heading to a G Dominant 7 arpeggio, you'd play G, B, D, and F. It's a simple concept, but incorporated into the jazz tunes you'll learn, it can have a profound effect on how your playing sounds.

Remember that the arpeggios you play will work best over their associated chords. If you know your chords, you can learn your arpeggios -- just make sure to practice your fingering so you can get to the notes you need without hassle.

Tackling Some Jazz Tunes

Ready to put it all you've learned today to the test? Try applying your newfound knowledge by playing these five classic jazz tunes:

  1. A Night in Tunisia
  2. Moanin'
  3. Willow Weep For Me
  4. Blue Bossa
  5. It's Only a Paper Moon

While you're learning these songs, keep these important points of jazz playing in mind:

  • Learn the melody first by reading your sheet music, tab, picking it up by ear.
  • Move on to the chords next, learning the progression, individual chords, and trying out different rhythms that fit the music best.
  • Try your hand a soloing by using the notes from the scale(s) associated with the song. Remember that your song might be written in a specific key, but jazz is notorious for changes, and you might have to switch the scale you're using mid-song to stay with the music. Watch those chord changes and you should be alright.

Jazz might seem tricky at first, but with time and practice, you'll be able to handle the complexities of this genres, and even apply what you learn to playing songs outside of jazz. The skills you pick up playing jazz make everything else easier, so good luck, and happy practicing!

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Left Handed Guitar Chords

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