Jazz chords are sometimes spoken of in hushed tones by musicians, and this is particularly true of guitarists. There seems to be an aura of mystique around these chords and they often have rather complex names and crunchy sounds.
However, as much as the institutions (who charge lots of money to take a three-year degree course) would have you believe jazz guitar chords are complex and inaccessible, this article sets out to dispel the myths around playing jazz guitar chords and make them available to mere mortals like you and me.
This article presents the most common jazz guitar chord voicings and shapes via standard notation, tab, chord diagram, and a photo of what the chord looks like when played on the guitar. This will be a great jump-start for aspiring jazz guitarists who need a lot of chord voicings and shapes fast. This method of learning is perfect for school jazz band guitarists or anyone else who is just starting to cut their teeth playing jazz.
Movable Jazz Guitar Chord Shapes
These chords are moveable shapes. This means that by knowing the names of the notes on the fretboard, the shapes presented can be played in virtually every key. The concept of moveable chords is invaluable for all guitarists. It allows us to learn a single shape, and by moving that shape around the fretboard, the chord can be played in every key. All you need to know is where the root (the note that names the chord) is.
We’re not going to show you every chord in every possible key in this article, but if you understand the concept of the moveable chord, you can fill in the missing pieces. Be sure to learn each shape not only in the single key presented, but in all twelve keys. You will not only learn 12 times more chords, but learn the layout of the fretboard.
There are many choices for each chord found in this article. It is up to the player to decide which one would sound the best in any given circumstance. Be sure to experiment with many of the voicings that are found in this text and begin combining them with others over common jazz standards. A vocabulary of personal favorite chord sounds and chord movement will soon follow. Also, be sure to always keep track of where the root note (the note that names the chord) is located within the shape of the chord. It isn’t always on the lowest sounding string of the voicings.
10 Essential Jazz Guitar Chords You Must Know
Let’s check out 10 movable jazz guitar chords you must know. Of course, when it comes to jazz, there are almost unlimited possibilities for various chord combinations and chord voicings, but these are the most important. I’ve picked out ten really essential chords that if you work on these, it’ll get you started comping on countless jazz standards.
Congratulations; You made it!
Jazz Standards and Guitarists to Study
The following list of standards is a great starting point for your study of jazz guitar. Try to check out the original versions before going on to listen to different guitarists’ interpretations of the pieces. These tunes represent a diverse range of musical approaches to jazz.
- All The Things You Are – Ella Fitzgerald
- Autumn Leaves – Eric Clapton
- Fly Me To The Moon – Frank Sinatra
- What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
- On Green Dolphin Street – Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass
- My Funny Valentine – Chet Baker
There are many influential jazz guitarists to check out, and the following list represents just the tip of the iceberg. Listen as much of their music as you can, and you’ll get a comprehensive education in jazz guitar!
- Wes Montgomery (1923-1968)
- Django Reinhardt (1910-1953)
- Charlie Christian (1916-1942)
- Jim Hall (1930-2013)
- George Benson (born 1943)
- Grant Green (1935-1979)
- Barney Kessell (1923-2004)
- Kenny Burrell (born 1931)
- Joe Pass (1929-1994)
- Johnny Smith (1922-2013)