When you hear someone swinging through those classic jazz guitar standards, it’s easy to feel jealous. It all sounds so smooth, yet harmonically rich! But if all you know are rock and folk fingerings, jazz chords can often seem like an alien language.
Thankfully, it’s a language you can learn. An important key to understanding is a three number sequence. In Chuck Loeb's jazz guitar lessons at ArtistWorks, he uses a number system for chords that can help unlock many of jazz’s most common phrase.
Like rock and pop, jazz has a go-to three-chord structure. Rock songs shuffle through variations of the 1-4-5 progressions, the three major chords in each key. Jazz standards often feature a 2-5-1 progression. As anyone who knows about jazz guitar will tell you, 2-5-1 is a very important chord progression. Learn it, live it!
The "fifth" is what jazz guitarists call a dominant seventh, which is in itself a major chord that features a "seventh" note a whole step below the octave. This chord has a Dominant chord with strong tension because of its tritone.
The progression resolves on a major seventh, a major chord with a seventh note a half step below the octave.
Tension and Release
An example of a 2-5-1 progression would be D minor 7 to G major 7 to C major 7, which is tabbed out below:
All of the chord voices start with the root, then skip a string to seventh. You’ll notice that unlike the triad shapes or the simple fifths you’re familiar with from rock, pop and folk music, the chord shapes skip the low fifth, creating a smoother, less chunky sound.
The three chord sequence builds and then releases tension. Like Chuck Loeb talks about in his lesson on the 2-5-1 sequence, moving to the dominant G7 chord feels like a tightly pulled bow that really, really wants to shoot an arrow. It wants to pull to the next chord. Landing on the Cmaj7 shape releases the tension built up by the previous two chords.
Once you’re comfortable with some three chord shapes, you can always move it up and down the fretboard to play different keys.
Try to mix it up by playing it n every key. As you practice, see if you can get used to all the different sounds and movements. The more you practice this stuff, the easier it will get. Soon it will become second nature and you'll find yourself swinging with the best. Believe it, it can all happen with enough practice!
But, you will need a good teacher to help guide you along the way to jazz guitar greatness. The good news for you is, we have just the right guy for the job.
Ready to step up your playing? Click here for free jazz guitar lessons from Chuck Loeb!