Jazz Guitar Chords

guitar chords jazz

Chord voicings are one of the essential aspects of jazz guitar that must be internalized, regardless of whether you play traditional jazz, jazz fusion or blues music.

A triad is the simplest chord, composed of three notes that create harmony. Jazz chords often add an additional seventh note for their distinctive sound.


Triads are an integral component of jazz chord progressions. Understanding their basic shapes and how they move up and down the fretboard is paramount.

Starting with the C major open triad shape on the top string set and moving it upward to G major by dropping an octave gives E (third) and C (root), this is known as an augmented triad.

Understanding the different types of triads, their qualities and how they move up and down the fretboard will give you a firm foundation for voice leading between changes, providing more flexible and creative playing. Furthermore, switching triad shapes helps give riffs and lead lines some added interest and variety.

Major 7th

The major seventh is an eleven semi-step interval used in many styles of music – particularly jazz – as an integral chord and often found within major scales.

One of the more frequently-used seventh chords in jazz is known as a minor-major seventh. This chord consists of a minor triad with an added major seventh. This particular seventh chord can add an exciting sound to jazz melodies by creating a very chromatic, distinctive tone in any melody line.

Outside of the basic Emaj7 and Amaj7 shapes (shown above), there are numerous other movable chord shapes you can use to easily play major sevenths on the fretboard. These ‘jazz chords’ make jazz much easier! Practice using them on guitar to develop them further under your fingertips.

Minor 7th

As the jazz tradition was initially evolving there wasn’t an agreed upon doctrine to convey musical and chord symbols, making chord naming less straightforward; hence there are multiple ways that an identical chord may be represented: for instance CM7 may also be written as Cm7(b5) or even fully diminished.

The m7 chord is similar to its dominant 7th chord counterpart but uses minor thirds for construction rather than major thirds, and has a flattened fifth tone.

This makes the m7 chord more challenging to finger, so be sure to practice each shape slowly and thoroughly until they become part of your muscle memory. Also be mindful of string skipping; this could easily result in fret buzz if the proper strings are muted – in this instance b5 should be muted using your first fingertip as shown here.

Major 6th

A major sixth chord is an essential tool in improvisation as it often stands in for standard major chords. Additionally, it serves as either dominant or tonic and features more melodic root notes compared to C6 or Am7 chords.

The C6 shape is one of the most frequently played fretboard shapes, as it’s easy and you can move it chromatically up and down without hitting any open strings. When shifting up and down fretboard chromatically it may require jumping between notes as its intervals depend on perfect fourth and perfect fifth intervals.

One fantastic way of using the major 6th is by raising it up to an unrooted version, like C6/9. This creates an inviting diminished sound which is frequently employed in jazz music.

Minor 6th

Minor sixth chords are comprised of a minor triad with the addition of a sixth tone. They produce an intoxicating jazz sound and can often be found as I chord in minor keys. Furthermore, this chord gives any progression a bogie-woogie vibe – plus rockabilly licks make use of them!

This chord is relatively straightforward to play on guitar due to its flexible shape. Simply move up or down to alter its root note.

Minor 6th chords have a distinctive sound that distinguishes them from normal minor triads. Their notes can sound dissonant, creating tension and drama. Furthermore, this chord is great when used to harmonize melodies.