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Home > Jazz > Beginning Jazz Guitar

Beginning Jazz Guitar Practically

Jazz fans often find beginning jazz guitar daunting, not necessarily because of the actual playing techniques or theory required, rather they don't know where to begin.

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Note: If you want a more interactive video experience for learning jazz guitar, check out JamPlay's Jazz section.

It's important not overwhelm you with music theory at this stage, but instead, get you playing something that you can use practically to build on and train your ear to the common voicings used in jazz.

So follow the lesson, diagrams and audio below for a practical guide to beginning jazz guitar!


First, learn the main jazz chord voicings

There are two main types of chord shapes used with jazz guitar:

In a moment, we'll look at how these regular barre chords are cut down to make shell chords...


Beginning jazz guitar with basic chords

Below are some typical jazz chord voicings in their barre chord forms.

All the chords are shown at the first 4 frets for example, but remember that they are all movable shapes so you can position them up and down the fretboard.

The diagrams have fingering suggestions, so label your fingers 1-4, 1 being your index, 4 being your pinky/little finger.

Click on the diagrams to hear how the chord should sound...

Minor 7th chord on the E String (e.g. Gm7)

Minor 7th chord on the E String

Minor 7th chord on the A String (e.g. Cm7)

Minor 7th chord on the A String

Major 7th chord on the E String (e.g. Gmaj7)

Major 7th chord on the E String

Major 7th chord on the A String (e.g. Cmaj7)

Major 7th chord on the A String

Added 6th chord on the E String (e.g. G7add6)

Added 6th chord on the E String

Added 6th chord on the A String (e.g. C7add6) You can also barre with your pinky over 3 and 4 if you prefer.

Added 6th chord on the A String


Basic jazz guitar shell chord voicings

So here are the cut-down shell versions of the chords above (in the same order). Try and figure out which important notes have been used from the original barre chords above to make the shell chords below.

Tip: to avoid playing the X'd out strings inbetween strings, you need to use your fretted fingers to touch those X'd strings so they will be dampened and won't ring out. This can take time when beginning jazz guitar.

Practice each chord and make sure the X'd out strings aren't being played or sounded.

Minor 7th shell chord on the E String (e.g. Gm7)

Minor 7th shell chord on the E String

Minor 7th shell chord on the A String (e.g. Dm7)

Minor 7th shell chord on the A String

Major 7th shell chord on the E String (e.g. Gmaj7)

Major 7th shell chord on the E String

Major 7th shell chord on the A String (e.g. Cmaj7)

Major 7th shell chord on the A String

Added 6th shell chord on the E String (e.g. G7add6)

Added 6th shell chord on the E String

Added 6th shell chord on the A String (e.g. Cadd6) Note: there's no "7th" in this, so it's just "add6" because this shell shape commonly leaves out th 7th (the G string that would usually play the "7th" is already being used up to play the 6th!).

Added 6th shell chord on the A String


Some important facts about the chords above...
  • The lowest string in the chord is the root note. This note determines what letter the chord is abbreviated with (e.g. Cmaj7, Gm7)
  • These chord forms are movable up and down the fretboard (both E string shapes and A string shapes).
  • Use the fingerings you feel comfortable with, the finger numbers above are only suggestions.
  • With the shell chords, to block out those X'd strings, use your fret fingers and rest them so they just barely touch the X'd string. This will effectively mute them.

OK, ready to put these into practical use? Let's work on a typical jazz guitar progression...


Making a typical jazz guitar progression

For beginning jazz guitar in a practical way, we're going to use the chord shapes from above to play some progressions below. These are known as ii V I (2 5 1) progressions.

1st progressionfull barre chords starting on an E string shape (Am7)

Follow the tab, and click on it to hear an example with a metronome.

full barre chords starting on an E string shape (Am7)

2nd progression - full barre chords starting on an A string shape (Dm7)

full barre chords starting on an A string shape (Dm7)

3rd progressionshell chords starting on an E string shape (Am7)

shell chords starting on an E string shape (Am7)

4th progression - shell chords starting on an A string shape (Dm7)

shell chords starting on an A string shape (Dm7)

That's hopefully given you a practical intro to jazz guitar. We've learned the two main chord types (barre and shell), the most common jazz chords and a typical jazz progression.

What to do now

Using the chords we've learned, both shell and barre, try and come up with your own progressions moving those shapes around the fretboard, mixing them up and experimenting.

Of course, there are many more chords to learn as you progress beyond beginner jazz guitar, but one step at a time - we'll come to those in your own time.



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