At some point in your jazz guitar playing career, someone is going to ask you to use something called "rootless voicings" for your chords.
This is especially true if you're playing in a jazz ensemble or small group at the high school or college level.
(If you're playing professionally, you probably already know what rootless voicings are, how to use them, and when to use them in your playing.)
The theory here is that if you're playing the root as a part of your chord, it's an unnecessary note because the bass player is playing the root as a part of their bass line.
While I don't 100% agree with this idea as a fundamental rule, it's still important for you to learn how to play these rootless chords.
You want to be able to do what your director/bandleader/etc asks you to do - it's your job as the guitar player, and they are likely hearing things out front that you are not hearing from your seat by the amplifier.
By dropping off the root from your basic jazz guitar chords you open up new possibilities for color, and free up your hands for simpler "grips" on your chords.
Even when you're not asked to, experiment with using these chords to see what they sound like in a playing situation.
Eventually, you want to be able to decide whether or not to include the root at the bottom of your chord based on the situation (song, style, band, soloist preferences).
Adding an extra note on the 2nd string is a good way to add some color to your fundamental jazz guitar chords.
For our purposes, we are going to call these notes color tones
While the fundamental chords give you a really clean representation of the jazz chord, adding color tones gives you more control over the sound, more ability to play specific chords that pop up in your music, and make playing chords a lot more fun.
Chords are an essential skill for jazz guitar, and they can be a lot of fun to work on.
If you’re playing in any kind of group (jazz band, combos, with another guitar player, etc) your main job will probably be playing chords, so it's a good idea to get familiar with them early on.
To get the most out of this lesson, you’ll need to know the note names on the 6th and 5th strings.
If you’re not familiar with the note names up and down each string, click here to get started.
Don’t worry - I’ll include fretboard maps in this lesson with the notes on the 6th and 5th strings if you’re in a hurry to get going.
Instead of trying to memorize a bunch of different chord shapes for every situation, I’m going to show you 2 fundamental chord shapes that you can modify to create the basic chords you need for almost any situation in jazz guitar.
This is a helpful jazz guitar voicing for a G7#11 chord. This is a movable voicing with the root on the 6th string, meaning that you can change the letter name of this chord by moving it up or down the neck.
Note: The #11 can also be called a b5. You might see G7#11 or G7b5 on a chord chart, but this chord shape covers either name.
On the left is the G7#11 chord shown with the chord tones/intervals used, and on the right is the recommended finger pattern.
This chord can be used for any dominant 7th (G7, C7, etc) type chord you come across.
Whether it calls for G7, G9, or anything else with a 7 or higher in the chord symbol, this chord will work.
This is a helpful jazz guitar voicing for a Major 9th chord. This is a movable voicing with the root on the 5th string, meaning that you can change the letter name of this chord by moving it up or down the neck.
On the left is the Cmaj9 chord shown with the chord tones/intervals used, and on the right is the recommended finger pattern.
This chord can be used for any major 7th type chord you come across. Whether it calls for Cmaj7, Cmaj9, or anything else with a “maj” in the chord symbol, this chord will work.
Once you’re comfortable with the basic 3 note jazz guitar chord shapes, it’s time to start applying them to chord progressions.
Chord progressions are sequences of chords that fit together in a key song.
If you don't know the basic 3 note jazz guitar shapes yet, click here.
From a practical standpoint, playing a chord progression means smoothly moving from one chord to another. While you could jump straight into learning songs, there is a simple chord progression that you should probably learn first.
The 2 5 1 (or ii V I) progression is an extremely common progression to come across in jazz music, and it is a great place for you to start when you are comfortable with your basic jazz guitar chords.
Because it is so common, this progression should be internalized and it’s a good idea to practice it in every key.
In this lesson you will learn 2 different patterns for the 2 5 1 progression that you can use at any point of the guitar to play in different keys.
One of these patterns starts and ends on the 6th string, so we’ll call it the 6th string pattern. The other pattern starts and ends on the 5th string, so we’ll call it the 5th string pattern.
When I started learning jazz guitar, I pretty much only worked on learning chords.
I had a great teacher who had a pretty “old school” approach.
Lots of exercises with different chords, finding them all over the neck so you always had an option for your next chord.
I got really good at sight reading chords - and the kind of charts you would get in a jazz band.
Traditional Comping Approach
He was also very traditional in his approach to accompaniment, which is the guitar players main job in a jazz band - “4 to a bar” playing where you strum once on each beat.
This worked great for me for a long time. I mostly played guitar in jazz band, so that style worked perfectly in most of the situations I encountered.
I started getting hired for groups around town, playing for weddings, events, and pit orchestras for musical productions as a high school kid.
Eventually I Needed Something Different
Once I got to college though, I started encountering situations where this 4 to a bar style accompaniment wasn’t working as well.
And as I listened to a wider variety of jazz music, I noticed that the guitar was sometimes doing all kinds of different rhythm patterns behind melodies and soloists.
I Learned A Lot About Different Comping Styles
Over time, I worked with several different jazz guitar teachers. I would book a lesson with anyone I could as they came through town, or sometimes I would travel across the state to meet with a great teacher for an hour.
Through these teachers and my university professors, I was able to identify some general rules about accompaniment that helped me improve my playing, and help me sound better in a wider range of jazz styles.
Now I was getting hired by jazz groups in my new local area, which was much more competitive than where I grew up.
I even won a couple of guitar jobs over older, more experienced guitar players - partially because of my comping ability.
Over Time, I Figured Out What Really Works
As a guitar teacher, I’ve worked with students of a wide range of ability levels - from kids starting out in jazz band to serious high school and college age students to adults who want to learn jazz guitar for fun.
Over the years I’ve found 3 basic comping rhythms that work well as an entry point for most players.
By mastering these three patterns and learning how to switch between them, you’ll have a good foundation for becoming the kind of jazz guitar player that people want to play with and listen to.
Note - A lot goes in to good accompaniment skills, and just learning one or two patterns isn’t necessarily going to cut it.
But that doesn’t mean you have to learn thousands of rhythm patterns either.
What You'll Learn
In this lesson you’ll learn 3 important comping rhythms - Freddie Green, The Charleston, and the Reverse Charleston.
More importantly, you’ll learn how to piece these rhythms together in a way that will sound good and support a melody or soloist.
Comping is an essential jazz guitar skill, and it’s one of the most important parts of playing jazz guitar with other people.
It is also a very overlooked area of many guitarists playing.
If you take the time to develop your comping skills, it can set you apart as a jazz guitarist, and help you get more opportunities to play with better groups.
Once you’ve learned the chords on the 6th string, your next goal will be to learn the chords on the 5th string.
While the jazz guitar chords on the 6th string are a great starting point, you’ve probably noticed by now that you have to jump all over the place to play a song.
In this lesson, you start to add in the jazz guitar chords on the 5th string, and you’ll start to be able to find your next chord without having to move more than a couple of frets most of the time.
Once you add these chords into your vocabulary, playing through jazz songs will be a much easier process.
In this lesson you’re going to learn the basic 3 note jazz guitar chord shape starting on the 5th string. You’ll also learn how to change this shape to create any chord you need using basic music theory rules.
When you’re just getting started in jazz guitar, learning the right kinds of chords is probably going to be your top priority.
Whether you’re playing in a school jazz band or you’re interested in jazz guitar to pick up a new style for yourself, knowing the right types of chords is an essential element of your jazz guitar playing.
That’s where the chords in this lesson come in. With these simple 3 note chords starting on the 6th string, you’ll be able to create the basic structure for any jazz guitar chord you need.
These chords are a great starting point for learning jazz guitar - they are easy to learn, easy to play, and they sound good.
In this lesson you’re going to learn the basic 3 note jazz guitar chord shape starting on the 6th string. You’ll also learn how to change this shape to create any chord you need using basic music theory rules.
Playing chords is an essential part of playing guitar. No matter what kind of music you want to play - if you’re a guitar player, you’re going to spend a lot of time playing chords.
It can be really helpful to focus on learning just a handful of chords at a time.
You’ll learn the chords relatively quickly, avoid getting your chords mixed up, and be able to actually use your new chords to play songs as soon as you get comfortable with the shapes.
The real trick is to learn chords that fit together in actual music, and are usually found together in songs. This way you can cut down the time between you learning your first chords, and you playing your first song.
The truth is that many popular songs use just 3 or 4 related chords - so if you play your cards right, you can get away with learning just 3 or 4 chords to get started playing real songs.