If you're learning to play jazz guitar, drop 3 chords are an important chord shape for you to become familiar with.
These chord shapes can help you build a foundation of jazz guitar chord knowledge that will serve you well for years.
Drop 3 chords are relatively finger friendly, and they sound good in a variety of situations:
As you become more advanced, these chords can also help you develop the ability to walk bass lines up and down the neck as you play the chords to a song.
Lots of people become familiar with one or two of these Drop 3 chord shapes as they begin learning jazz guitar, but never learn the whole system.
This leads many aspiring jazz guitarists to become stuck with root position chords, and limited in their chord vocabulary.
Learning the whole system (only 4 shapes) will help you to:
These things start to happen automatically as you become accustomed to playing with your Drop 3 chords.
What Should You Know First?
You can jump right in to these chords if you're interested in playing jazz guitar - just know that some of these chords will feel like a stretch at first.
It will be helpful to know the notes on the guitar neck - click here to learn more.
You can also use the fretboard maps below as a reference.
What Is A Drop 3 Chord?
If you look through old school jazz guitar books, these chords have all kinds of different names.
The name Drop 3 comes from jazz arranging.
When writing a chord, an arranger would drop the 3rd note from the top down an octave - this is why it's called Drop 3.
This happened to line up with some common jazz guitar and piano chords, so all of these structures are now called Drop 3 Chords
Drop 3 Chords - Guitar Structure
For guitar, there are some physical elements that we can look at to create and identify drop 3 chords.
Bass note on the 6th string. The bass note can be any of the 4 chord tones - Root (1), Third (3), Fifth (5), or Seventh (7).
Skip the 5th string. You'll need to find a way to mute this string to keep it from ringing, or play finger style to keep from playing it on accident.
The remaining chord tones are on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings. These strings will fill our the rest of the chord. Every chord tone (1, 3, 5, 7) should be present between the 6th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings.
There is also a version of the Drop 3 chord that uses the bass note on the 5th string, with the remaining chord tones on the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings.
I find this variation to be very stretchy - too much for many peoples hands, especially at first.
In this lesson we'll stick to Drop 3 chords with the bass note on the 6th string.
Drop 3 Chord Shapes
Each of the drop 3 chord shapes below will be presented 2 ways - with a suggested finger pattern, and with the chord tones (intervals) that make up the chord.
It's important to use both sets of diagrams as you learn these chord shapes.
As you improve, you'll need to spend more of your focus on the chord tones than on the finger pattern.
The chord tones will give you the ability to alter any of your chords as needed, so you don't need to memorize so many chord shapes in the future.
Major 7th Chords
Dominant 7th Chords
Minor 7th Chords
Minor 7 Flat 5th Chords
Diminished 7th Chords
Practicing Drop 3 Chords
Playing through jazz standards is the best way to learn your drop 3 chords on guitar.
To get started, try finding all of your chords for a song with the root at the 5th fret and below using the fretboard maps here:
The rest of the chord can be above the 5th fret, but the root needs to be found at the 5th fret or below.
This exercise helps limit your options so you only have a couple of choices for each chord. It also keeps you from jumping all over the place to find the chords you need.
If you do it right, the next drop 3 chord should be no more than a fret or two away. If you're moving more than that, try and see if there is a closer option you can use.
After you're comfortable with the 5th fret and below, you can start adding frets to your search area.
Even when you allow yourself to go past the 5th fret, try to keep your chords as close together as possible - better for practice, and better for voice leading.
Practicing The Cycles
You can also practice individual chord types through the cycle of 4ths and the cycle of 5ths.
Cycle of 4ths: C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G
Cycle of 5ths: G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# F C
A couple of ideas:
Do one shape at a time, moving on one string:
Play the entire cycle on the 6th string shape - find each chord with the root on the 6th string. Then do the next one.)
This will help you learn the notes along each string you are using for these drop 3 chord shapes.
Play with one chord quality at a time, moving your hand as little as possibile for each new chord:
Work with one type of chord (like major 7th) - for each new chord in the cycle, try to move your hand as little as possible.
This will teach you how to play any chord you need within a few frets.
Both of these are good approaches if you prefer to work on your chords as an exercise before applying them to songs.
With my own students, I use a mix of different approaches throughout the learning process.
Exercises are a good way to get good at a set of chords and learn the finger shapes (like for every maj7 or every min7b5 chord).
Working through jazz standards is a good way to work on your chords in a practical way, while learning songs that you'll want to know how to play anyway (win-win).
Rule of thumb:
Things To Think About
Drop 3 chords are a vital part of learning how to play jazz guitar, and can give you lots of good chordal material to play with.
No matter what you're playing, your next chord will likely be nearby when you're using these chord shapes.
If you have to move more than 2 frets, there is probably a closer chord you could be using.
Drop 3 chords help you develop smooth voice leading without thinking too hard about it. As long as you're using the closest possible chord, everything will sound smooth and connected.
These drop 3 chord shapes will give you a solid foundation in jazz guitar chords, and provide an easy template for adding extensions and alterations, or generating other chord structures as you need them.
Keep practicing these, and start using them in your playing ASAP - don't forget to let me know how it goes!