Learning jazz guitar may seem like a daunting task, and while it’s true that jazz can be very complex, it doesn’t have to be. You can create a jazzy tone and quality simply by adding one note to the basic chords you already know. 

In this article, you’ll learn seven easy jazz chords for beginners. After reading through, you’ll hopefully have a deeper understanding of where the sound of jazz comes from. 

The main topics we’ll discuss today: 

  • What’s a jazz chord
  • The major 7 jazz chord
  • How to use these chords in context
  • Practice active listening to learn about jazz
  • The next steps of your jazz guitar journey

We’ve got some new shapes to show you, but before we get into the good stuff, let’s briefly talk about what jazz chords actually are.

What’s a jazz chord?

The term “jazz chord” isn’t a very accurate term – so-called jazz chords aren’t just for jazz! In fact, most chords can be used across all genres. The idea is that “jazz chord” describes a particular sound of extended chords that we so often hear in the genre.  

You know it when you hear it. The extra note adds an important flavor to the quality of the sound. 

In popular music, the major and minor triads are the most commonly used chords. The triad, as the name suggests, consists of three notes: a root note, a third, and a fifth. The “jazzy” sound comes when you add an additional note to the triad.

If you add the 7th to the triad, you get either a major 7th, minor 7th, or a dominant 7th chord. This article will only focus on the major 7th.

The major 7 jazz chord

A major 7

Most of these shapes are very similar to their related open chords.

  • Usually, a slight alteration is all you need to go from a major chord to a major 7th chord.
  • To change Amaj to Amaj7, just move the note on the G string down from A to G#.

You’ll need to change the finger order for this shape.

  • Try middle finger on the D string, index on the G string, and ring finger on the B string.
  • G# is the 7th note in this chord, and it's what gives it its jazzy quality.

B major 7

The Bmaj7 chord requires a little more finger dexterity compared to the Amaj7 chord above. 

  • If you’re very new to guitar you can exclude the 2nd fret on the e string
  • Be sure to avoid hitting an open E string when you play this shape (it’s not part of the chord).  

Don’t worry! This still counts as a Bmaj7 – you’re only removing the perfect 5th. 

  • You don’t always need to play every single note of a chord. 
  • Shell chords only contain the root, third, and 7th of a chord.

C major 7

The Cmaj7 in its open position sounds full and well-rounded. Plus, it’s easy to play. 

  • The shape is very close to a regular C major chord.
  • Just lift your index finger off the B string – that’s it!

Here’s a little tip when strumming this chord – try a hammer on with your index finger to switch between the Cmaj7 and the Cmaj, it will add a nice sense of movement.

  • Avoid hitting the low E string. 
  • Although E is part of this chord, adding it below the root note is going to muddy the sound.

D major 7

TThe Dmaj7 is one of the most welcoming maj7 shapes, even for complete beginners. 

  • It can be played with a single finger. 
  • Comfortable chord to bar and move around the neck. 
  • Has a brighter sound than most other chords in this list due to not using those lower strings. 

Having a variety of tonal choices is useful – so remember this shape when you want a maj7 chord with a bit more bite!

E major 7

Emaj7 is another simple chord to learn if you already know your basic open chords. 

  • Very similar to E major, but you move one note on the D string down from E to D#. 
  • You need to rearrange your fingers to switch from EMaj to Emaj7
  • Place your ring finger on the A string, index on the D string, and middle on the G string.

Since we’re using all the strings and have the root note on both ends, we get a big, full-sounding chord. 

F major 7

Many beginner guitar players struggle with F major, as it’s usually their introduction to the world of bar chords (and the world of hand cramps). 

Luckily, Fmaj7 is a much friendlier shape.

  • You can move this shape up and down the neck without the need to bar at all. 
  • If you move up from the open position, you’ll need to rearrange your other fingers. 

Away from open position, your index finger will need to fret the high e string

  • You should end up with all four fingers in a nice diagonal line across the fretboard.
  • Avoid hitting those two low strings to keep the chord sounding clean.

G major 7

The Gmaj7 in open position is a little bit unusual.

  • This shape requires you to mute the A string while striking all the others around it. 
  • In most cases, guitarists tend to choose one of the other shapes already shown. 

Good alternative positions for Gmaj7: 

  • Fmaj7 shape we just learned, moved up two frets.
  • Emaj7 barred and moved up one fret.

As we’ve already said, it’s good to know all your options so you can make the best choice in the moment – there may well be a situation when this shape is exactly what you need.

How to use these chords in context 

Now that you know all of these major 7th chords, you can start applying them to your playing. Try playing some chord progressions you’re already familiar with and add some 7ths into the mix. Experiment to see what sounds good. 

  • Try messing around with some classic jazz progressions such as a ii-V-I
  • This will help you get a feel for the chords and how they are used in the context of jazz. 
  • Rhythm is a big part of the genre, so without getting too complex, try going beyond just strumming the chords – find a groove!

Don’t know what a ii-V-I is? That’s the numbers system. If it’s new to you, here’s a very brief explanation. 

  • Basically, each roman numeral represents a chord within a given key
  • Uppercase numerals indicate major chords, and lowercase numerals represent minor
  • The progression mentioned above (ii-V-I) in the key of C major = Dmin, Gmaj, and Cmaj.  

It’a a really useful system, and definitely worth knowing. 

Practice active listening to learn about jazz

A good way to build upon what you’ve learned from this article is to practice active listening. This means figuring out the chords to a song without the help of guitar tabs. Doing this will force you to identify intervals, chords, extensions, and inversions using only your ear!

  • Guitar TABs are helpful, but they can slow down your ear development if you rely on them too much. 
  • For a musician, being able to hear a chord is way more valuable than being able to read one.
  • Once you start recognizing different intervals, chord qualities, and progressions, it’ll open up a whole new world for you. 
  • Tabs and chord boxes are great resources for novice players, but as you advance you should aim to learn music by ear primarily.

If you get stuck you can always check the tabs every now and then. It’s not about never getting that help, but gaining independence and the ability to hear what the guitar is doing in context.

The next steps of your jazz guitar journey

Once you feel comfortable with these chords and are ready to move on, the next step would be to practice the minor 7th chords. After that, you can learn even more common jazz extensions such as the 9th, 11th, and 13th chords.

As you become familiar with those, you can learn how to play them in different positions around the neck.

You want more jazz? Check out our guide about how to learn jazz guitar or take a deep dive into jazz guitar with our jazz learning pathway.

Looking for guidance in your guitar journey? We have step-by-step Learning Pathways for all levels so you know exactly what to work on at every step they way. Check out a 14-day free trial to Pickup Music, and take your guitar playing to the next level.