Yep, you’ve finally found it: The complete guide to jazz chords for guitar.

I wrote this article because I wished it existed when I first learned all this stuff. 

This is an easy-to-follow manual to every common chord voicing – and some not-so-common ones.

After reading this, you’ll be able to confidently play songs using jazz guitar chord charts.

I know jazz guitar chord progressions can look intimidating to beginners but I’ll help you learn how to decode them with a simple formula. 

Let’s get into it...

Chords to learn for jazz guitar players at any level

Playing jazz without seventh chords is like cooking without salt. 

When someone refers to jazz guitar chords, seventh chords are often what they have in mind.

Your goal should be to learn at least one chord shape for each of the five essential seventh chords:

  • Major 7
  • Dominant 7
  • Minor 7
  • Minor 7 Flat 5
  • Diminished 7

Bonus points if you know how to play them in two different positions.

That adds up to ten shapes in total.

Get those under your fingers and you’ll be playing your first easy jazz guitar standards in no time.

Online tutorials can be overwhelming with so many different choices.

There are many ways to play each chord, so we narrowed it down to specific chord shapes to simplify things a bit.

Here’s our recommendation for ten seventh-chord voicings: 

  • Five chords with a 6th string root
  • Five chords with a 5th string root

Some of these are based on commonly known bar chords, which makes them good beginner jazz chords.

Heads up: 

  • Many chords in this article will be easier to play on an electric guitar than on an acoustic.
  • Some jazz guitar chord progressions are hard to pull off on an acoustic guitar because access to higher frets is more limited.

Seventh chords with a 6th string root

Seventh chords with a 5th string root

How jazz chords are constructed

All jazz guitar chords are constructed like any other chord. 

As soon as you play two notes simultaneously, you’re playing a chord.

You already know that seventh chords are essential to learn jazz guitar so let’s start with some quick lessons on what they’re made of.

This stuff gets into the weeds quickly.

It pays off to stick with it though.

Learning about the theory behind chords is a much better method than memorizing a bunch of diagrams from a jazz guitar chord dictionary.

What are seventh chords?

It takes a bit of music theory knowledge to achieve jazz guitar chord mastery.

Maybe grab yourself a snack before we get into it. 🍪

Alright, masterclass in session…

Seventh chords have four notes. 

Why aren’t they called fourth chords, for God’s sake? 

Good point. 

The seven will make sense in a moment.

Western music is based on a fixed number of notes: 12. 

If you play them all in a row, you’re playing the chromatic scale.

Yes. Still no seven in sight. Argh.

Once you play all 12 notes from start to finish, you start over with 1 again, just in a different register - higher or lower.

(That’s why the pattern of black keys on the piano repeats by the way…)

Using all 12 available notes in one piece of music can sound, well, a bit much.

Composers often narrow it down to seven notes.

Ah, there’s the “seven”!

We call those groupings of seven notes a scale.

Especially in jazz, scales and chords are vital subjects that you should familiarize yourself with.

Below (in blue) is the major scale represented in numbers or ‘intervals’.

This makes it easy to talk about chords and scale degrees without referring to a specific key.

Add the pink notes and we end up with all 12 available notes.

We form chords by combining notes from a scale.

For example, combining a 1, 3, and a 5, results in major chords.

A 1, b3, and a 5, results in minor chords.

The formula for seventh chords is 1, 3, 5, and 7.

We have more than one option when it comes to some of the notes.

There’s the b3 and 3 or the b7 and 7.

Depending on which of these we play, we get different qualities of seventh chords.

Here’s an overview of the five chord qualities. 

The best way to memorize these is by playing them in the order above in the same position.

Notice how only one note changes from chord to chord, while the rest stay the same.

Let’s dive into each one individually.

Get ready to learn jazz guitar chords!

Major seventh chord

The root note is our foundation – it gives a chord its name.

It’s also our 1, the note we start counting from to describe how far other notes are away.

For example:

  • The root note (and 1) of C Major 7 is C. 
  • The 3 of C Major 7 is E.
  • The root note and 1 of F# Major 7 is F#. 
  • The b7 of F# major 7 is also E.

A Major 7 chord has these chord tones:

  • 1
  • 3
  • 5
  • 7

Below are three ways to play a C Major 7 chord on guitar:

Dominant seventh chord

Moving on to the Dominant 7 chord. 

Only one note changes compared to our previous chord.

At heart, it’s still a major chord but with a flat 7:

  • 1
  • 3
  • 5
  • b7

C Dominant 7 chords on guitar can look like this:

Minor seventh chord

This seventh chord is built from a minor triad plus a b7.

The chord tones are

  • 1
  • b3
  • 5
  • b7

Check out these chord voicings:

Minor 7 (flat 5) / Half-diminished chord

This chord has two names but they mean the same thing.

The chord tones of a half-diminished chord are

  • 1
  • b3
  • b5
  • b7

Below are three chord shapes you can use to play it:

Diminished chord

So far, all the seventh chords you’ve learned can naturally be found in the major scale. 

The diminished seventh chord is a product of the harmonic minor scale.

If you are into dark jazz chords, this one will be your new favorite. 

When we look at the chord tones, however, we think of them as relating to the major scale:

  • 1
  • b3
  • b5
  • bb7

Yes, the double-flattened 7 is the same note as a 6 but the major scale, which we’re using as a reference for these chord tones, already has a 6.

There can only be one 6 in this town, baby, so people agreed to call this one bb7.

A final note: Diminished chords are often used as passing chords.

Here’s how to play them:

How to construct chords with extensions

So far we’ve focused on the basics.

But you can really never learn enough chords for jazz guitar if you love the genre, right?

Time to move on to a fun group that goes by the name of ‘extended chords’.

They sound colorful and interesting, so some people think of them as the “jazzy” guitar chords.

Once you have a chord using the 1, 3, 5, and 7, just keep going and add notes from the scale that are not in the chord yet.

Still available are 2, 4, and 6.

We never add lower numbers once we pass the 7 though, so the extensions we add to a seventh chord are 2, 4, and 6 plus one octave:

  • 2 = 9
  • 4 = 11
  • 6 = 13

We only have so many strings and fingers at our disposal.

This means we often have to drop less significant chord tones to play, let’s say, a G9 or a Dm9.

Usually, guitar players put the 5 on the chopping block – but there’s no fixed rule.

You can do whatever is comfortable and sounds good.

Below are some examples of 9th chord voicings. 

The first one is also one of THE jazz funk chords you should add to your tool belt.

Moving on to some real smooth jazz guitar chords. 

Below are minor 11th chord voicings.

Still hungry for more cool jazz chords? 

Alright, 13th chord shapes coming right up. 

Aren’t there extensions with sharps and flats as well?

Yes, very much so.

Most commonly, you’ll encounter them in the form of an altered Dominant 7 chord. 

The alteration refers to adding a b9, #9, #11, or b13.

These can be hard jazz chords to play but we believe in you.

Some folks might be surprised: These exotic-looking beasts are quite common jazz guitar chords.

Add 9 chords and other add-ons

Add chords have an extension note without the 7 being involved.

They are

  • Add9
  • Add6
  • Add11

Since most of the chords you’ll find in jazz music are seventh chords, these are not a common sight on jazz  guitar chord charts.

There is one exception: 6th chords.

They are beautiful creatures!

A major 6th chord has these chord tones:

  • 1
  • 3
  • 5
  • 6

On jazz guitar charts you’ll see it spelled as Cadd6 or C6. 

A minor 6th chord consists of

  • 1
  • b3
  • 5
  • 6

Here are a few examples:

You will also encounter these nice jazz chords that combine the 6 and 9:

Augmented Triads

When you learn jazz chords, many instructors skip teaching augmented chords in the beginning.

You’ll find them on charts, however, so we’ll address them.

A C augmented chord is spelled as C+.

An augmented triad consists of these chord tones:

  • 1
  • 3
  • #5

It’s best to think of it as a major triad with a #5.

This explains how it’s used in context.

The augmented sound adds tension. 

It can be used as a chord substitution in place of any other chord that would resolve to a major chord.

The #5 is a half step above a 5 and makes for a nice resolution.

Augmented triads can be part of seventh chords, for example, a Cmaj7(#5).

The most common chord that includes a #5 is the Dominant 7 Flat 13 chord.

A b13 is technically a b6 and that’s also a #5.

So, a C7b13 is a trojan horse with an augmented triad.

Jazz guitar-specific chords

As a guitarist, you should choose which chord voicings fit the song and arrangement best.

If you’re playing alongside other musicians, you’ll need chord voicings with just a few notes and a small sonic footprint. 

If it’s just you on guitar, take advantage of all six strings to fill out the sound.

Below are some options on how to play jazz guitar chords so you can prepare for different jazz-uations.

Two-note guitar chords

The two most important chord tones in a seventh chord are the 3 and 7.

They carry the essential information that determines the quality of the chord.

This approach is for intermediate and advanced players who know enough theory to identify those intervals.

A great exercise is to play through a chord progression just using a combination of the 3rd and 7th of each chord.

Beginner guitarists interested in this approach can start by memorizing the location of a major and minor 3rd and 7th in relation to a root note.

The 3-7 dyads make great jazz blues chords as well.

Many players like to add them in as a harmonic reminder when playing a solo for example.

Three-note guitar chords

Many people think jazz is very complicated, but there are also easy jazz chords - believe it or not.

So-called shell chords are three-note guitar chords. 

They leave out the 5 and only consist of either 1-3-7 or 1-3-6.

They are super helpful shapes for a few different reasons:

  • You can use them to quickly grasp how jazz guitar progressions sound that are new to you.
  • They’ll make you sound like a pro when you’re accompanying a singer or instrumental soloist - aka “comping”.
  • They are also great for beginners since you don’t have to pretzel your hand into awkward chord shapes.

Below are the three essential shapes (Major 7, Dominant 7, and Minor 7 - which doubles as Minor 7 Flat 5).

6th string root 

5th string root

Four-note guitar chords

Four-note chords are perfect to cover a range of tasks:

  • Spelling out a seventh chord using all four chord tones.
  • Adding extensions while keeping the foundational information of a chord.
  • Playing rootless chords to make room for a bassist.
  • Arranging a solo guitar piece where you cover bass, harmony, and melody (aka jazz guitar chord melody arrangements).

Even thought they’re so versatile, they’re still considered basic jazz guitar chords.

How to play ‘Drop 2’ chords

Drop 2 voicings are a staple of jazz guitar, so let’s see what they’re made of.

Below are four chord shapes that are all considered drop 2 voicings.

They include the root note, 3, 5, and 7.

Instead of stacking them in the order above, you play the root note on the 5th string followed by the 5, 7, and 3.

We have to get a bit into the weeds to explain why these are called drop 2:

  • Drop 2 means you move the second highest note of the chord to the bottom.
  • We can do this with any inversion of a chord.
  • For a seventh chord in root position, this means instead of 1-3-5-7 we play 5-1-3-7.
  • For a seventh chord in 2nd inversion, this means instead of 5-7-1-3 we play 1-5-7-3.
  • And that’s the version you see in above.

A great way to practice these shapes is by using them to harmonize the C major scale.

Below is the scale formula and the chords built from each note:

Take a moment and play through these jazz chords in C Major.

How to play ‘drop 3’ chords

The drop 3 chord voicings follow the same concept as the drop 2 chords.

Here’s an example of a common Major 7 shape:

This time, try and figure out where each note has to shift to turn this chord shape into a Minor 7, Dominant 7, etc.

Learning to solve these chord puzzles is one of the best methods to become a better guitarist.

Rootless chords

These four-note wonders are advanced jazz guitar chords.

Rootless chords omit the 1.

It’s a good idea to learn these by visualizing the chord tones in relation to the root even if you’re not actually playing the 1.

These shapes are great if you play with other musicians – especially a bassist or keyboard player.

Jazz guitar lessons online often neglect rootless chords but they’re really useful. 

Five-note guitar chords

A typical five-note chord is the 5th string bar chord. 

Since seventh chords only have four notes, one of them is doubled in these chord voicings.

Six-note guitar chords

Most people have a maximum of four fingers and one thumb available, so here are some 6th string bar chords.

Again, we have to play a couple of notes twice in different registers:

Jazz guitar chord progressions

Learning common chord combinations and the function of each chord in those progressions makes it a lot easier to memorize songs and improvise solos.

We gathered some of the must-know jazz chord progressions for guitar below.

The II-V-I

Everybody enjoys a cheat code - guitarists are no exception.

In jazz music, the cheat code is the almighty II-V-I.

Once I understood this concept, jazz standards no longer looked like a wilderness of complex chords.

I could actually see a clear trail connecting the trees and I’m confident you’ll get there too.

The II-V-I is a chord progression you’ll find in almost every jazz standard, sometimes multiple times in different keys.

The roman numerals refer to chords built on the second, fifth, and first scale degrees.

A II-V-I can be major or minor.

Sometimes the progression is abbreviated to just a V-I.

Other times, you’ll find slightly altered versions – with nicknames such as backdoor or frontdoor II-V-I.

This progression is so popular because it creates the perfect balance of tension and release.

If you want to learn how to play jazz on guitar, the II-V-I is an essential piece of the puzzle.

The jazz community will welcome you with open arms if you come equipped with the II-V-I insider knowledge.

Below is one version of a major II-V-I. 

I’ve found that the best way to become familiar with it is to make sure you practice playing the progression in different keys.

In the minor version of the II-V-I, the V chord is almost always altered.

This is because altered tensions resolve especially well to the I minor chord.

Below are three beautiful jazz guitar chord shapes for the minor II-V-I:

The turnaround

The job of the turnaround is to lead the listener back to the top of the form.

You’ll often find it in the last four bars of a progression.

In the key of A major, our turnaround looks like this: 

C#m7 - F#m7 - Bm7 - E7

Translated to the number system: 

IIIm - VIm - IIm - V

Secondary Dominants

It’s very popular to sneak an additional V chord into chord progressions.

You can take the V of any chord and plop it into the lineup right before the original chord.

Understanding and recognizing secondary dominants is an important part of mastering jazz guitar harmony.

Perhaps the most common one of all is the V of V7 turnaround. 

You can also interpret the chord as a II7.

We know it from the bridge of the popular jazz format of Rhythm Changes, standards like Take the A-Train, and classic R&B tunes like Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely.

In the key of C major, our II7 chord is D7.

Here’s one way to play it:

III7 to VIm is another secondary dominant.

You can hear it in Autumn Leaves, and lots of pop and R&B tunes.

It’s used frequently because it helps you access the relative minor of the key you're in.

E7 is the V of VIm in the key of C major.

We’re approaching a minor chord (Am), so let’s add tension to this secondary dominant.

Try out this spicy chord voicing:

Which scales fit which chord?

This is a common question in jazz online forums. 

Below is a handy list.

An important part of entering the world of jazz and guitar is improvisation.

You can of course use a blanket approach to improvising phrases.

Cmaj7, Dm9, and G7 are all built from the C major scale. 

Using only the C major scale is fine, but you might miss out on some smooth sounding jazz guitar lines.

Advanced guitar students should study the relationship between chords and scales.

This will make it a lot easier to improvise melodic lines .

Below are common chord scale connections. 

Fair warning: You need to know a bit about modes, to use this information – learn about them here:


What guitar chords are used in jazz?

The most common chords used in jazz are seventh chords.

They are the best jazz chords to learn in the beginning since you can cover a lot of ground with them.

Seventh chords come in different qualities: 

Major 7, Dominant 7, Minor 7, Half-Diminished, and Diminished 7.

You’ll also find a decent amount of extended chords and Add6 chord voicings.

Here are my five steps to help you learn all these chords:

  1. Pick a jazz standard.
  2. Learn the chord shapes from the song individually.
  3. Practice each chord transition separately.
  4. Play through the whole song along with a metronome.
  5. Repeat with other jazz standards.

What is the 3 chord progression in jazz?

The backbone of jazz is a chord progression called the II-V-I. 

Chords in jazz are often analyzed and talked about using roman numerals.

These refer to the scale degree the chords are built on.

A major II-V-I in the key of C looks like this: Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7.

A minor II-V-I in the key of C looks like this: Dm7b5 - G7 - Cmin7.

What is the first jazz chord to learn?

One chord that gets people hooked on jazz is a drop 3 voicing of a Major 7 chord.

It sounds beautiful, even when you’re not playing jazz.

The ultimate jazz chord for beginners looks like this:

Are 6th chords used in jazz?

Yes, both major and minor chords are often adorned with a 6th.

Especially when it comes to the I chord – the home chord of the key you’re playing in.

A C6 chord often sounds sweeter than the Cmaj7 chord.

Cmin6 is considered to be the gypsy jazz guitar chord.

What are 10 basic jazz chords?

If you only have time to learn ten jazz chords on guitar, why not make it the chords to Fly Me to the Moon?

Fm7 - Bbm7 - Eb7 - Abmaj7

Dbmaj7 - Gm7b5 - C7b9 - F7b13

Cm7 - F7b13

Below is a chord chart to play the song in Ab major.

You can use the chord shapes we’ve discussed throughout the article or use our Guitar chord library tool.

Wrapping up

Seventh chords are the most important ingredient for jazz guitar playing.

The first step to playing jazz standards is to learn a couple of chord voicings of simple jazz guitar chords

Recognizing a II-V-I is a crucial skill.

There are a lot of YouTube “teachers” when it comes to jazz guitar for beginners and it can be overwhelming.

If you’re ready for an easy-to-follow curriculum taught by experts, check Pickup Music’s jazz guitar online course: the Jazz Learning Pathway.

Try it now with this 14-day free trial.

Author: Julia Mahncke