The title says it all. In this guitar lesson, I will be showing you some jazz chord progressions. This is an ideal lesson for guitar players who are new to the exciting world of jazz and are looking to get started by learning some cool sounding jazz chord progressions fast!
Below, you’ll find a whole bunch of jazz chord progressions so you’re sure to find something you like. Make sure you learn all the material below and be sure to try out the progressions in different keys.
All the material listed in this jazz guitar lesson requires that you have the ability to follow Roman numeral based chord progression instructions. Furthermore, you’ll also need at least a moderately developed chord vocabulary. I won’t be telling anybody how to suck eggs in this lesson. There will little to no instructions on “how to” play the material. On top of this, knowledge of chords within a scale will be highly advantageous but not essential.
Before we begin, I’d like to point out two more things. Firstly, this isn’t a music theory lesson. It’s a practical guitar lesson. Therefore, there won’t be any explanation as to why the chord progressions below work. That’s a subject for another day and let’s face it, you want to play. Secondly, it’s probably also fair to point out that I’m not a jazz expert. I’m not a jazz guitarist by nature although I have been known to dabble and I’ve used all the below chord progressions in the past and I can testify that if nothing else, all the chord progressions below sound cool and jazzy.
That concludes the introduction. Let’s dive right in and learn some jazz chord progressions.
Jazz chord progressions – welcome to the exciting world of jazz rhythm guitar.
Next, we’ll start to look at some jazz chord progressions but before that, I’d like to point out that all the examples are in C, either C major or C minor. These progressions can be played in any key and as mentioned above, you’re encouraged to play them in different keys. This is an easy task because every single chord that I’ll be using in this guitar lesson is movable. If you don’t know what a movable guitar chord is, go learn, I guess.
Below, you’ll see all the different chord shapes that I’ll be using in the lesson. Some of you will know all these chords and some of you won’t. If you don’t know any of the chords below, learn them and start using them.
It’s also worth pointing out that the chords types in these progressions aren’t rigid. They can be swapped out for different chord types. This is common in jazz but the below are a great place to start. Introducing more chord types to the below progressions is a subject for another lesson.
Furthermore, if you’d like to swap out one version of say, a C major 7 chord for a different shape, that’s fine. These are simply the shapes that I used when composing the lesson. I think I got them all.
The chords that you’ll need to know
Jazz chord progressions #1 Major II V I
The major II V I is definitely the ideal way to start your experimentation with jazz chord progressions. The II V I should be considered cornerstone content in this environment. If you learn nothing more today, learn this. This is the most important of the chord progressions that you’ll see here.
In the key of C major, the chords for this progression would look like this.
Dm7 / G7 / Cmaj7 / Cmaj7
There, you have 1 bar of D minor 7 followed by 1 bar of G dominant 7 followed by 2 bars of C major 7.
Jazz chord progressions #2 Minor II V I
I’m going to fire through these as quickly as possible. The minor II V I is naturally the minor equivalent of the opening progression that we looked at. Play both the major and the minor version to see how they sound.
In terms of the chords, we’re sticking with C only this time, we’re in C minor. The minor II V I jazz chord progression could look something like this.
Dm7b5 / G7 / Cm7 / Cm7
Some of you may be unfamiliar with the m7b5 which is a minor 7 flat 5 chord. This is a great chord that works splendidly in this context. Learn it.
Jazz chord progressions #3 Major I VI II V
Next up we have the major I VI II V chord progression. In the key of C major, this would be something like this. See how that II V at the end of the progression loops back to the root chord?
Cmaj7 / Cma7 /Am7 / Am7 / Dm7 / Dm7 / G7 /G7
How about a little bonus tip? Let’s look an example of how we can introduce more complex extended chords into the mix. The example that I’m giving you can be found in the chord charts above. A G dominant 13 chord. This is an easy chord to finger as it’s simply a modification of the G7 barre chord that you’re already using. Try something like this.
Cmaj7 / Cmaj7 / Am7 / Am7 / Dm7 / Dm7 / G13 / G7
That’s just one simple development. Can you build on this even more? When you’re on that Am7 barre chord, try fretting the 7th fret high e with your 4th finger briefly during the second A minor 7 bar. You’ve just introduced an A minor 9.
Jazz chord progressions #4 Tritone substitution of the V chord
The tritone substitution is a neat little trick that we can throw into our major II V I progression that we learned earlier. How it works is in the name. We going to substitute a chord (the V chord) with a chord 3 tomes above it.
The chord type that we’re going to use is a dominant 7 and in the key of C major, this means that G7 is substituted with C#7.
If we were to use this in a major II V I progression, we would end up with something like this.
Dm7 / G7 / Cmaj7 / Cmaj7 / Dm7 / C#7 / Cmaj7 / Cmaj7 /
This works in any key and it has a very nice chromatic feel. Just move up the fretboard by 3 full tones from the root of the V chord to find the substitute chord and Bob’s your transsexual grandmother.
Jazz chord progressions #5 III substitution of the I
The concept of substituting the I chord for the III chord is exactly that. If you have a basic knowledge of diatonic chords, this will be no issue for you at all. We’ll use one of our previous examples, the I VI II V.
If we substitute the I chord with the III chord, we’d have a III VI II V chord progression.
Em7 / Em7 /Am7 / Am7 / Dm7 / Dm7 / G7 / G7
We could also introduce this idea into the II V I chord progression from the start of the lesson.
Dm7 / G7 / Em7 / Cmaj7
Jazz chord progressions #6 Diminished 7th passing chord
So, this is a very interesting one. This isn’t a chord progression as such, but it can be used to create unique and interesting sequences of chords. The concept behind this seems complex but it’s pretty simple and with some experimentation, you’ll get the hang of it very quickly indeed.
What we’re going to do is add a diminished 7th chord between diatonic chords. The best way to demonstrate this in action is with some examples that work well. Try these out. Adding that diminished 7th creates a rather beautiful and unique tension. I love diminished 7th chords.
The above 2 examples demonstrate how effective a diminished 7th passing chord can be but don’t stop there. Try it out for yourself and see where you think this fits well. There’s a lot that can be done with this and it is definitely very jazzy. It’s all about using your ears.
Furthermore, if you read my guitar lesson on diminished 7th chords (which you didn’t because you came from outside) you’ll know that moving a diminished 7th chord shape up or down by 3 frets creates an inversion of the same chord. Is there a source there for some interesting music?
#7 IV minor chords
Here, we have a lovely sounding little trick that can sound great in a jazz context but isn’t necessarily unique to that world. Quite a few pop bands have used this. The concept is simple. If we have a bar of a IV chord in a major key, that would mean that the chord is major. Instead of playing a full bar of the major IV chord, split the bar in half, and for the second half of the bar, play a minor version of that same chord.
Hope that made sense. Here’s a simple example. This would be a I V IV IV I progression
Cmaj7 / G7 / Fmaj, Fm / Cmaj
Give it a try. This will only be useful in certain situations, but when it fits, it really fits.
I’m going to do one more but before I do, just a quick word on strumming. It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that this guitar lesson on jazz chord progressions hasn’t included any guidance or instruction on strumming. There’s been some advice on beats, but that’s all. This isn’t a strumming lesson. The strumming is something that I’d like you to get the hang of via experimentation. Listen to jazz guitar music and get a feel for it.
#8 I IV7 III VI7 II V I
I want to end with something very specific. This is a very nice jazz chord progression that I simply love the sound of. Give it a jam and try it in different keys. Here it is.
Cmaj7 / F7 / Em7 / A7 / Dm7 / G7 / Cmaj7
Nice and easy. 1 chord per bar. Sounds great.
A natural link to another piece of context is tricky because I think this may be the first jazz related guitar lesson that I’ve written for Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I guess that jazz is a close relative of the blues, so perhaps you may find this lesson on the 8 bar, 16 bar and 24 bar blues interesting.
If you want something else related to guitar chords, try this lesson on major 9 chords minor 9 chords and dominant 9 chords.
Finally, you may find this guitar lesson on how to change key on guitar useful. This one has a link to some of the material you’ve learned today.
Hello. My name is Ryan J Mellor and I play the guitar. I’m also the creator of Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I’ve ben a guitarist for many years and my guitar playing has been described as “above average”. My guitar and music knowledge is somewhat impressive but most importantly, I have a passion for creating great guitar and music related content.