"The Rewards of Jazz Chords"

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Jordan Warford here, Editorial Manager for Guitar Tips.

Thanks for taking the time to tune in this week as we take a look at the chords that jazz is built from. You may be surprised at the simplicity of the concept.

In this edition:

This week we will pick up on our mini series revolving around jazz guitar. In case you haven't been with us, we have been learning various kinds of genres and the musical technique behind them.

Check out how the pros do business and learn how to build simple chords that can take you a long way. We'll show you how to make them by translating the musical language into something that everyone can get a grasp on.

We have some great tips to help you understand the rhythm of jazz and we'll give you a taste of some interesting chords taken from an actual chord scale.

As always, we have our ever popular Feedback Booth where you can see what your fellow subscribers have to say. Get updated on what's new!

Without further a due, let's get started!

The Building Blocks.

Making the connections.

Jazz chords are, in my opinion, the most beautiful and eloquent chords available to guitarists. They are the true meaning of class. The sound aside, these chords are a great way to build your chops up and form you into a guitarist that knows their fretboard.

You may know scales and understand how to connect them but chords add a new element to this equation. In fact, we will be using scales in our lesson today to build chords. One of the reasons so many guitarists choose to learn jazz, whether they use it or not, is simply due to the fact that you need to learn music theory in order to use them properly.

We won't be diving into the music theory of chords in this newsletter but we will give you some neat ideas on how to make the connection between chords and scales.

As a quick prelude, I want to cover one thing that you might come across when dealing with chords in the future: Roman Numerals. I highly suggest that you check out this site. Print off one of their charts and know all of your Roman Numerals up to 24. You will find when reading and understanding where chords are located on your fretboard, this is an essential thing to know.

The good news is you have some time to get acquainted with them as we won't be including this numbering system in today's newsletter.


A chord is technically defined as any three or more notes played simultaneously. A triad is the most basic and simplistic of all chords and it consists of three notes built up in thirds (more on that in a minute.) It is essential to learn and master triads before moving onto larger, more complex chords.

Most of the larger chords are actually built from triads, which makes those chords easier to learn if you already know the basics of chords. Do not underestimate these little bundles of sound! They will add a whole new vocabulary to your chord voicings. In other words, you'll have plenty to practice.

Before you freak out and start wondering, "What is all this theory about?", I have some encouraging words for you: anyone can learn this. Yes, knowing music theory helps but the way we're going to tackle this challenge requires only one prerequisite... know the notes on your fretboard (or at least the low E and A.) It is an asset to any guitarist and you can get caught up by clicking here.

Believe it or not, chords are actually created from scales. This explains all of the build up in the last two months of our articles.

That's right, all of that work leads up to this very point in time where I get to tell you that one of the reasons scales are so important is because we create chords from them. Are you excited? You should be because this is going to open up a new door for you.

Let's start off by taking a look at the C Major scale, which is an extremely easy scale to remember. In case you forgot, the order of notes goes like this:


Each scale has a numbering system that indicates each note. This numbering system is just as simple as the scale itself and goes like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8/1

...Every scale numbering system is the same, it just has different notes. Those numbers are called the degree of the scale. The most important note of any scale, chord, or key is the 1st degree, which is in this case is C.

The first degree is almost always referred to as the "Root" but its technical name is actually the "Tonic." We won't be getting into the technical names of the degrees in this newsletter. This note is always smooshed down on the bottom of any chord or scale.

Now that we have some of the terminology under our belts, we'll take a quick second to look at what we're about to learn. There are four different kinds of triads and each has three different ways to play it. The four different sounding forms of triads are:

  1. The Major triad
  2. The minor triad
  3. The augmented triad
  4. The diminished triad.

So your probably wondering how these chords are made and how you can play them. The answer to both questions is simpler than you think.

To build triads, we use the scale degrees. A Major triad is built from the root (C), the third degree (E), and the fifth degree (G). We refer to any Major triad from a Major scale as (R, 3, 5). It's the quick reference for jazz musicians.

When you say those numbers instead of the notes, every member of the band knows exactly what you're talking about, even if their instrument is tuned in a different key(because they'll just apply it the scale that's in their own key.)

From this new chord, we can shift around the notes to get different tones but still have the same chord name. This little trick is known as triad inversions. There are three different inversions for each of the four chords. Why three? Because there are three notes in a triad, allowing for three different combinations.

We already know one inversion and that's the root position (R, 3, 5.) The next inversion is called the first inversion (3, 5. R.) See how it shakes up the order a little bit? The last of the possible combination is called the Second Inversion (5, R, 3.) No matter the order, they are all considered to be a C Major triad.

Now we move onto the other chords that we mentioned. I will save you the stress and technical lingo of how they came about and give you the degrees instead. They are as follows for each chord:

  1. The Major triad (R, 3, 5)
  2. The minor triad (R, b3, 5)
  3. The augmented triad (R, 3, #5)
  4. The diminished triad (R, b3, b5)

Note: If you see a "b" or a "#" before any of the degrees, it means that the note is either a flat (b) or sharp(3). For instance, the minor triad consist of the notes C, bE (E flat), and G.

All of those chords follow the same inversion rules. This allows you to manipulate them into the sounds that you like and construct them to fit around the space in which you are playing on the fretboard.

Triad shapes.

Now we can get to the actual application of triads. The beauty of these simple yet effective chords is how easily accessible they are. You only need to remember the shapes of the four different chords and you can move them all around the fretboard with ease.

You can learn the shapes for playing on different strings as well, which can give you up to 288 different chord choices on a 24 fret guitar! Let's start with the shapes found on the low E string:

... With triads, you only play the notes that you are fingering. In other words, there are no open strings or it's technically not a true triad anymore.

The shapes that you see above can move around to any note on the low E string or A string and it will form the "root" of the chord you want to hear. Pretty cool stuff eh?

Pictured below are the shapes for any triad with a root on the fourth string:

Last but not least, here are all of the triad shapes with the root on the third string:

Once you learn these basic shapes, you can move into their inversions and start to build your own triads. Due to the large number of notes, you can create some pretty cool triads that form outside of the bounds of what we just covered.

Practice strumming them without hitting other strings and get used to picking out each individual note. Triads are usually used for rhythm/solo combinations in jazz guitar so having the proper technique to be able to both strum triads and pick them is essential.

Jazz Rhythm.

Jazz chords can either make you cry or simply want to get up and dance. However, the chord is only as good as the right hand that is strumming it. Having a feel for the music is essential to being able to produce a product that sounds good and fits that genre of music.

When playing jazz rhythm, guitarists usually use a very fast tempo in conjunction with accented beats. Translated, they play fast music and really hit the strings at certain times. Mind you, this isn't used for every kind of rhythm played in jazz, just one subtype.

We could write a book on the various kinds of rhythms a jazz guitarist can use for different moods and still not cover everything!

For our purposes today, we're going to look through the basics of building a solid jazz rhythm.

First, you need a pattern to work from. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. Practice it slowly so you don't miss any strums and work your way up to a reasonably fast tempo.

When you listen to fast jazz, there are a lot of chord changes that take place in a short amount of time. If you're not used to switching chords with that kind of intensity, I recommend that you run through your major chords until you can manage a switch time of 1-2 seconds.

That won't happen over night but is easily attainable if you work towards it and get comfortable with the chords. In the past, I have heard stories of guitarists who practice in the dark. They say this allows them to know their chords so well that they can focus on the sound that they want to produce. It might just be the trick to get you more comfortable with your instrument.

When strumming, don't be afraid to mix it up by accenting different beats. This can be done by hitting the strings slightly harder on the beats. You can do this on an upstrum or a downstrum... it doesn't really matter.

When you have fingers that aren't in use, you can use them to mute strings, or use them to add to the beat. They can actually serve as a great percussive tool to add to your arsenal of effects.

Picking out the notes is also very useful when playing jazz. Don't be afraid to slide around your fingers and make sudden stops, so long as it fits with the music.

Another neat little trick is to lightly lift your fingers off the fretboard every so often just as you hit the strings. It makes the music sound more percussive and put together. Here is an example of what a fast jazz rhythm can sound like:

...All I'm doing is simply holding down the first three (sometimes four) strings with my first finger and letting the rhythm do the rest of the work. Every now and then I'll place my third finger three frets up and do a hammer on or pull off for effect. You can do this too!

Perhaps it won't sound like the above example at first but as always, with time and practice you too will sound as good as any musician out there.

Putting it into practice...

Now that we have the basics covered, it wouldn't be complete without some more classic jazz chords for you to play and enjoy.

Here are some of the nice classic sounds and an example of them in action. Have fun!

Note: Do not play your low or high E strings for any of the above chords.

A sound clip of them in use with a wah wah pedal:


Feedback Booth

It's always a pleasure to get the chance to read through all of the emails that many of your take the time to send in. It's also encouraging to see that many of you pay close attention to the articles and today's emails are centered on that. Let's take a look at what your fellow subscribers had to say since our last newsletter:

This email comes to us from an Anonymous Aussie:

"First of all let me just say that your newsletter is probably one of the most helpful and useful ones floating around the internet today. I was just wondering if you're planning on putting up links to the other articles that were published after Looking At Your Sound, The Other Way Around... since I found those issues particularly helpful.

If you do plan on putting them back online my suggestion is that you have subpages for your archives, such as keeping the archive page that you have now and adding another one for those published in 2006, 2007, etc. or some other form of categorization that would be easier for you and other subscribers. Cheers and rock on! -- An Anonymous Aussie."

Our archive has been updated and is ready to role for all of you to enjoy. All of our 2005 lessons are on there with the exception of our rock guitar lesson which is down temporarily due to a technical issue. It will be back online shortly.

Tom emailed me with this correction on the last issue:

"Hey Jordan (and others), First, let me tell you that I've been enjoying your newsletter immensely. I've been playing for about 45 years (well, we won't get into my age, but I started as a teenager...), but I always find there's more to learn (I'm mostly self-taught), and your newsletters give me a lot of food for thought.

Today has been a slow day at work, so I've been working through your article, "The Art of Jazz Guitar." It's quite thoughtful in the way it explains modes, which I've never been able to totally wrap my brain around. Your article certainly helps!

However, I think I found one little error. It has to do with this section of the article:

"Let's say I was playing my F Major (Ionian) scale in its third position. However, we want to change keys and play the E Major (Ionian) scale in its third position. All we do is simply move down (or up depending on what key you want) from the key we are currently on.

Since we are on the fifth fret, we go down two spaces and land on our E Major scale which is on the third fret. We can keep the same fingering and pattern, just move it all down two frets. Then you have your E Major scale in its third position. "

Now, correct me if I'm wrong (and I could well be!), but I believe one moves from playing F Major (Ionian) in its third position to playing E major (Ionian) in its third position by moving the pattern down one fret, not two.

While it's true that every fret is equal to a semitone and there are two semitones between each whole tone, enharmonic spellings aside, there's really only one semitone difference between E major and F major. Moving down to the third fret would give you Eb Major (Ionian) in its third position.

Well, I hope this helps -- and if I'm all wet, please feel free to tell me so! And keep up the good work -- little mistakes are just that, and your newsletter is a big help.

~Tom Ewart"

Tom is absolutely correct and that error has been fixed. As Tom mentioned, we all make little mistakes and I must of had a brain lapse when writing that section. Thanks to all of you who sent me a kind email to notify us of this error and my sincere apologies to all of you who memorized the scale under a different name.

John sent us this email with a request:

"I have been playing guitar for quite a bit now and getting pretty good. Recently, I have been buying the Guitar One magazines and the discs that come with them. I have taken a liking to Metallica since the first time I heard them I was wondering if you could give me some reliable tabs by Metallica."

We receive many requests for tablature but unfortunately due to copyright restrictions, we cannot distribute any songs that we do not have the legal right to. However, many individual guitarists tab out their songs and post them online for all to see and some of them are quite good.

I suggest that you check out one of the following sites:




...Hopefully those three sites we'll keep many of you going. We published them in one of our newsletter a few months ago but seeing as time flies, it's always good to get a reminder of what is out there. Just be on the lookout for inaccurate tabs.

Roy Lay sent us along this video with a brand new idea that he wants to share with all of you!

"Hi, How much of a problem is it for players? Is hanging on to a pick a major problem? It was for me. I say was because I have found the solution. I am a new player at age 62. I may have waited too late in life to try and learn to play, but I enjoy trying. Anyhow; as I said, I've found the solution for the pick problem if in fact there is one.

I don't have a patent for the idea, and I'm not sure if I could even get one. At this point I just hope to make life a bit easier for as many pickers as I can. Especially the beginners like me who just can't hold on to a pick. This will take care of the problem!

It is Elmer's tack Tabs. It made by the makers of Elmer's Glue. Just a very small pinch pressed onto your pick does the trick. For less than $2.00 you can get enough to last for years. I've already tried other brands, and the don't seem to work as well as Elmer's. Great stuff! Feel free to use this information in any way that may help someone else. Here it is in action:"

Great job Roy! Hopefully this will be able to help some of you along. It's a cheap alternative to some of the more expensive picks that can actually stick to your finger like a suction cup. Either way, some pretty cool gadget ideas are coming straight from our own subscribers!


We hope you took something from this lesson that will aid you on your voyage to excellence. Triads lay the foundation to further music theory and chord building. While we may not have time to go in depth on the theory behind building chords, it is a great learning tool to know and understand.

Triads provide a refreshing array of options to us as guitarists and I recommend you practice them through each day. Try playing some of the more spaced out triads to build your finger and hand strength.

When we combine triads into jazz and soloing, a beautiful thing happens: We begin to understand how the fretboard is connected. Scales and chords are one in the same... You just need to know what your looking for.

I hope you join us next week as we continue to learn more genres of music.

Until next time, keep on picking!


If you've always wanted to learn to play the guitar but never had the chance, give me 17 minutes a day for 90 days and I'll show you how to play virtually any song you want! Visit http://www.guitartips.com.au