The Jazz Chords Concept

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This is the beginning of exploring jazz and the possibilities that it opens up. It is the most basic form of chord substitution and gets more complex the further you look into it!

"Any chord can be substituted by any other chord within it's own group."

This is the first of many jazz "rules" or concepts you should learn. Most of them are offering you new choices of what to play. The "rules" are there to help you explore music, not to restrict you. They are your friend. As you progress you will find that you can break the rules and make up your own rules, but it is a good idea to learn the traditional rules first. 

"If it sounds good, it is good. If it sounds shit, it is shit"

This is very important because there are places where using this idea will sound pretty bad, often when the note you add clashes with the melody. You must use your ears to decide - don't always rely on theory to tell you if something is good or not. You have to learn to listen. Transcribing jazz chord solos is pretty difficult, but will really help you, because you will hear good use of chord changes and get them into your bag!

Basic Groups

There are 3 basic chord groups. They are Major, minor, Dominant (which includes the Altered chords). Each contains many chords. Most of the common chords found in each group are shown below.

Major
Maj, Maj 6 (usually just written as 6), Maj 7, Maj 9, Maj 11, Maj 13.

minor
min, min 6, min 7, min9, min11, min13.

Dominant
7, 9, 11, 13, 7sus4

Also contains a sub group - Altered - which is any Dominant 7th chord with #5, b5, #9 or b9.

The Possibilities

This rule offers you endless possibilities. You will soon learn how to use it fully, and I will expand on this topic on later lessons on Chordal Relationships, but for now, take it for what it says.

If in the music it says C Maj 7, you can play C, C 6, C Maj 7, C Maj 9, C Maj 11 or C Maj 13. Using this basic substitution technique you can spend many enjoyable hours playing your favorite standards in hundreds of different ways.

It also means that you can play a simple C Maj7 if you see any of the above chords. This is the technique that will enable you to play any jazz songs that you originally thought too complicated, or were hesitant because there were lots of chords that you didn't know.

And Altered Chords?

When it comes to Altered Chords just play the chord without the alterations (i.e. play G7#5b9 as G7 or C Maj 7#11 as just good old C Maj 7). The alterations are often there to compliment the melody, and as you learn new chords then you should use the chords shown in the music. If you can play the correct chords it will help with your understanding of the melodic structure, and what the composer of the tune originally intended.

The Suspended dilemma?

Suspended chords are another slippery little fish and don't really seem to fit in any particular group, as they fit an all of them except Altered. I put them in the Major group, but not for any good reason. If you have any idea what they fall into then please contact me.

In Use

The next step is to start using the new chords to play some great tunes. Check out some Jazz Standards that you like and start to figure out the chords. You should go out and buy a "Real Book" if you are keen on jazz and try to learn as many songs as you can.

Some more?

The highly respected jazz educator David Mead has a Masterclass on this site along similar lines that you should also check out. As you will see there are many angles to look at the same picture!

You should also check out the following lessons in this little series which will show you how to play some of the chords discussed in this lesson.

Grades

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