Jazz 7th Chords Guitar
Seventh chords are a key aspect of jazz music and crucial for understanding jazz harmony. From major 7’s like in the classic Wayne Shorter tune Juju to minor 7’s and dominant 7’s, they are present in most jazz standards.
The first thing to realise about seventh chords is that they are (traditionally) built using basic triad shapes. This means that even a very complex chord such as a Db7(b9) can be viewed as simply a major triad with an added 7th.
Unlike most other chords that use triads, jazz 7th chords can also contain major and diminished voicings. Fully diminished chords are a little more complicated to learn than the other two, but once you understand how to play them they will add a lot of tension and mystery to your playing.
These chords are a staple of jazz and jazz blues, but they are also used in many other genres of music like rock and blues. Dominant chords are essential for the jazz sound, so it’s important to spend some time learning about these chord shapes.
The maj7 shape is actually quite simple to play, as it’s just a standard barre chord with an added major seventh on top. It took some time for people to accept these types of chords in modern music, but they have become a part of the jazz vocabulary.
As you move through jazz tunes you will encounter many different seventh chord qualities. Some of these are more common than others. For example, the dominant sus4 (also known as a minor 7 flat 5 or dim7 for short) is quite commonly used in jazz. This chord has a flat 4 which isn’t found in the major scale and it adds a bit of ambiguity to the chord. Wayne Shorter’s tune Fall makes great use of this quality in the chord progression.
Another commonly used minor seventh chord is the minor 7 flat 5. This is a great chord to play before you play a major seventh chord because it creates a nice bridge between the two.
This is a new set of shapes and it will take some time to get them into your muscle memory. As always, repetition is key! Be sure to practice each set of strings repeatedly and slowly until you can play them backwards and forwards.
Dominant chords are the staple of blues-based music, but they also make a great base for jazz. While stock dominant chords may be plain, jazz musicians love to decorate and alter their voicings. That’s why you’ll often hear a chord voicing that sounds completely different from its standard counterpart even though the chord-tones are the same.
Altered dominants have one or two of the chord tones (the root, 3rd and 7th) shifted by a half step up or down a tone. This changes the color of the chord and allows improvisers to build lines over these shapes without relying on too much jazz scale knowledge.
This week’s chord shape is a minimal version of the dominant triad. It omits the 5th degree of the scale, making it less complex than the standard C7 chord. When playing this shape, be sure to prevent the bottom E string from sounding. This can be done by using the thumb of your fretting hand to dampen the string.
While the major seventh chord is the most commonly encountered chord quality in jazz, it is possible to add more tension and outside sounds to your improvisations with other qualities such as the minor diminished. A minor diminished scale is built using a progression of whole tone intervals and contains a raised fifth (#11) that can produce some funky tensions.
Another extension is the augmented major seventh, which is similar to a major triad but with an added sharp fifth. This chord can be played as a minor diminished triad with a raised fifth or as a dominant seventh with a flat five.
Once you’ve got the basic shapes under your fingers, you should start experimenting with more advanced extensions such as 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. It’s important to know how these are spelled and written since there is no one standard way to write a chord in music. You’ll see CM7, o and Cm7 all used to represent the same chord.