Jazz Guitar Chord

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Basis for a Jazz Guitar Chord

A jazz guitar chord is based on music terms and elements just as any chord is. Start with a major scale of seven notes, say, C to C on a keyboard (the last C creates an octave, and is the eighth note). Each note is assigned a Roman Numeral, I through VII. The second note in this scale is D, which is a whole tone up from C. D is labeled Roman Numeral II, and is called the major second. If you hit the black key in between these two white whole tones, that would be a minor second, and it is a semitone, or half tone.

Do not confuse these minor intervals with minor keys. Chord formation depends on knowing intervals in each key, and the relationships among them. Chords consist of two or more intervals--three or more notes; an interval is simply the pitch difference between two notes. A traditional chord is a triad, which consists of the first, third, and fifth notes of the C scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. The triad chord would be C, E, G--intervals of three (C is counted as one, D is the second interval, and E is the third interval).

Distinctive Jazz Chords

The other type of chord is the seventh, which is simply a stack of three third intervals. In the illustration above, B is the seventh note, so if it is added to the triad chord, you have a seventh chord. Jazz uses complex chords--9ths, 11ths, 13ths. Where do they come from? To get a 9th, you continue into the next octave for your added notes. The last C is the second octave I, so the next D would be the second octave II, or the last third interval of this chord.

These extended chords produce a distinctive jazzy sound. A person interested in playing any jazz guitar chord must either study music theory or start playing by using charts that lay out the chords for you. In a comprehensive wall chart, these complex jazz chords would be to the right, since the most basic information, such as jazz guitar scales, is at the beginning of the chart to the left. At least a guitar chord poster would enable a novice to play some chords and start to hear the differences among them.


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