Tony Oreshko jazz and gypsy jazz guitar


by Tony Oreshko
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Lesson 1

Introducing Some Jazz Guitar Chords

This first lesson is aimed at those of you who can play maybe a handful of basic chords on the guitar, but want to start creating some more jazzy chordal sounds.

One of the things that distinguishes jazz guitarists from most pop, rock, blues or folk players is the chord vocabulary they use. What I'll be doing in this lesson is taking a set of basic chords that appear in lots of different songs, and showing you some of the ways jazz guitarists alter those chords to make them sound more jazzy. This is known as chord substitution.

Altering a Common Chord Sequence

Let's start by looking at a very common basic chord sequence:

        C - Am - Dm - G7 MP3  C - Am - Dm - G7

You'll find this chord pattern in hundreds of different tunes, e.g. Blue Moon, Swing 42, My Baby Just Cares for Me and many more. (If you can't play these basic chords then this lesson may not be for you).

Chord Families

What we have in this sequence are chords from three different chord families:
  • Major family - the C major chord
  • Minor family - the Am and Dm chords
  • Dominant 7th family - the G7 chord
This is important, because chords from different families tend to get handled in different ways when doing chord substitution.

Changing Minor Chords for Dominant 7ths

Let's look at the two minor chords first: Am and Dm. A trick some jazz guitarists use is to take minor chords and change them for corresponding dominant 7th chords (substitution). So instead of Am we use A7 and instead of Dm we use D7. The original chord progression now looks like this:

        C - A7 - D7 - G7 MP3  C - A7 - D7 - G7

Already it sounds a tiny bit more jazzy, but this is only the beginning...

You'll see that three out of the four chords are now from the dominant 7th family. This is helpful to jazz players as there are many ways that dominant 7th chords in particular can be embellished to create more jazzy sounds.

Altered Dominant Chords

Here is a list of chord diagrams for what are called 'altered dominant chords'. Don't be put off by the complex names and terms - all you need to remember is that rather than playing a basic G7 chord you can simply play any one of these G altered dominant chords in it's place.

Click on each chord shape to hear how it sounds.


G7#5 chord diagram     G7b5 chord diagram     G7b9 chord diagram     G7#9 chord diagram     G9b5 chord diagram

G9#5 chord diagram     G13b9 chord diagram     G13#9 chord diagram     G7#5b9 chord diagram     G7#5#9 chord diagram

Let's try an example:
Instead of playing G7 I'll use, say, the G13b9 chord as a substitute.

The progression now looks like this:

        C - A7 - D7 - G13bp MP3  C - A7 - D7 - G13b9

Here's another example. Instead of playing G7 this time I'll substitute in a G9#5:

        C - A7 - D7 - G13b9 MP3  C - A7 - D7 - G9#5

Does that make sense? Instead of playing G7 just choose any one of the G altered dominant chords from the list and use that instead.

Now try experimenting with some of the other G altered dominant chord shapes in place of the standard G7. You'll hear that each has its own unique, spicy sound.

So which are the best substitute chords to use? Well, this depends on the melody you are accompanying, and also on your own personal taste. Let your musical ear be the judge - if it sounds good, use it!

Hope you've got something useful out of this lesson. In the next lesson we'll be looking at how we can add substitutes for the other two dominant chords, the D7 and the A7. Oh, and welcome to the world of jazz chord substitution!

Tony Oreshko

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