3 Examples of Condensed Jazz /Blues Chords...

Standard chord shapes will offer guitarists one direction of sound but when we learn to break away from the common shapes new colors emerge and new possibilities will arise...
To understand condensed chord shapes, we need to consider the nature of chord tones. Not all chord tones are necessary to form the color-tone notes of a functional chord.  For example, if the 5th chord tone is dropped out, a chord can still function in harmony. And, if a chord is larger chord (such as a; 9th, 11th or 13th), is condensed the chord will still able to function.

By developing a chord vocabulary to suit this style of greater chord flexibility, guitarists can use inversions and this condensing chord process to retain a chords essential ‘flavor notes’ and cover a surprisingly wide range of chords.

Here are some examples of ways for you to try this chord condensing approach.

The Condensed G6:
Built from the; root, 6th and major 3rd.

You can easily adapt this to cover major 7th, dominant 7th, minor 7th and minor 6th, just by moving one or both of the two upper notes. What’s more, this shape will also work as an (inverted) E minor chord.

Condensed "G6" - Chord Tones: G, E, B (Root, 6, 3)
Conversion example: G6 to G7 by moving one chord tone (4th string)
Condensed "G7" - Chord Tones: G, F, B (Root, b7, 3)

The Condensed Am6:
Built from the; root, 6th and major 3rd.

A nice chord quality variation of our Major 6 chord is switching it over to the minor quality. The major 3rd has dropped to a minor 3rd, and the 6th has risen to the minor 7th. The compact nature of this shape means that guitar players can feasibly play it with two fingers.

Condensed "Am6" - Chord Tones: A, F#, C (Root, 6, b3)

Conversion example: Am6 to Am7 by moving one chord tone (4th string)
Condensed "Am7" - Chord Tones: A, G, C (Root, b7, b3)

The Condensed Dom. 7 Altered Chord:
This one is a bit more advanced, taking this approach into more subtle territory. Assuming you’d have a bassist playing the root (E), this shape adds the major 3rd, b9th and 5th. The lack of 7th means it’s not strictly correct, but it will work in context.

Condensed "E7(b9)" - Chord tones:  G#, F, B  (3, b9, 5)

Conversion example: E7(b9) to E7 by moving one chord tone (4th to 2nd string)
Condensed "E7" - Chord Tones: G#, B, D (3, 5, b7)

By moving away from the popular fundamental chord shapes - found in most of the guitar chord books, guitar players can step out of the popular patterns and create new sounds using inversions, and chords lacking a root (the root can always be provided by the bassist).

Drop the middle note, drop the top note, analyze a chord without a root in the bass, and you'll create dozens of new chord shapes. As we've seen, you have a one tone difference between a chord like the minor 6th to a 7th. And, in most of our examples, by moving or retaining the middle note and raising the top note gives a variation on the type or quality.

It's all about experimentation with chord tones. And, when you spend the time, you'll not only learn new chord shapes, but you'll also build a better vocabulary for the fingerboard as well.

- Andrew Wasson



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