Simple Chord Exercises for New Jazz Guitarists...

Courtesy of Matthew Wendler

Anybody can find the chord drawings for every chord imaginable with just a few clicks online. However, knowing all the chords and using them in practice, are two different things altogether.

The following progressions given below are not terribly difficult, (as far as jazz goes), but once learned, they are a great addition to every guitarist's skill set.

Give these common jazz progressions some time to work their way into your routine to see if they can influence your songwriting and playing. They're the logical first step towards getting a good feel for what jazz guitar is all about. Plus, the skills that come along with playing jazz guitar can easily transfer into many other musical styles.

C Major ii, V, I progression
Countless jazz standards feature a ii, V, I progression, which is why it's such a good starting point for studying jazz on any instrument. Also, it sounds a whole lot cooler than the tired old I, IV, V, even though they are similar.

This progression starts from the tenth fret. The notation below presents an easy starting point for anyone who is unfamiliar with jazz.


Major turnaround
This major turnaround functions much like any turnaround would in the blues. It leads the ear back to the beginning of a progression. This is accomplished by creating tension with dissonance, then resolving it with consonance.


The I, VI, ii, V turnaround shown above showcases the classic jazz strategy of bending the rules of music theory. In this case, the VI will be an A7b9 chord (where an Am7 chord would make sense according to traditional music theory). This makes the A7b9 very dissonant and laden with tension. However, it allows the following chord, Dm7, to sound more consonant, which is part of what creates the turnaround effect. The theory behind this is that the A7b9 is actually acting as a fifth chord to the Dm7 chord, so the consonant sound of a drop from a V chord to a I chord is created. The Dm7 resolves the tension from the A7b9, creating an effective turnaround.

Major progression with turnaround
Now that we have illustrated the concepts of a progression and a turnaround, we can combine them to create a section. Jazz tunes are often divided into sections that have different chord progressions. On a sheet of music, they're typically denoted by letters. So, for instance, section A would start the song and end with a turnaround before repeating or moving on to section B.

Previously, we played the progression "long," meaning that each chord change got a full measure. In this example, we're playing the progression "short," which means that each chord change gets half a measure. Get this progression down to be on the right steps towards learning jazz guitar.


If you're new to jazz, this easy progression is a good first step towards gaining an understanding of how chord progressions work, and is also a great introduction to the genre. It's a simple one to incorporate a walking bassline into, as well, if that piques your interest.

Matthew Wendler is a blogger and multi-instrumentalist from New Jersey. He specializes in guitar, bass guitar, and bagpipes, and is passionate about writing both professionally and for enjoyment.