Jazz Guitar Improvisation Reference
When attempting to learn a new chord or sound, I find it’s important to take it in a few different keys at a time. A great “formal” way of doing that is through cycles : they consist of systematic root movements.
Imagine you were trying to learn the major scale and that you had it under your fingers enough to start improvising on it. You could play in C forever, but it’s far more interesting to move around : Stay in C, then go to F, and Bb, then Eb, etc.
That would be the cycle of fifths aka cycle of fourths aka circle of fifth aka circle of “force”… the most obvious way chords move around in progressions in all styles (from baroque to rock).
So here’s a reference chart for jazz chord cycles. Virtually every jazz musician practiced them at some point; practice well and enjoy!
Points to Keep in Mind
On this page, only the root movements are shown. It means that you have only the root notes (C to Db to D to …) I made it that way so it can be used to practice ANY chord type (major, minor, dominant, locrian mode on alfredo sauce, etc.)
Also, make sure you understand the following points before starting to practice in cycles :
- Chords can have different duration (1 bar each, 2 bars each, etc.) When getting familiar with new chords, practice with longer durations such as 8 or 16 bars before changing chords.
- By all means, use the metronome, at least sometimes.
- The cycles can be used in different time signatures. 3/4 time is an important part of jazz. Furthermore, if you’re “rhythmically accomplished”, try odd time signatures such as 5 or 7.
- All cycles read both ways! When reading from left to right (normal), they’re ascending. When reading “backwards” they’re descending. Practice both, specially the two first cycles.
- The cycles can be used to interpolate II-V’s: transform any dominant chord (ie G7) into it’s “II-V counterpart” (ie Dm7-G7) this page (PDF). I used this “interpolation technique” and came up with all those II-V’s.
1 – In Half Steps
2 – In Whole Steps
3 – In Minor Thirds
4 – In Major Thirds
5 – In Fourths
Notice that Db = C#, Gb = F# and Cb = B.
Here’s the same progression in circular format:
(Print this one and post it in your practice room!)
Notice this when working with key signatures in cycle of fourths :
1. Moving clockwise you add one flat (or remove one sharp) each time
2. Moving counter-clockwise you add one sharp (or remove one flat)
Next is a “compound” cycle : up a tritone then down a half-step. Useful for practicing the infamous tritone substitution..
6 – Tritone Up then Half-Step Down
P.S. : All jazz chord cycles on this page use only “flat keys” but could be thought of as “sharp keys”. For example : Gb = F# and Db = C# and Cb = B, etc.
Make sure you check out this page of diatonic chord cycles also!