Learning to improvise through typical jazz chord changes (with VIDEOS and with AUDIO)
Chord changes are the backbone of jazz improvisation. Those sixteen jazz chord progressions consist of some of the most common (and cliche) harmonic traits in jazz.
By learning to improvise well on them, you’ll be nicely prepared to tackle soloing on most standard chord progressions. Please listen to the audio intro below (about 8-minute long) to make sure you get the most “bang for your buck” here…
I find that the jazz chord progressions presented on this page are a nice opportunity to learn how to outline chords while improvising. As you may know, one of the jazz improviser’s goal is to freely create spontaneous melodic content within harmonic limits (chords passing by). Becoming free inside those boundaries will unlock the secrets of jazz improvisation for you! The proof : listen how freely jazz guitar greats can improvise on chord changes. (-:
Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any questions.
PDF Files to Print
I have created PDFs in only 7 keys. You should take the time to learn the progressions in other keys also! As I mention in the audio intro, it is recommend to go through one key per week.
(Right-click, Save As…)
Jazz Chord Progressions – AUDIO Intro
Please listen carefully. The few last minutes answer frequently asked questions by visitors and students.
*Erratum : The keys in the PDF on the website are C, Db, D, Eb, E, F and Gb.
Things you should really really really understand before using the progressions (I’m repeating myself from the audio file here):
- Set a tempo (slow!) and play through ONE progression at a time until you hear it very well
- The basic idea is to outline the chords as clearly as possible in whatever you practice. This will lead to more freedom and more available choices when dealing with “sight reading” on jazz chord progressions (or “sight blowing” as a matter of fact!)
- I strongly suggest that you pick a different key each week. Start in C and then go as far as you within the chord changes … but DEFINITELY switch keys after 7 days or so. After twelve weeks, you will be back in the first key (probably C) and you can review what you covered or simply continue from where you left off. It doesn’t matter if you only worked on a few progressions in each key, *force* yourself to go to another key the week after and don’t worry : you will eventually come back to it. The efforts you put in will show in ALL the keys anyways!
- See PODCAST #19 on the jazz guitar podcasts page here … it features a discussion about this “Key of the week” principle (on how to integrate this into your current practice routine) 🙂
Have fun and good luck!
Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 1
This video covers Progressions #1 through #4
Progression #1 appears in these tunes : I Got Rhythm (Gershwin) and most of “rhyhtm changes tunes”, two beats a chord, and in some variations.
Progression #1 also appears in the for of VI-II-V-I (same chords, different starting place) in these tunes : All the Things You Are, Fly me to the Moon and I Hear a Rhapsody.
Progression #2 can be heard on numerous tunes, sometimes with variations in chord qualities (the III dominant 7th is common) and in chord durations : Confirmation, There’ll Never Be Another You, Bluesette, Blues for Alice and other “bird blues” type of tunes.
Progression #3 is “just blues” and you can find out more about it in JazzGuitarLessons.net’s Blue Section
Progression #4 is very similar to #2. In fact it’s the same thing a minor third up, and startin in bar 5, with the III chord as a dom7(b9). See Autumn Leaves, I Should Care and Green Dolphin Street for examples. The #4 is easily remembered as a cadence in the major key, then same cadence in the relative minor key.
Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 2
This video covers #5 through #8.
Progression #6 and #7 are essentially the same thing as thing as #1 with slight chord quality changes. My favority example of #6 is Have You Met Miss Jones?
Progression #8 is like a “short version” of the A section to the tune Cherokee. The harmonic trait of going to IV and then IV minor is also found in (with inversions)Days of Wine and Roses, I Remember You, There’ll Never Be Another You and Solar.
Progressions – Part 3
This video covers #9 through #11.
Progression #9 is true classic found on Stella by Starlight, Woody’n’You, Stablemates, My Romance, etc.
Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 4
This video covers #12 through #14.
Progression #12 contains a lot of information : the first four bar consist of a back door progression I-IVm7-bVII and the last four bars are simply a “bebop turnaround” of I-bIII-bVI-bII.
Tunes which contain the backdoor progression : Lady Bird and Half-Nelson, Yardbird Suite, The Song is You, Desafinado, My Romance, etc.
Tunes which contain the “bebop turnaround” (in one variation or another) : Half-Nelson, Lady Bird, West Coast Blues, I’ll Take Romance.
Progression #13 (or #14 depending how it’s harmonized) can be found on numerous tunes. For the very common passing diminished chord between II and III (giving the partial progression IIm-#IIo-IIIm), it can be heard on I Got Rhythm, Ain’t Misbehaving, In The Wee Small Hours, Once I Loved, etc.
The passing dim chord between IV and V (or IV and I) is also very common, such as on blues.
The less common #Idim7 is often perceived as a VI7(b9). When you see Cmaj7 to A7, you could be in fact think of Cmaj7 to C#dim7. Essentially the same notes.
Progressions – Part 5
This video covers progressions #15 and #16.