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Jazz Theory

Master Index of Theory-Related Pages

Welcome to the jazz theory section of JazzGuitarLessons.net ... here you'll be able to satisfy your intellectual cravings for understanding how music works theoretically.

You'll find out about how scales and chords are constructed (and why!) plus many articles addressing a wide range of theory topics such as progressions, modes, chords with alterations, key signatures, cadences, etc.

So, what IS jazz theory? The way it's going to be presented on this website, jazz theory is like popping up the hood and looking at a car's engine! You'll understand why you're allowed to speed up, slow down, make wide or sudden turns, and so on. In brief, music theory is how we organize the sounds we have on our instruments into a logical system (that's the "engine")...

Before you start reading the pages and articles above, I believe it's important for you to understand this: jazz theory, as much as you can learn from it on a written page, really lies in YOUR EARS. The systems we use to explain what we're doing have to be identifiable *by sound*. That being said, always make sure that what you're studying in theory is understood well and that you can HEAR IT (and I mean away from your instrument).


Beware! (of false prophets)

Be wary of websites where all the "jazz instruction" they present is always jazz theory...

For instance, you find an article titled "15 Things Every Jazz Improviser Should Know" and it only discusses scales, arpeggios, chords, etc. (jazz theory stuf). Those websites are dime a dozen: lots of emphasis on the theory and technicalities, not much music played in the end. If you don't learn about actual improvisation in the articles, then it's not about improv, is it? I mean, sure... you have to know your scales in the end, but scales is not "what every improviser should know"!!!

Music is about expression, feelings, groove, perception, etc. So, it doesn't matter if you know all the modes to "harmonic major with a bad tempered fifth" and that you can play them in 17 positions on the guitar... the bottom line is how you sound when you play! Zat sit! (However little or big you know about jazz theory.)

To summarize my point: learning all the jazz theory won't necessarily make you into a great player. Furthermore, if you DO become a great player, then I'm sure along the way you'll pickup all the theory "you need" in order to execute your musical ideas brilliantly. (-:



Theory Basics

Scale and Modes Construction

Chord Construction

Chord Progressions Basics

  • Blues Progressions Explained

    Five important blues progressions with theoretical explanations. PDF to download and print in 3 keys!

  • Intro to Chord Progressions #1

    The basics of understanding how chords go with one another. Covers the diatonic cycle and the I-VI-II-V progression. Great starting points.

  • Intro to Chord Progressions #2

    Modulations : how to get to other keys. Let's start by modulating to the almighty IV chord... (heard in many standards and within the blues progressions, to most important modulation)

  • Intro to Chord Progressions #3

    Minor Progressions. The final chapter in this jazzy chord progressions survey. The minor diatonic cycle, I-VI-II-V in minor and minor blues progressions.

  • Chord Substitutions

    An introduction to how jazz chords can be interchanged in different contexts. Find out about the infamous "tritone sub" !


The No Nonsense Series: If you already know some stuff about chords, then the "No Nonsense Guides" are a great way to get into jazz theory without being overwhelmed with too many notes, scales, modes, etc. In fact it's some sort of simplification of some of theory's intermediate concepts. (Not completely for beginners, yet not too advanced).

  • The No Nonsense Guide to Jazz Harmony - Part 1

    "What is a II-V-I and how does it work?" Theory with practical applications on the fingerboard (printable exercises in PDF).

  • The No Nonsense Guide - Part 2

    Some more clarifications on harmony. Practical suggestions to understand and play secondary dominants, interpolation, back cycling, turnarounds (and more...)

  • The No Nonsense Guide - Part 3

    The final article in the "no-nonsense series". Covers more advanced topics and defines harmonic concepts such as tags, back door progressions, extension, inversions and more...

The "Playing on Dominants" Series


More Advanced Theory...





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