A jazz guitar voicing is a specific arrangement of the notes of a chord. The most common chord voicings used in jazz guitar are called Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings - these were used by guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and countless others.
In this lesson we'll learn the basic Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings, and how to use them to maximize your chord vocabulary! 📖
How to Learn Drop 2 and Drop 3 Voicings for Jazz Guitarists
Looking for a clever way to learn 96 jazz guitar chords? Try this:
- Learn your basic drop 2 and drop 3 chord shapes
- Learn all four chord qualities
- Learn them at each fret on the guitar
TWO times FOUR times TWELVE = 96
This whole post will be about "drop" voicings, and more specifically, how to play them on the fretboard. These shapes are considered to be rudimentary as jazz guitarists of all levels learn them sooner or later.
To access the original page where we discussed these on the website, click here.
In a few words, drop 2 and drop 3 voicings lend themselves to the way the guitar is laid out, making it possible to play certain chords that we wouldn't otherwise be able to play.
And I'm specifically pointing my "guitarist's index finger" at closed voicings. Bastards!
If you look at virtually any theoretical explanation about chord construction, you'll see a bunch of stacked thirds on the staff.
Man, those are impossible to play on the guitar! (most of the time)
So, what do we do? Well, we find our way! :-)
Our way consists of rearranging the notes in the chord. By moving a note in the chord down an octave, we are suddenly able to grip it on the guitar! This is where drop 2 and drop 3 voicings come in!
Drop 2 Chords - STEP 1 - Understand the Theory
By now, you've probably asked yourself, "What the heck is a drop 2 or drop 3 voicing?!"
Well, without discussing too much of the theory, let's put it like this:
C major 7th chord: C E G B becomes C G B E , from low to high (see video)
- C E G B is a closed voicing for Cmaj7. This means that it consists of all stacked thirds and the span of notes from lowest to highest still falls within an octave.
- The C G B E shape makes for easy access on the guitar!
The most important takeaway here is that all of the same notes are present, regardless of which note is moved to which octave. The second most important thing is that drop 2 voicings are much easier for us, jazz guitarists. ;-)
So, as guitarists, our drop 2 voicing of reference for C major 7th will look like this:
You can consider this shape our new "compass" now.
For now, that's about all you really need to know. Simply understanding that a drop 2 refers to the technique used in voicing the chord will you get you through the next few steps.
Drop 2 Chords - C major 7th on the Staff
For the those of you who really like theory, here's how we get drop 2 voicings on staff paper. This "compass" is derived from dropping the 2nd note from the top in a 2nd inversion closed voicing.
If this is going over your head, don't freak out! The important thing is the voicing we got from the process. If you can play it, move on. There's time to put the puzzle together later.
Drop 2 Chords - STEP 2 - Finding a Good Fingering
For now, stick to the middle 4 strings. This is the best way to grab this chord on the guitar and we'll get into that in step 3.
Let's use the same diagram from before.
Drop 2 Chords - STEP 3 - Through the Scale
This is the longest and most difficult step of the process. This where you'll really get the most "bang for your buck," as we extract tons of chords from this one simple shape.
Using the same shape, we'll gradually move each note within the chord to the next scale degree. In this example, we're using the C major scale.
By doing this, we'll get all the chords diatonic to C major.
What does diatonic mean? Simply put, it means relating to a key. Easy enough, right?
The chords in the key of C major are:
Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7(b5)
So, we will take that simple x3545x voicing and move it up and down the major scale. Magically, we now have 7 chords. They all sound great and are easily playable on the guitar. :-)
Drop 2 Chords - Wrap Up
All the chord shapes are movable. This means that for strings 5-4-3-2, you now have a voicing for:
- Major 7th chords
- Minor 7th chords
- Dominant 7th chords
- Minor 7th (flat 5) chords
Four chord types TIMES twelves frets = 48. We are halfway there!
Drop 3 Chords - Repeating the Same Ideas
To get the other half, all you have to do is take what we've done here and apply it to drop 3 voicings!
What is a drop 3? Well, without discussing inversions and all that other mumbo jumbo, let's put it like this:
G major 7th chord: G B D F# becomes G F# B D , from low to high (see video)
- G B D F# is a closed voicing for Gmaj7. This means that it consists of all stacked thirds.
- Then G F# B D is the Drop 3 voicing we were looking for.
If you'll notice, it's as if the F# is now an octave lower. That's not exactly what happened, but it's an easy way to think about this for now.
Drop 3 Chords - G major 7th on the Staff
And once again, check out this diagram if you're feeling brave.
Not for the faint of heart ;-)
Drop 3 Chords - STEP 3 - Jazz Guitar Voicings Through the Scale
And finally, here's how to play these shapes on the guitar:
And with that, you have your other 48 shapes once you introduce all of the different chord qualities and so on.
Going Further: Introductory Course (for Jazz Guitar Chords)
If you wish to go further and apply these chords in a real setting, adding 9ths, 13ths, rootless shapes and more, then I highly recommend this free resource!
**Note from the editor** This post was updated on 2/18/2019 to improve quality and readability.
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, mastermind and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.