Jazz Guitar Blues: How to Sound Jazzy with the VI Chord

jazz blues jazz comping jazz guitar improvisation Mar 02, 2016

In this blog, we'll work on the three (most interesting) jazz guitar blues possibilities to make your blues playing sound ... well ... jazzier! The VI chord, found in bar 8, can really help define the harmonic progression of the jazzier types of blues in your soloing.

Let's get going!

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Where's that VI chord?

We all know the Bb blues progression. (Do we?) Here's a refresher in the picture below. Look at bar 8, where we find the VI chord. Here's, it's G7(b9). For the entire post, all we'll be working on is stuff that "fits" that G7 chord.

Rationale: the better your VI chord lines (i.e. how you solo over that chord) sounds, the better YOU are going to sound as an aspiring jazz guitarist.



An Entire Lesson on ONE Chord? Why?

Because it's often overlooked in other lessons. :-)

Other that that, it can be made extremely rich, and supports all sorts of tension notes. Think Jimmy Hendrix meets Kenny Burrell.

  • Bar 8 contains vast potential for rich chords tensions, which brings a “jazzy” sound to the normal 12-bar blues progression.
  • I believe that this bar and this chord are often overlooked in jazz instruction
  • Most people can already play relatively well on the blues in general. The first four bars are easy (bluesy) and most people are already familiar with them. The last four bars contain a II-V-I progression, which is studied at great lengths by guitarists of all levels of experience and backgrounds.

So, we'll be looking at 3 different "Chord Solutions" along with the assorted "Soloing Solutions" to help you navigate the VI chord in a blues chord progression. Are you ready? Alright let’s go!


Jazz Guitar Blues: "VI Chord" Lesson Video

A video above to show you *exactly* what I mean in this blog post. Who could ask for anything more?! :-)


First Chord Solution

Use G7(b9 b13) in bar 8 ... as it "lives" in the key of C harmonic minor. C D Eb F G Ab B. The b9 and b13 add this extra tension crunch to your comping.

Here are 2 simple and effective voicings for G7(b9 b13) that sound great and sit nicely on the fretboard. See the video above at 3:00 to hear these chords in action.

First way to finger G7(b9 b13) is xx3444

Second way to finger G7(b9 b13) is xx 9 10 9 11

Second Chord Solution

Playing Dm7b5 - G7b9 in bar 8 works well instead of a single G7 chord by itself. Why? Because a ii-V to C minor (notice that bar 9 has a Cm7 chord) creates tension and resolution. In fact, the degree of tension is heightened and we create more harmonic movement in that bar. We are propelled forward in bar 9 with a ii-V.

So, simply take the G7 from the first chord solution and add the Dm7b5 chord before it (two beats each, please!)

Two easy Dm7b5 chord voicings:

x5656x and 10 x 10 10 9 x

Also, see the video at 4:50 to play along.

Third Chord Solution

Now, we'll play G7)(b13 #9) in bar 8. It's just a cousin of G7(b13 b9), right? Just make the b9 a #9 baby!

How to play G7(b13 #9), two ideas:

xx3446 and xx 9 10 11 11

See the video at 6:20.

First Soloing Solution

Alright, we're onto a little bit of analysis here. In bar 8, we'll first use C harmonic minor. It doesn't look like an obvious choice, but in fact, our first chord solution G7(b13 b9) is *exactly* the C harmonic minor scale.

Here's why

G7(b13 b9) contains the notes G - B - D - F - Ab - C - Eb

Or, in analyzing the scale degrees, 1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - b9 - 11 - b13

Notice, the notes used are simply C D Eb F G Ab B. They were shuffled before, now I've aligned them. Do you see, this is simple the C harmonic minor scale? :-)

Furthermore, notice that C harmonic minor scale contains the exact same notes as Bb mixolydian, except for one note. You've guessed it: B natural! So if you're improvise blues over mixolydian, say on a Bb7 chord, all you have to do in bar 8 is keep playing mixo, but raise the root note by a half-step. Easy breezy...

So even if G7(b9 b13) looks like a postal code on paper, it's very close to Bb7 chord. ;-)

See a demo of using the C harmonic minor scale over bar 8 of the Bb jazz guitar blues in the video at 8:30.

Here is a sample fingering for this scale and you can see a demonstration of this scale during an improvised solo at 8:30 in the video:

Second Soloing Solution


Enough said.

I hate showing people licks. But this is a perfect opportunity, and it makes sense. Lots more of licks can be developed in improvisation (with some explorations) basing yourself on the three licks demonstrated in the video at 10:20.

But no TABS, here sadly. But the good news is there's existing resources to get these three jazz guitar blues VI chord licks under your fingers. Just a little sweat, and you'll get there. :-)

These three have been discussed previously on the website and YouTube channel. Now, in the following three videos, they're demonstrated in the key of Bb major, meaning that the chords outlined are Cm7-F7. All you have to do here is to make them "fit" Dm7b5-G79 ... so two frets up, and one flat now (the Ab).

On YouTube:

The One Lick Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know

The OTHER Lick Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know

Yet Another Lick Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know

Third Soloing Solution

Our last solution for improvisation is the "crazy" altered scale. Some people call it super Locrian ... I don't care for nomenclature.

What you have to know: you wanna play a G7, and make this guy altered? Yup. Just go up a fret, and play melodic minor.

So, if you want a G7(alt) sound, play in the Ab melodic minor scale. :-)

What is the Ab melodic minor scale? [Laughs] Ok, you got me.  Here's the easy way to get there:

-1- Write down the Ab major scale

Ab Bb C Db Eb F G

-2- Flatten the third degree to get Ab melodic minor

Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F G

See the jazz guitar blues video above at 13:30 to hear yours truly using the altered scale in bar 8 of the jazz guitar blues in the key of Bb.


More Thoughts on G7(alt)

Alright guys, I know this is a complicated topic, so for the beginners and theory-challenged, here's my trick to get to G7(altered) without the headache

Step 1: Think of the shell voicing for G7. That is the tones 1-3-b7

In this case: G7 shell = G-F-B

Step 2: add ALL the "bad" notes. That is think of the 5 and the 9 ... but only their altered counter parts. Add the #5 and the b5, along with the #9 and b9

In this case, #5 = D#, b5 = Db, #9 = A#, b9 = Ab

So we have three "good notes" (the shell) and four "bad notes" (the 5/9 altered). That's it. If you start comparing them to Ab melodic minor scale above, you'll realize they're both exactly the same!


Jazz Guitar Blues and the VI chord: Conclusion

Hoping that these three comping tricks, and three improvisation tips can help you make you jazz guitar blues sound ... a little jazzier! Listen, practice hard, solo a lot and I'll see you soon on the blog.

Want to get all the exercises and materials from this post in nice convenient PDF file? Here you go:

Get My " Jazz Guitar Blues Six Chord Lesson " PDF


For intermediate guitarists ready to "crack the code" in jazz


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