Open String Voicings For Jazz Guitar

Open String Voicings For Jazz Guitar

When you're first learning jazz guitar chords, a common approach is to learn moveable chord voicings with no open strings. This makes it easier to play tunes with just a few shapes!

However, when you're playing ballads or chord melodies, a properly placed chord with open strings can really... ahem... *open* up your sound.

Believe it or not, this isn't unusual at all - guitarists like Lenny Breau and Ed Bickert both made use of open string chord voicings in their playing.

In this lesson, we'll go through ii-V-I progressions in all 12 keys, with at least one of the chords in the progression containing an open string.

This will give you at least one voicing per key (and sometimes more than one), plus a practical way to use it in a progression.

Plus, as an added bonus, we've prepared a complete chord melody arrangement of The Days of Wine and Roses using many of these voicings! 

How To Use This Lesson

Be sure to check out the recordings underneath each example to hear which ones you like -  just click the orange play button!

If you're like me, you'd want to print all the examples off - so please download this free PDF. You'll get all the examples, a complete chord melody, and chord diagrams!

Download ALL examples here: "Open String Voicings For Jazz Guitar" PDF

The idea here is not to memorize all of these progressions, but rather walk away with a couple different open string voicings you enjoy for different chord qualities. 

Remember, you can always come back to later for more! 🙂

1. ii-V-I in G Major

open-string-chords-gmajor

This Am9 is perhaps the most well-known open string jazz guitar voicing, and is commonly used in ballads and bossa nova playing. 

The D7sus4 in the example was used to complement the "vibe" of the Am9 voicing.

"Shouldn't it be a D7?", some of you may wonder. Actually, this is a common Bill Evans trick - smooth things out by substituting a sus chord for the regular dominant!

2. ii-V-I in D major

open-string-chords-dmajor

Technically these are all open string chords, but really we're looking at this wonderful Emin11 voicing. This is a straight up Lenny Breau chord!

If you break it down, you're really playing a Bm7 voicing, and then adding the open strings to turn it into Emin11. Neat, right?

3. ii-V-I in C major

open-string-chords-cmajor

Another classic Lenny progression. The key of C major works great for this stuff... so I couldn't resist making them all open string voicings.

Here, we've substituted the Dm7 chord for its relative major Fma7, and then put it over a pedal note. Hey, I didn't make the rules! 😜

4. ii-V-I in Gb major

open-string-chords-gbmajor

This Abm9 is sort of the sister chord of the Am9 from example 1.

Same sounds, we've just moved everything down a semitone! It may just not look like it on the guitar, though.

5. ii-V-I in Eb Major

open-string-chords-ebmajor

This Fm9 is pretty dark! The open G string and the Ab on the 5th string form a crunchy semitone - tread carefully.

6. ii-V-I in F Major

open-string-chords-fmajor

This Fma9 is a personal favourite! It's a bit of an odd one because the 9th is actually in the bass.

To accommodate this, we'll use a tritone sub for the V chord - Gb7 instead of the usual C7. Smoother voice leading, you know?

7. ii-V-I in Ab Major

open-string-chords-abmajor

It's great to use the open strings as extensions in a dominant chord. Here, the open B string functions as the #5 over Eb7. 

The result gives you a Peter Bernstein type of sound!

8. ii-V-I in A Major

open-string-chords-amajor

An easy way to think of this Ama9 is just one fret up from the Am9 in example 1. Perfect bossa nova chord!

9. ii-V-I in Bb Major

open-string-chords-bbmajor

Another dominant open string chord here - this F7b5 gives you a bit of a whole tone sound.

Plus, you get a bonus open string chord with the Bbma9.

10. ii-V-I in Db Major

open-string-chords-dbmajor

This Dbadd9#11 works great as an ending chord! The lydian sound plus open strings gives you a really nice dark sound.

11. ii-V-I in B Major

open-string-chords-bmajor

You won't see many jazz tunes in the key of B, but you never know when the jazz police will come by and check that you can do this stuff in all keys 👮

12. ii-V-I in E Major

open-string-chords-emajor

Turns out that open B string is really handy in the key of E! You can use it over all the chords in the ii V I progression.

Bonus: The Days Of Wine And Roses

It's true, ii-V-Is can only get you so far. So, we've prepared a complete chord melody on The Days of Wine and Roses with many of these voicings (and a few extras!).

days-of-wine-excerpt

Get the full arrangement in this "Open String Voicings For Jazz Guitar" PDF!

Further Practice

Love this stuff? Here's a handy chart to help you make up your own open string voicings for jazz. 

open-string-functions-1

Just pick the sound you are looking for (ex. Ma9) and see which strings would work one of the chord tones! (in this case, 1 3 5 7 9)

Then, play the rest of the chord tones as fretted notes - on strings that aren't the open string you picked, of course. You might find that certain strings work better for different keys... it's really fun to experiment 🔬

As always, thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this lesson please let us know in the comments! 😀

 

Interested in learning how to improvise?

If you've ever wondered where to get started with jazz improv, how to approach playing changes and so on, be sure to check out our Beginner's Guide to Jazz Improv!

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