Revamp Your Chord Vocabulary

Revamp Your Chord Vocabulary

So, you've learned your basic jazz guitar voicings - drop 2, drop 3, etc. Maybe now you're craving a more personal chord vocabulary, much like how Bill Evans or Ben Monder have their own distinct chordal sound.

So, how do you get there? Well, I don't claim to have all the answers, but in this blog I'll outline a straightforward technique for discovering new sounds.

The special ingredient: using voicings you already know ✨

First things first: to do this, you have to know your basic jazz guitar voicings. I'm talking about drop 2 and drop 3 + inversions, of course 🙂
 
Only read on if you've got those down pat. Otherwise, just hit the bookmark button for later!
 
For this lesson we're going to be revamping our basic drop 2 voicings for major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7
 
 

Revamp Your Major 7 Chords (1:34)

Let's review our chord formula for a major 7 chord! We need to play the 1 3 5 7 (of the corresponding major scale).

For Cmaj7 this would give us the notes: C E G B
 
Here is how we play that in drop 2 form, with inversions:
 
cma7 inversions
 
Now, what would happen if we changed one of the numbers in the formula? What kind of chords would we end up with? 
 
Just for fun, let's change 1 3 5 7  into 1 2 5 7. C E G B becomes... C D G B.
 
To find the resulting chord voicings, simply take each basic voicing and move the E down to a D. 
 
revamp cmaj7
 
And here are all of our new voicings back to back:
 
cmaj7sus2
 
Pretty cool, right? You might not like all those sounds, but there are a couple in there that caught my ear. And all it took was changing one note!
 
The technical name for this kind of chord would be maj7sus2 (major 7 with a suspended 2nd).
 
So, let's recap: 
  1. Pick a chord quality to experiment with (major 7, minor 7, etc)
  2. Play through the basic chord inversions
  3. Then, change the formula very slightly
  4. Find the chord shapes generated by the new formula
  5. Take note of which ones you like... and try to use them!

Revamp your Minor 7 Chords (6:11)

Let's try using this technique to find new minor chord sounds. To do this, we'll change the formula for a minor 7 chord (1 b3 5 b7) to 1 b3 4 b7.

In practical terms, if we did this on a Dm7 (D F A C), our new chord would have the notes D F G C. I suspect this will give us some nice minor 11 type sounds (because 4 is the same note as 11).

Here's the process:

revamp dm7

And here are all the new chords:

dmin11

Revamp your Dominant 7 Chords (7:42)

Dominant 7 chords call for some more extreme changes! They can tolerate a little more dissonance than the previous chords, because they're often used to create tension in a chord progression.

With that in mind we're going to change the dominant 7 formula from 1 3 5 b7 to b9 3 13 b7

With this new forumla, a basic G7 chord (G B D F) now becomes Ab D E F, which theoretically be a kind of rootless G13b9.

Allow me to demonstrate:

revamp g7

All new chords:

g13b9

Putting this into practice

Now that we have some new chords for Dm7, G7 and Cmaj7, we can use them to practice comping over a ii-V-I in C.

You can click here to watch me demonstrate this on-the-fly!

For your convenience I've put together a couple examples using the chords I liked best.

1.

revamp iiVI (1)

2.

revamp iiVI (2)

Download your "Revamp Your Chord Vocabulary" PDF!

Final Thoughts

Now remember, the point of this lesson is not necessarily for you to take these exact chord voicings that I've laid out for you. You'll get more out of it, and enjoy it more, if you create your own voicings using the general technique.

Once again this technique is:

  1. Pick a chord quality to experiment with (major 7, minor 7, etc)
  2. Play through the basic chord inversions
  3. Then, change the formula very slightly
  4. Find the chord shapes generated by the new formula
  5. Take note of which ones you like and put them into use

Happy exploring! 🔍


NEXT UP: How To Create and Play Easy Jazz Guitar Arrangements On Standards...

Creating guitar arrangements "jazz style" on songs from The Real Book shouldn't be a headache. This guide shows you the exact three steps to make your own easy, great-sounding chord melody on standards.

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