How to Use Passing and Diminished Chords for Walking Dominants

How to Use Passing and Diminished Chords for Walking Dominants

Move Between Chords by "Walking"

Walking chords are to jazz guitar comping what walking bass is to a bass line. The focus of the lesson will be to play chords in a “walking” fashion on the fretboard. I'm not talking about walking bass lines with added chords here. Rather, it's closer to something jazz pianists commonly do (hear how Monk does it). We'll use diminished and passing chords to "fill in the gaps" without disturbing the harmonic integrity of the tune.

Walking is basically the art of moving a voicing from root position to its first inversion using different devices such as passing and diminished chords. The result is a series of jazz guitar chords played with quarter-notes in a “walking fashion,” using smooth voice leading between each.

Well see how this applies to dominant chords (you could apply this on the blues, wink wink!). Then in the next installment, we’ll look at how to apply this concept more generally via diatonic chords in a major key.

Get all exercises in this lesson in one convenient PDF here:

Walking Jazz Guitar Chords


Passing Chords to First Inversion

The idea behind the “walking chord” concept is simple; you want to get from root position to first inversion by using only three-note voicings, and still using the same string set. You're not familiar with those pesky three-note chords? Go ahead and see this post about shell voicings here ...

For instance, on a C7 chord, you want to go from the first chord to the second chord, such as in the example below.


Connecting: Between Root and First Inversion

Here's how to connect these two C7 inversions using passing chords:


See? Now you don't have to “sit” on the same voicing for four beats!

The chords being used to connect the two inversions come from both the diatonic scale and a passing diminished chord.

The second chord in the bar, D-Bb-F, comes from the diatonic key (it's a Bb major chord in first inversion, and lives in the realm of C mixolydian).

The next chord, Eb-C-F#, is a passing diminished chord, which is labelled #IIdim7 going up, or as bIIIdim7 if you were using it to pass back down the inversions. Diminished chords are often used as passing chords because they have so much tension waiting to be resolved.

Same Chords: Different String Set

Now you can take these same voicings and play them with a 5th string root. Being able to play all over the neck is a cornerstone of being a good guitarist. ;)


Cycle of Fourths Exercise with Passing and Diminished Chords

As an exercise, you can use the cycle of fourths to connect these dominant 7th chords. Go very slow at first, and make sure you play steady, groovy quarter-notes when connecting these chords on the fretboard. At first, stick to the same fingerings and same string-set before expanding the exercise from there.

It's good to start these voicings low on the fingerboard and then move up the neck until you run out of frets. Start with an F7 on the 6th string such as the example below:


You can also start with Bb7 on the 5th string as in this example:


Cycle of Fourths - Walking Chords - ALL KEYS!

Here are all 12 keys of the dominant cycle written out across the neck.

This one is trickier because you have to switch string sets every bar, so go slow. This may look tricky, but it is an extremely rewarding exercise for guitarists to work out in the woodshed.

walking jazz guitar chords - all keys - dominant chords - diminished - passing

Notice that you can decide to switch string sets whenever you wish to build variation into the exercise. Try it out and see how it sits under your fingers. This exercise will show how well you really know the voicings and the chord sequence in different areas of the fretboard. If you realize you're lacking in that area, you could always check out the guide on scale positions, which is sure to help with that.

The fun fact about sticking to the same string-set in going from say C7 to F7 is that C7s first inversion leads directly “into” F7. This is because the E is in the bass of the first inversion of C7 (which is just a half-step away from F -- very chromatic). The problem with sticking to the same set of strings is that soon enough, you run out of frets!

Get all exercises in this lesson in one convenient PDF here:

Walking Jazz Guitar Chords

Get Some Practice in with Blue Monk!

Finally, I encourage you to check out the arrangement of the tune Blue Monk which you can find on the blog below! It utilizes many of these techniques and will help you get to practicing these techniques (without having to think too hard -- lol!).

Blue Monk - Chord Melody - Jazz Guitar

You can practice these techniques by comping on your favorite blues of choice, or on the bridge chords to "Rhythm Changes." Also, you can use all the above exercises for walking chords to add meat around the bones for your walking bass lines with chords for guitar. 

I might also suggest trying to think of your favorite standards where passing chords might be helpful for filling in the gaps on single-note phrases, or where the same chord is played for one or more bars. It'll add some movement to your playing and things will sound much more exciting and less stagnant! Gotta keep the audience's attention, after all. ;)

Related: Walking Bass Lines for Jazz Guitar

An oldie, but a goodie! You can check this one out to get a good look at another type of walking you may want to do on the guitar. Enjoy. :-)

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