Learn Jazz Theory Now – Over 25 Free Music Theory Articles

Master Index of Theory-Related Pages Online


What is Jazz theory?

Jazz harmony is defined as the theory behind jazz chords, and the practice of how jazz chords are put to use in the context of jazz music. Since American jazz music resembles, in analysis, other practices of Western harmony (i.e. classical music), jazz harmony and theory relies heavily on similar concepts (such as scales) as the foundation of chord construction.

The way it’s going to be presented on this website, jazz theory is like popping up the hood and looking at a car’s engine. You’ll understand why you’re allowed to speed up, slow down, make wide or sudden turns, and so on. In brief, music theory is how we organize the sounds we have on our instruments into a logical system (that’s the “engine”)…



Welcome to the jazz theory section of … here you’ll be able to satisfy your intellectual cravings for understanding how music works theoretically. You’ll find out about how scales and chords are constructed (and why!) plus many articles addressing a wide range of theory topics such as progressions, modes, chords with alterations, key signatures, cadences, etc.


Word of Caution About Jazz Theory

Before you start reading the pages and articles below and learn jazz theory, I believe it’s important for you to understand this: jazz theory, as much as you can learn from it on a written page, really lies in YOUR EARS.

The systems we use to explain what we’re doing have to be identifiable by sound. That being said, always make sure that what you’re studying in theory is understood well and that you can HEAR IT (and I mean away from your instrument).

Now go on, knock yourself out, and read the articles below in order. 😉


Jazz Theory Basics

  • Chord Cycles In Jazz
    Find out about how chords can be played in specific sequences of parallel motion. You’ll learn about the very important cycle of fourths, of course. Chords can also be cycled by remaining within a key (hence “diatonic”). There’s only 7 diatonic cycles to know!

Basic Chord Cycles for Jazz Guitarists


Scale and Modes Construction

That’s a biggie! So here’s your quick guide to sorting it all out:

A Gentle Introduction to Guitar Scales Theory

  • Scale Construction 1 – The Formula
    Learn and understand the basic formula to build the major scale (in any key). Includes a “Four-Step Process” to practice your understanding of this jazz theory.

Jazz theory - music notation - chords for jazz guitar


Harmony and Chord Construction

We build chords from the scales covered in the previous section. So make sure you’re familiar with scales before attempting to build chords from them:

A gentle introduction to guitar chords theory


Chord Progressions Basics


After understanding blues stuff, it’s important to get accustomed to “how chords move to on another”, here’s the guide:

Beginner's Guide to Jazz Chord Progressions

  • Intro to Chord Progressions #1
    The basics of  understanding how chords go with one another. Covers the diatonic cycle and the I-VI-II-V progression. Great starting points.
  • Intro to Chord Progressions #2
    Modulations : how to get to other keys. Let’s start by modulating to the almighty IV chord… (heard in many standards and within the blues progressions, to most important modulation)
  • Intro to Chord Progressions #3
    Minor Progressions. The final chapter in this jazzy chord progressions survey. The minor diatonic cycle, I-VI-II-V in minor and minor blues progressions.



The Ultimate No Nonsense Series

If you already know some stuff about chords, then the “No Nonsense Guides” are a great way to get into free jazz guitar theory without being overwhelmed with too many notes, scales, modes, etc. In fact it’s some sort of simplification of some of theory’s intermediate concepts. (Not completely for beginners, yet not too advanced).

Jazz Harmony - the ultimate no-nonsense guide

  • The No Nonsense Guide – Part 2
    Some more clarifications on harmony. Practical suggestions to understand and play  secondary dominants, interpolation, back cycling, turnarounds (and more…)
  • The No Nonsense Guide – Part 3
    The final article in the “no-nonsense series”. Covers more advanced topics and defines harmonic concepts such as  tags, back door progressions, extension, inversions and more…


The “Playing on Dominants” Series

Last but not least, how to play on dom7 chords … from the most basic mixolydian all the way to very complex  altered sounds:

Dominant chords by jazz guitar

  • Dominant Chords: An Introduction
    An introduction to the reason behind the dominant chords: they’re the engine of harmony! Start with the tritone and understand everything that happens with those little monsters.


More Advanced Jazz Theory Stuff Here …

  • A short history of Harmony
    The development of classical (and then jazz) harmony systems discussed in a short, precise manner. (by Martin Antaya)


Marc-Andre Seguin
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on, 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.