The Basic Jazz Chord Cycles for Guitarists

Diatonic and Chromatic Cycling to Practice Improvisation and Comping

When learning basic jazz chord cycles in a new key (tonality), It’s important to learn as much about it as possible, such as intervals, triads, seventh chords, triads over bass chords and other relationships.

A proven way of learning a new key, especially the seventh chords and triads within a key, is going through each cycle.  These cycles consist of systematic root movements, or cycling through all the chords of any key.

Let’s try some.

Diatonic Jazz Chord Cycles

For seventh chords, the key of C major contains:

Chord Progression - Major scale

The movement, or motion of this progression, is “cycle 2” because each new chord is a diatonic second up from the previous chord.  Each cycle uses a different interval as you will see in the table below.

We can play these same chords in six different cycles or patterns.

These 6 patterns are, cycle’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Make sure you also check out the Chromatic Jazz Charts further below.

 

Diatonic Jazz Chord Cycles Table

Diatonic Cycle
Cycle 2   as seen in this articleMajor ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
llDm7Dm7Dm7b5
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5)Ebmaj7(#5)
lVFmaj7F7Fm7
VG7G7G7
VlAm7Am7(b5)Abmaj7
VllBm7(b5)Bm7(b5)Bdim7
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
 
Cycle 3Major ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5)Ebmaj7(#5)
VG7G7G7
VlBm7(b5)Bm7(b5)Bdim7
llDm7Dm7Dm7b5
lVFmaj7F7Fm7
VlAm7Am7(b5)Abmaj7
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
 
Cycle 4 as seen in this articleMajor ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
lVFmaj7F7Fm7
VllBm7(b5)Bm7(b5)Bdim7
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5)Ebmaj7(#5)
VlAm7Am7(b5)Abmaj7
llDm7Dm7Dm7b5
VG7G7G7
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
 
Cycle 5 (negative cycle 4)Major ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
VG7G7G7
llDm7Dm7Dm7b5
VlAm7(b5)Am7(b5)Abmaj7
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5)Ebmaj7(#5)
VllBm7(b5)Bm7(b5)Bdim7
lVFmaj7F7Fm7
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
 
Cycle 6 (negative cycle 3)Major ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7) Cm(maj7)
VlAm7Am7(b5) Abmaj7
lVFmaj7F7 Fm7
llDm7Dm7 Dm7b5
VllBm7(b5)Bm7(b5) Bdim7
VG7G7 G7
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5) Ebmaj7(#5)
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7) Cm(maj7)
 
Cycle 7 (negative cycle 2)Major ChordsMelodic minor ChordsHarmonic minor Chords
Interval lCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
VllBm7(b5)Bm7(b5)Bdim7
VlAm7Am7(b5)Abmaj7
VG7G7G7
lVFmaj7F7Fm7
lllEm7Ebmaj7(#5)Ebmaj7(#5
llDm7Dm7Dm7b5
VlllCmaj7Cm(maj7)Cm(maj7)
 

Select and print the above Diatonic Jazz Chord Cycles Table.

Note:  This table of diatonic jazz chord cycles is in the key of C Major, C melodic minor and C harmonic minor.  It can be played in any key using the exact intervals as shown above.

 

Chromatic Jazz Chord Cycles to Practice

For the following charts, only the root movements are shown on the staves.  They were made this way so they can be used to practice any chord type such as major, minor, dominant, and so forth.

These charts will help you to understand and practice jazz chord cycles.

1 – In Half Steps

Jazz chord cycles

2 – In Whole Steps

jazz chord cycles

3 – In Minor Thirds

jazz chord cycles

4 – In Major Thirds

jazz chord cycles

5 – In Fourths

jazz chord cycles

Notice that Db = C#, Gb = F# and Cb = B.

Here’s the same progression as above in circular format:

jazz chord cycles

 

(Print this one and post it in your practice room!)

Note: This is a great tool that can be used for composing to comping.  This circular format is the “cycle of fifths”, aka the cycle of fourths.  This chart is so useful; it could be called the “circle of force”.  It illustrates the most obvious way chords can move around in progressions in all styles (from baroque to rock).

Notice when working with key signatures in the cycle of fourths that:

  1. Moving clockwise, you add one flat (or remove one sharp) each time
  2. Moving counter-clockwise, you add one sharp (or remove one flat)

Here’s how to play jazz guitar scale fingerings in position through the cycle of fourths.

Next is a “compound” cycle : up a tritone then down a half-step. Useful for practicing the infamous tritone substitution..

 

6 – Tritone Up then Half-Step Down

 jazz chord cycles

P.S. : All jazz chord cycles on this page use only “flat keys” but could be thought of as “sharp keys”. For example : Gb = F# and Db = C# and Cb = B, etc.

 

Points to Keep in Mind for Jazz Chord Cycles

  • Virtually every jazz musician practiced these cycles at some point, so we are in good company
  • Practice the cycles in different keys!
  • See if you can memorize the cycle you’re working on.
  • Chords can have different durations. (1 bar each, 2 bars each, etc.)
  • Use the metronome.
  • The cycles can be used in different time signatures. 3/4 time is an important part of jazz.
  • Furthermore, if you’re “rhythmically accomplished”, try odd time signatures such as 5 or 7.
  • Practice  cycles in different voicings (drop2 and drop3).
  • Try to voice-lead each cycle (in drop2 and drop3).
  • Remove one note from each chord to get just the diatonic triads.
  • All cycles read both ways! When reading from left to right, they’re ascending. When reading backwards, they’re descending. Practice both, especially the first two cycles.
  • The cycles can be used to interpolate II-V’s and transform any dominant chord like G7 into its II-V counterpart (i.e. Dm7-G7, if in the key of C).  . I used this interpolation technique and came up with all these II-V’s:   this page (PDF)

 

A great resource to read and play through is The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick.

Practice well and most of all enjoy!


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

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