Uncommon Uses of Common Jazz Chords

Know Your Cowboy Grips

The goal of this series is to actually put a lick or a chord under your fingers. Here, there’s no more searching for ideas in the sea of jazz theory information. We’ll give you what you need to play and be creative. In this lesson, we will be discussing uncommon uses of common jazz chords. We will take shapes that you already know and move them around to create fresh sounds. 

Hands-On 6 - Uncommon Use of Common Jazz Chords

Download ALL of the shapes here: “Know Your Cowboy Grips” – PDF (includes TAB)

Original Example

Today’s idea comes from the Tune of the Month Club issue for November 2015, “The Shadow of Your Smile”. We’re going to look at a particular chord and how we can rework it to explore even more options! Here, we have an example of a very common chord, one you probably know, being used in a way that makes the chord more exotic. 

Uncommon Uses of Common Chords - Original

How It Works

The chord is a D chord using a good old “cowboy” grip. However, there’s an added note that makes a huge difference. There is a G added on the low E string! Adding this G changes the whole meaning of the common D chord. Because the G is so low in pitch, it becomes a de facto “bass” note, and changes the sound of the common D chord into something more jazzy — a Gmaj7 (no 3rd).

More Approaches

Now I’d like to show you a few more uncommon uses for these otherwise common chords.

Example A

Here is Example A. It’s an F chord, with a G bass added. The result? An Gsus9 chord!

Uncommon Uses of Common Chords - Example A

Example B

Here is Example B. It’s an A chord with G in the bass again. The result this time is another kind of Gmaj7 chord, this time it’s Gmaj13(#11)!

Uncommon Uses of Common Chords - Example B

Example C

Here is Example C. It’s a B chord, and once again the G bass is added. The result this time is another kind of Gmaj7 chord. This time, it’s Gmaj7(#5).

Uncommon Uses of Common Chords - Example C

Jump In

Ok, here’s the fun part. Let’s play! Here, I’m going to use these four chords to improvise some comping. My goal is to simply try these different shapes. You can try it too!

Download ALL of the shapes here: “Know Your Cowboy Grips” – PDF (includes TAB)
Remember, if you’re looking for even more information on jazz comping, including some rhythmic ideas, take a look at our Jazz Comping 101 course. You’ll find all you need to get started, and more!

Jazz Comping 101 Course

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.

6 thoughts on “Uncommon Uses of Common Jazz Chords

  1. Hi Marc, the A cow-boy chord with a G as bass (so a A7 but I never thought it as a Gmaj13(#11) ;-)) sounds wonderful, I think it is the chord used in the introduction of the famous Jobim tune “Aguas de março”.
    By the way the french lyrics translation/adaptation by Georges Moustaki is really great (“Un chemin qui
    chemine” , c’est beau !).

    • Hi Bruno,

      I’ll have to check out Moustaki’s version myself! Thanks for sharing that and we are glad you enjoyed the lesson 🙂

    • Hi Cary,

      That is correct. The material was derived from our “Tune of the Month Club” issue for that tune. Thanks 🙂

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