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Jazz piano chords PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 11:12

Most piano players that play by ear or from chord charts, start off with basic chords on the piano.  To play jazz piano chords is not that difficult if you understand basic chord theory.  Let me show you an easy way to transform your basic chords to jazz chords on the piano.

In any given key on the piano, if you know which majors (normally I, IV and V) and minors to play where (normally ii, iii and vi), the next step to transform them into jazz chords is not far off.

(Before you attempt this, make sure that you know how to structure the basic chords on the piano - put forth in Lesson 3)

To make this easy, let's use the key of C as an example.

The basic chords in the key of C are:  C  Dm  Em  F  G  Am  (let's put the Bdim - seventh harmony - on ice for the moment)


You can expand them by adding a seventh note to each chord (first expansion):

The first harmony (in this case C) and the fourth harmony (in this case F) get a major seventh note added:
C (C  E  G) becomes Cmaj7 (C  E  G  B)
F (F  A  C) becomes Fmaj7 (F  A  C  E)

The second, third, fifth and sixth harmony get a flattened seventh note added:
Dm (D  F  A) becomes Dm7 (D  F  A  C)
Em (E  G  B) becomes Em7 (E  G  B  D)
G (G  B  D) becomes G7 (G  B  D  F)
Am (A  C  E) becomes Am7 (A  C  E  G)

All you have to do is to substitute the chords you would normally play with the seventh chords (as above).

Do you like it?

You can now move further to the second expansion by adding more notes to your seventh chords.  The second expansion is to add an additional  ninth note to all these chords:

Cmaj7 (C  E  G  B) becomes Cmaj9 (C  E  G  B  D)
Fmaj7 (F  A  C  E) becomes Fmaj9 (F  A  C  E  G)
Dm7 (D  F  A  C) becomes Dm9 (D  F  A  C  E)
Em7 (E  G  B  D) becomes Em9 (E  G  B  D  F)
G7 (G  B  D  F) becomes G9 (G  B  D  F  A)
Am7 (A  C  E  G) becomes Am9 (A  C  E  G  B)

So you can expand your chords up to 13'th chords.


See this diagram for all the jazz chord expansions.


Fully expanded chords do not always sound correct in a given context.  Revert to a lower expansion if necessary (e.g. from a 13'th to a 9'th chord)
Fully expanded chords (13'th's) work best on harmonies I and V
Eleventh notes are seldom played in 13'th chords
Use inversions.  Many jazz chords sound better in inverted forms. Let the progression and context of the chord structure dictate.