Adult Learners

Learning Jazz Piano Chords: Jazz Chord Progressions for Beginners

By Jesse Preis
Jazz Piano Chords | Jazz Chords & Progressions | How to Play Jazz Piano

Are you interested in jazz piano chords? Playing tips for jazz chords, progressions, and more can be found below!

Piano players can have fun learning the basics, and doing so can open the door to new possibilities for songs or pieces to play. In this article, you’ll find some great piano playing tips for jazz chords, progressions, and more!

Can beginners learn jazz piano? 

Beginners can learn how to play jazz piano through consistent study and practice. When you begin learning jazz, it’s also important to invest in a Real Book so that you can practice what you’ve learned. A Real Book is a compilation of jazz lead sheets, which provide the melody (normally written in the treble clef) and chord symbols, which appear above the melody. It’s also important to learn the different chord symbols that you will encounter when playing jazz. Ready to get started with jazz chords? Let’s go!

What makes a chord a jazz chord?

Jazz chords are voiced according to the rules of jazz theory. 7th chords are one of the most important and common chords in jazz. One important step in learning jazz is to learn all of the dominant, major, and minor 7ths within the 24 different keys and to practice playing them.

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How do you play common jazz piano chords?

To begin practicing jazz chords, piano players should understand the different chord symbols that appear in the music. These will tell you which major, minor, diminished, or augmented chord you need to play and if there are additional notes included in the chord (like the 6th, 7th, or 9th).  

Autumn Leaves | Jazz Piano Song Excerpt.

One of the most common chord symbols will look like G7, D7, B7, etc. These jazz chords are called dominant sevenths. Dominant sevenths are built off of the dominant (5th) degree of the scale – for example: G is the fifth note of the C major scale, and D is the fifth note of the G major scale. Try this out on your own piano. To find the fifth note in C major, point at C and say “one,” then count to “five” using the white keys to your right. Did you end on G? There’s your fifth scale degree! Do the same thing with G major. Did you end on D? That’s the fifth scale degree of G major.

Now, to build the entire dominant seventh chord, you must make a major triad first. For example: G-B-D, makes a G major chord. Now add a minor third on top so that you have G-B-D-F. This makes a G7 chord.

Jazz Chords: G7 Piano Chord.

Another common chord symbol in jazz is the major seventh chord. These look like Gmaj7, Dmaj7, etc. These are more dissonant than dominant seventh chords. The dominant seventh chord consists of a major triad with a minor third on top. The major seventh chord is built with a major triad and a major third on top. For example, a Gmaj7 chord would consist of G-B-D-F#.

Jazz Chords: G Major 7 Piano Chord.

One more important chord symbol that you may run into is the minor seventh chord. This may be written as Gm7, Gmin7, or G-7. Start by making a minor triad. For example: G-Bb-D, makes a G minor chord. Now add a minor third on top so that you have G-Bb-D-F. And there you have a Gm7 chord! 

Jazz Chords: G Minor 7 Piano Chord.

Jazz piano chords: Progressions to try

One of the most common jazz chord progressions is the ii7-V7-Imaj7 progression. You can practice playing this progression at home. To do this, first pick a key. Let’s use C major as an example. 

To build our first chord (ii7), we need to know what the Roman numeral ii means. This is how we write the minor chord built on the second note in the C major scale. Start on C and step one note to the right to get D. Now we need to build a Dmin7 chord. Build a minor triad on D (D – F – A), and then add a minor third above the A, which is C. 

Our next chord is V7, which is G7 in the key of C major. We know we will need the notes G-B-D-F, but to make playing it easier, we can rearrange the notes of this jazz piano chord so that we don’t need to move our hand. Instead, we can play D-F-G-B. We still are using the same notes; they’ve just changed places, and we’re playing this chord in 2nd inversion. 

Our final chord is Imaj7, which would be Cmaj7. To play this, we need the notes C-E-G-B.

We’ve just learned how to play the ii7-V7-Imaj7 jazz chord progression with caterpillar voicing (or open-closed-open), a common way of playing jazz chords in this tradition. First, we start with a Dmin7 chord in root position, which means that the name of the chord (D) is the bottom note and the other notes are stacked in thirds above it: D-F-A-C. This is also called an open chord. The next chord, V7, is not played in root position, but instead in 2nd inversion, meaning the chord has had its notes flipped until D is on the bottom. It is also referred to as a closed chord, because the other notes are not all stacked as thirds above it: D-F-G-B. The final chord (Cmaj7) is open and in root position again: C-E-G-B. Did you notice that some notes are shared between each chord? DF-A-C (Dmin7) to DFGB (G7) to C-E-GB (Cmaj7)? 

2 5 1 Jazz Piano Chords in C Major.

The chords and our hand seems to be moving like a caterpillar, stretching out and then folding back in, which is how this style of playing got its name. To practice this, try the same steps in different keys. Practice doing this in all 12 major keys and you’ll be ready to play any time you see this jazz chord progression.

Now that you’ve got some basics of jazz chords and progressions, feel free to practice what you’ve learned, and find a teacher to help you study in more depth. If you felt like this was too challenging, please ask your teacher for assistance. If you’d like to take a step back and learn about creating simple chords, try Hoffman Academy Premium today! Remember: jazz chords really start with simple triads.  We just add more notes to jazz them up!

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