Jazz is a known popular art form, distinguished by the unique sounds and expressions. If you want to get into the groove and learn how to jam with other jazz musicians, then it starts with learning jazz piano chords.
You can learn how to play the piano with simple theories and a little practice. In no time at all, you will find yourself playing with the pros by learning the unique sounds of jazz chords.
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Tip #1: Know Your Scales
Every jazz chord forms with a scale, the foundation of the piece you are playing. Scales consist of seven notes that are played with different arrangements to form chords and melody. There is a simple way to learn your scales so you can play the piano. You will want to learn intervals between notes, which gives you the progression you need.
Intervals are the spaces between the notes, formulating different sounds for chords and melody. Intervals divide by a half or whole step. A half step is similar to moving from a white key to a black key (C – C#) while the whole step skips the black note (C – D). Of course, the only exception to this is the E – F and B – C, both considered half steps. Your scale will look like this:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
Whole – Whole – Half – Whole – Whole – Whole – Half
Start on any note on the piano and follow this progression. You will be able to play all your major scales!
Remember, if you have a whole interval between E – F or B – C, you will need to go to the black note. This is what forms the key signatures in music. For instance, start on the note of D. It will look like this:
D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D
Whole – Whole – Half – Whole – Whole – Whole – Half
The # means it is the black note on the piano and is called a sharp. You may also see this as a b, or flat. The # means that you are going up a half interval, such as an F to an F#. You will take a half step up to form the correct interval. The b means you will go down half an interval, such as B to Bb. As you learn more about the piano, you will find that each # of b is interchangeable, such as a A# to Bb.
Tip #2 – Create Your Basic Chords With Intervals
Scales give you the freedom to learn anything. They are the foundation of songs and create the unique sounds you hear in jazz or classical. The next step is to take the scales and form melodies as well as chords from the defined sounds. If you want to create jazz chords, you will use specific types of intervals for the formation.
First, let’s form a basic chord, or a 1 – 3 – 5. This is used in all music and is a staple for harmonies and chords. The 1 is the root, or bass of the chord. The 3 is two whole steps above the root and the 5 is two whole steps above the 3. Here’s a C major chord:
C – E – G
Count the half steps on the piano to find that there are two intervals between each note. You can form any major, basic chord, simply by counting the intervals between each. Remember, that the black keys are important when you change the key signature. Here’s a few other basic chords for your practice.
Key of D Major:
D – F# – A
A – C# – E
G – B – D
To practice, simply pick one of the scales that you learned. Remember the key signature, or placement of the sharps and flats. Start on any note and count two intervals to form the 1 – 3 – 5. You have your basic chords!
Tip #3: Add the Jazz Sound With Chord 7ths and 9ths
In jazz, chords form by adding tension from the music. Instead of staying with the foundational chords of 1 – 3 – 5, jazz players add in new sounds with more complex chords. While it sounds more intriguing, it is simple to learn.
- Pick your scale and remember the key signature.
- Form your foundational chord of 1 – 3 – 5
- Add in one more note, the 7th by counting two whole steps above the 5
- Add in a fifth note, by counting two more whole steps above the 7th, forming a 9th chord,
- Start playing!
You will see jazz chords listed in many scores as C7 or A9. This is a way of defining the added intervals of the chords, creating the refined jazz sound. Here’s a few basic jazz chords that you can practice with.
C7: C – E – G – B
A7: A – C# – E – G# (key of A)
D7: D – F# – A – C#
C9: C – E – G – B – D
D9: D – F# – A – C# – E (key of D)
B9: B – D# – F# – A – C# (key of B)
Remember that it is important to know which key you are in. The examples of 7th and 9th chords are the root of each key signature. Would if you are playing a E7 chord in the key of A? You have to change your intervals to match the key signature.
An E7 chord in the key of A would look like this:
E – G# – B – D – F#.
If you were in the key of E and were playing E7, it would look like this:
E – G# – B – D# – F#
There is one more step to creating jazz chords, known as augmented and diminished chords. You will often see these in the 7th and 9th chords to add in even more distinction with the sound.
Augmented Chords – Take the interval and raise it an extra half tone. Usually, augmented chords are used with the 7th or 9th. However, you may see instances where it is a Augmented 5 or Augmented 6. Simply follow the interval structure and raise your chord another half tone. Here’s an example for a C9 Aug:
C – E – G – B – D#
Diminished Chords – Take the interval desired and lower it a half tone. Similar to augmented chords, diminished chords are placed on the 7th or 9th, unless specified in the chord sheet. The diminished sound creates a sad or minor sound. Here’s what a D7 Dim would look like:
D – F# – A – C
Try different augmented and diminished chords in various scales by simply raising or lowering your 7th or 9th note by a half step. You will start to notice distinguishable sounds for each type of chord.
Tip #4: The Jazz Flare of Added Voicings
Jazz musicians are known to add in extra style with voicings, used specifically to compliment a melody or to create unique harmonies with the style of song being played. The general rule of voicings is simply to change the structure of your chord while keeping the exact notes from the scale. Jazz musicians often apply creativity or functionality to voicings. Here are some ways to play with the voicings:
- If you have the same note in the melody from the chord, drop it.
- If you are using the 7th or 9th, you don’t need the 5th.
- Take the root (1) of your chord, and place it above the 7th or 9th
- Take the highest note (7th or 9th) and place it underneath the root (1)
These general rules of voicings are simple to change as you become familiar with the theory. There are also specific guides in some chord charts to change the voicing, known as inversions. An inversion allows you to take all the notes of the chord and to change the structure. For instance, if you have 1 – 3 – 5 – 7, you would change the structure to 3 – 5 – 7- 1 when you see a 3 by the chord. You can also change it to 5 – 7 – 1 – 3 when you see a 5 by the chord.
Here are some examples for you to try:
Root: C – E – G – B
3rd Inversion: E – G – B – C
5th Inversion: – G – B- C – E
7th Inversion – B – C – E – G
When you play these chords, you will hear that there are distinguishable sounds from the way the notes are placed. Learning inversions and voicings adds colorful chords to jazz and is a creative approach to playing old or new tunes.
Tip #5: Practice Makes Perfect
The theory of jazz chords works best with practice. You will begin to learn the language of the chords, scales and the ways in which theories are applied. Practicing for 15 minutes a day can help you to progress rapidly while allowing you to become familiar with the jazz chords.
The first step to practicing is to find chord charts with jazz on it. If you don’t know how to read music, you can find jazz chord progression charts. You can also download software that will guide you on the jazz chords for more familiarity with the practice. These provide jazz piano lessons and guidelines you will want to become familiar with. The general rule to learning the jazz chords is to practice slowly and continuously. Break your chords into different notes while remembering the interval theories. If you do this repetitively, you will find that the chords become a second language and you will easily be able to change the chords you are playing.
You will also want to look at what type of instrument to play on. There is a difference in the digital or acoustic sounds that are a part of the piano. The distinction of the acoustic piano has thicker and richer tones because of the use of strings. This may change the sound of the voicings and how you play certain chords. The digital will have an even tonality across all notes because of the way it is built. Deciding on your instrument when you practice will change your familiarity and use of jazz chords.
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