Believe it or not, jazz piano chords are easy to master and enhance your chord repertoire. Whether you want to become the next jazz legend or simply sit in on a jam, you can learn what you need to hold your own.
Jazz owes its roots to the music of African American laborers in the South, particularly New Orleans. If you’ve been to New Orleans as many times as I have, you’ll discover that it’s as much a part of the city’s culture now as it ever was.
You’ll also find that jazz is interpreted in a variety of ways. While jazz standards are well recognized and have been performed and repeated by countless musicians, jazz remains one of America’s improvisational genres. A song may be played differently each time it is performed depending on the musician’s mood, style, or even the venue. Imagine not having to remember exactly how you played a song the last time you played it!
To play jazz, it is important to know the types of jazz piano chords used in the music. Jazz usually goes beyond simple major and minor chords, so you will need to understand chords that add a note or two.
One common chord is the sixth. On a chord chart, this can be represented as C6 or Cadd6. The C6 chord is formed by simultaneously playing the notes C-E-G-A, the A being the sixth. A Cadd6 means you replace the fifth with the sixth, or C-E-A.
Another very popular chord in jazz music is the seventh. In musical notation, a seventh in the key of C appears as C7. To play a seventh, add the seventh note of the scale, lowered a half step. In this case, B flat. The notes of this chord are C-E-G-B flat.
Equally popular is the major seventh, notated Cmaj7 in the case of the C chord. This chord adds the seventh note of the scale to your chord. A Cmaj7 is played using the notes C-E-G-B. The major seventh may look similar to the seventh chord, but as you will hear when you play them, they are distinctly different.
You may be familiar with one of the most popular chord progressions, commonly referred to as 1-4-5. In the case of the key of C, that progression consists of the C, F and G chords. But that progression is not as common in jazz. Most often, you will find a 1-4-2-5 progression. In the key of C, that would be C, F, D, G. They may not be all major chords; the D, for example, could be a minor.
With a good amount of practice, you will learn jazz piano chords with ease. Remember, jazz isn’t “perfect.” Improvise, let loose, and have fun!