There are a variety of jazz chord progressions to play on guitar, some more common than others. Of course there is no strict music theory definition on what makes it a specific genre progression, so the best way to know is by listening to, examining, and playing jazz!
And the best part about learning jazz chord progressions is that they can be adjusted to your skill level on the guitar.
How to Use Chord Progressions
When we are given a chord sequence it is often in Roman or Arabic numerals, here we will mostly use the former as it is easier to show extended chord changes.
One of the most known chord progressions is the I-IV-V, in the key of G that will be G-C-D, which is used across many genres.
For some listeners this repetitive nature can get boring, so to make it more unique a guitarist can start adding onto the basic progression.
That is what makes a chord progression jazz, most pop music has limited use of extensions, but jazz is all about moving into more complicated chords and harmonies.
And as a guitarist you can make your chord extension easy or difficult depending on your theory knowledge and playing abilities.
If you are a beginner keep it simple and just add 7ths to your chords at first, as you get better move into major7, 9ths, 13ths, tritones, and all the other chord variations.
Keep your improvisation simple and only make your chords as complicated as you can follow. If you see a jazz progression that seems hard, just try breaking it down to its skeleton.
Also keep in mind that these jazz chord progressions aren't always played over and over.
Some songs mix progressions or intersperse other chords into the sequence. There are only so many chord progressions so as a musician you are always looking for new ways to express them.
A Nashville Number Chart can help you fill in chords for the progressions below. When starting out, stick to the keys easiest for you to play.
Jazz Chord Progressions
Note: the tabs below show you chords in the form of shell chords, massively used in jazz.
This is one of the most common chord progressions ever along with the famous I-IV-V and I-V-vi-IV in pop and rock music.
In jazz the ii-V-I can be played alone moving around the Circle of Fifths or it can be added to other chords and sequences.
This progression is a backbone of improvisation and can be found in most famous jazz songs like "Autumn Leaves", "Tune Up", "Summertime", and many more. In fact, it is also seen a lot in pop and rock, it is simply a pleasant-sounding order of chords!
There are many variations of this chord progression, in some cases songs rock back and forth on the ii-V or even just the V-I.
We can change majors to minors and add on extended chords.
The most common form of the ii-V-I in jazz is the ii7-V7-I7, so in the key of C the chords would be Dm7-G7-C7.
We can also try major 7th extensions and eventually move into 9ths and so on. Or we can substitute chords like majors, tritones, and more.
You could spend all day just running through variations of the ii-V-I if you wanted to!
The more you understand voice leading and harmonic analysis the better you can refine your jazz progressions, otherwise just experiment!
Example in the key of C: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Another very common jazz chord progression is this simple two chord movement;
it is also heavily used in rock and even Hip-Hop. It can be seen briefly as a minor i-iv in Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now" or it can be played for the entire song as with other genre writers like Bruce Springsteen and Dr. Dre.
They both have songs that are nothing but the chords I-IV.
In jazz we will see this progression interspersed among the 2-5-1 and its variations.
Often it is i7-iv7 but other extensions show up depending on the song. This is such a common chord movement because it is simply going backwards on the Circle of Fifths.
If we replace the IV with a ii we get the I-ii, which is a staple of early blues like "I'd Rather Go Blind".
Example in the key of C: Cmaj7 Fmaj7
In some cases jazz improv will work around a simple major to minor movement of the same root chord.
Songs like "There Will Never Be Another You" uses this sequence but with a maj7 and m7 extension. It can be seen along with the I-IV above or mixed along other progressions.
Example in the key of C: Fmaj7 Fmin7
Here we use that major to minor movement again but this time on the second degree instead of the fourth.
This progression is used in "The Girl From Ipanema" which starts out with the Imaj7-II7-ii7 chords.
And it can be found with just the I-II at the start of "Take the A-Train". This song mixes the progressions of I-II and then a ii-V-I
Example in the key of C: Cmaj7 D7 Dmin7
This is the jazz pop standard progression as it is often seen in songs like "I've Got Rhythm" and similar music that has a pop and jazz mix.
In that case we use Imaj7-vi7-ii7-V7. Again it is the extensions that give us the vibe and sound necessary for jazz.
If we substitute a IV for the ii we get our basic doo wop progression which is the foundation of a lot of music from the 1950's.
The I-vi-IV-V is seen across many genres as it has quite a relaxing vibe along with the use of the ii.
Example in the key of C: Cmaj7 Amin7 Dmin7 G7
If we change the 6 and 2 to major chords we will completely change the vibe and turn it into a ragtime chord progression.
This is usually played as I7-VI7-II7-V7 and has a much different feel than some of the other sequences.
While many of the progressions here mix well, this one takes us in a different musical direction.
When changing your progressions with additions, substitutions, or extensions it is important to pay attention to the new sound we get.
Does it mix well with the rest or is it too harsh?
You do not have to understand complex music theory to be able to discern what fits and what doesn't!
Example in the key of C: C7 A7 D7 G7
Many of these chord progressions are used in different sections of a song and this one is often used as a turnaround.
Something to break the monotony of other jazz sequences. This makes for a nice change before moving back into a common ii-V-I.
And if you already haven't noticed, it is essentially the I-vi-ii-V but replaced with a iii chord.
Often when you learn a new progression it becomes obvious that it isn't that different from the last, there has just been an addition or substitution of another chord.
The basics of progressions are the easy part, the harder aspect is knowing how to use them in a more advanced manner.
Example in the key of C: Emin7 Amin7 Dmin7 G7
Play These Jazz Chord Progressions With Different Rhythms
One of the best ways to try these chord progressions out is to play them repetitively over some different drum grooves.
Start with the basic skeleton at first and then begin adding in various extensions.
As you progress, mix a few different progressions together and see how it sounds.
After you feel comfortable with this, start changing the key during these chord sequences for even more variety.
The main thing to focus on is being able to first keep the underlying harmonic changes before you start with harder improvisation.
And don't forget you can also change these jazz chord progressions up with different strumming and picking patterns.
Even though we use the same progressions over and over, jazz still has variety!
Jazz Chord Progressions for Guitarists: Conclusion
The best way to learn a jazz chord progression on guitar is to play as many jazz songs as possible.
And as you play them pay close attention to the chord sequences, strip them down to their basic structure to get an idea of what progression you find.
This reverse engineering of other songs will help you know how to improvise and build a great tune in the future. When playing jazz on the guitar start with simple progressions and slowly build on the harmonies and movement, and as always don't be afraid to try new notes and chords!