Guitar Tutorial: How To Approach Jazz Harmony (Chords)?: Triads and Intervals!!

20131127164900eddie 2Anyone who is interested in Jazz guitar will go through that phase of: Heck so many chords I do not know, how will I get to grips with any of these?
For this article I will give a few tips on what you may find useful as most guitarist will go through some of the similar issues.

First of all: Do not get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. When you open up any book about Jazz you will be greeted by an encyclopedia of chords. Treat it as any encyclopedia and use the chords as reference for some fingerings you may not know, or may find useful.

If you have no, or limited knowledge of harmony than the story is a little different: Educate yourself about basic harmony such as triads, intervals and how chords are formulated. Most books will guide you through some fo these basics. Once you have some knowledge how harmony works you will be able to relate it to any of your Jazz studies.

Most guitar players seem to learn about their chords quickly. Usually people start off playing the guitar by using chords therefore playing chords becomes second nature. What may not be second nature is the knowledge of what each inteval is in each chord. This knowledge is crucial for advanced chords, unless you want to keep playing chordshapes you have memorised without knowing what each interval stands for.

A good starting point to learn triads, and play them as three notes as opposed to the big barrechords you may already use. Barrechords are fine but they often repeat notes, you will often end up with five or six strings containing only three notes. Those same three notes can be played on just three strings: A note per string, and a set of three  strings will make up one triad. Simple!!

  System for Learning Triads:

A very simple system is to start with the low E, play your Rootnote here, then on the A you play the third, and on the D string you play the fifth. Job done, you have now one set of a complete triad. Follow this system through all your strings and you will end up with four options where you play your basic three note triad chord: First one will start with its rootnote on the low E, second option is rootnote on the A, third option will give you root on the D string and the last option will be on the G string. Some of the fingerings you will end up with may be familiar, some not. This is the point eh? You want to start seeing triads over the whole fretboard. It will help you with your chordknowledge and also with your understanding of the fretboard.

Once you can play your triads all over the fretboard you can start adding other notes such as 7ths, 9ths, 11ths. and 13ths. These are the kind of intervals you may need to create other kind of chords you will find in most Jazz Standards.

Work with any chord samples you find, but relate them to your own knowledge of triads. How do these chordshapes differ? Yes you will end up with four notes most of the time, but you still should be able to see that basic triad.  Try to work with as much as what you already know. You are learning a new musical language (Jazz) and not relearning how to play the guitar.

Okay so what  about those intervals eh?
A 7ths what is that? Well there is a major 7th, which is one fret (A half step) below your octave note. Use this as an easy guide and you can never go wrong! The other 7th is the dominant 7th, which is basically two frets (one whole step) below your octave note. Most guitarists will know their octave from having played powerchords before, so again, use what you already know to fill in the existing gaps in  your theory knowledge.

A 9th is simple: Just one note up from your octave. See how I refer back to the Octave? It is the interval most guitar players seem to know!

Now onto the 11th, what is that? A fourth in the next octave!! Most guitar players will know their suschords, well the sus 4 can be placed in the next octave and you will end up with the 11th. Play some of the samples you may have. Do they remind you or sus chords you may know or……….?

Last one is the 13th, this is basically the 6th in the next octave. Once you know the note you are looking for you will be able to place it in the new chord.
As with any learning, it helps if you can connect whatever is new to what you already know.
The beauty of music theory is also: This is the stuff you will be using all the time, as long as you play songs which will use some of the chords mentioned above.

Try to get the chords in your head instead of reading them of charts all the time, also try to understand what creates the sound of the chord, find out where the crucial intervals are within the chord:  The 7th, the 6th, the 9th, the 11th and the 13th. Apply this to your system of the triads and you are on  your way.
Is this all there is? No no, this is only the start, but try to have an easy ride with learning those new chords and you are on your way.
For next few articles more about arpeggios, how to approach them and the wonderful world of Two Handed Tapping.

Stay tuned and hope to see you soon again for more,