What Are the Different Types of Jazz Chord Progressions?

Lee Johnson

There are many different types of jazz chord progressions, generally including seventh or minor seventh chords. Among the most common jazz chord progressions are the second minor seventh, fifth dominant seventh and the first major seventh. Other possible progressions can be simple, but many are more complex. Often, the first is replaced with the third in jazz chord progressions, and minor seventh chords can be turned into dominant or major sevenths if necessary.

Hollowbody electric guitars are popular among jazz musicians.
Hollowbody electric guitars are popular among jazz musicians.

Jazz is a type of music that often features unusual time signatures and note choices. Some famous jazz musicians include Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong. Ordinarily, jazz music features seventh chords used as a backing, with an intricate solo being played over the top of it. Brass instruments such as the saxophone and the trumpet are common jazz instruments, but players can also use other instruments, including the piano and the guitar.

There are many different types of jazz chord progressions.
There are many different types of jazz chord progressions.

Chord progressions are runs of chords that are used to make up the background music of the song. Generally, these back up a vocalist or instrumental soloist. To explain chord progressions, the notes in any given scale are numbered one to seven and can be written as Roman numerals. For example, in the C-major scale, C would be one (I), D would be two (II) and so on.

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The most common chord progression in ordinary music is I – IV – V. In any given scale, the first, fourth and fifth are the majors, while the second, third and sixth are the related minors. Using these chords is a simple way of creating a chord progression in any key.

When creating jazz chord progressions, standard rules of the genre are added to these rules. Generally, seventh, minor seventh or dominant chords are used in jazz chord progressions. Other simple progressions can be made using this basic theory and changing minor seventh chords to major seventh chords.

Jazz chord progressions are rather complicated, particularly when compared with traditional chords. The first, for example, can be replaced with the third, meaning a C major seventh would be changed to an E minor seventh. In addition to rules like this, more common jazz progressions incorporate the second and sixth chords into the song. Chord progressions of any kind, including those for jazz, often finish on the sixth.

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