How to Play Jazz Guitar Using Rhythm Changes

Jazz guitar can seem intimidating to newcomers. It often uses complex chords and harmonic structures, and learning the intricacies of jazz theory can take a long time.

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can use to fake being way more knowledgeable about Jazz than you actually are! One foolproof trick is to have a set of commonly used jazz chord progressions under your belt. That way, if you ever find yourself enjoying the privilege of jamming with jazz guys you can at least hold your own on rhythm.

Many, many jazz songs are based around a small number of chord progressions. These progressions are usually taken from old Tin Pan Alley songs, to which jazz men throughout history have added new melodies. Perhaps the most used of these chord progressions is the storied “Rhythm Changes”.

The Rhythm Changes were first used as the chords in the George Gershwin Song “I Got Rhythm”. They were quickly picked up by jazz musicians to improvise and write songs over. Songs written with the Rhythm Changes include Count Basie’s “Shoeshine Boy”, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Anthropology”, and the Flintstones theme.

The chord progression is 32 bars long, in AABA form. The changes can be played in any key. The A section follows this form:

| I vi | ii V | I vi | ii V |
| I I7 | IV iv7 | I V | I |

The B section looks like this:

| III7 | III7 | VI7 | VI7 |
| II7 | II7 | V7 | V7 |

For those of you who don’t know roman numeral notation, here are the chords in C. The top line is the A section and the bottom is the B section.


Once you get the basic form of this down, the next thing to try would be to experiment with chord variations. Jazz guys often play every chord in this progression as some kind of seventh chord. Another common substitution is to add a flat 9 to the vi. If we go by the example, that turns the Am into an Am7b9. The fingering for that chord looks like this:


You can also watch this cool JAZZ LESSON IN THE STYLE OF FREDDIE GREEN

Learn this and you can hang with the jazz guys in no time!

Also let me recommend you one of our best jazz courses in DVD:


Lessons on Chords and Rhythm Guitar

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