Most people put jazz chords in the too hard basket. After all, jazz is only for the music snobs right? You can’t just go ahead and start playing complex jazz chords without proper training. Right?
It’s true that there is a rough order that most guitarists follow when learning chords. Most guitarists learn open chords first, then barre chords, before moving onto Jazz chords. But jazz chords are just like anything else. There is a bit of theory that usually accompanies jazz chord learning, and knowledge of the notes along the fretboard is also important, but jazz chords can be learnt as systematically as anything else.
This lesson is part of a series of lessons on chords. If you want to go back and brush up on basic chord theory, you can start from the first lesson and work your way up to this lesson. However, this lesson is also designed to be a stand-alone lesson, so if you’re feeling confident and want to jump right in, keep going.
In a previous lesson, we looked at eight types of common ‘jazz chords’, that will get you through most jazz songs. In reality, there is no such thing as an actual ‘jazz chord’, but we use that term to roughly describe the common chords that are found in jazz songs. We didn’t go into much theory in that lesson. If you’re simply after usable shapes that will help get you through most jazz songs, read that lesson.
In this lesson, we’re going to dive a little deeper. Rather than just giving you a bunch of shapes that will allow you to play most jazz songs, we’re going to take a few important chords, and figure out how to systematically play them all over the fretboard.
In doing so, you will explore the structure of chords, as well as the fretboard itself. It will give you the tools you need for building your own chords and coming up with interesting combinations.
Basically, once you understand the system outlined in this lesson, you will have the tools to become a jazz chord nerd.
A Brief Recap On Chord Theory
This lesson requires that you have some fundamental knowledge of chords, and how they are put together.
If you want an in-depth lesson on how chords are constructed, you can read a previous lesson in this series, where we explore chord construction in greater detail. Here is a brief recap:
Chords are made by ‘stacking thirds’ of the Major scale. For example, the Major chord contains the following notes of the Major scale:
- 1 – 3 – 5
The minor chord has the following notes:
- 1 – b3 – 5
These scale numbers are referred to as chord tones, when talking about chords. Each chord label refers to a specific combination of chord tones relative to the Major scale. For example Major (1 – 3 – 5), minor (1 – b3 – 5), Dominant 7 (1 – 3 – 5 – b7), half diminished (1 – b3 – b5 – b7).
This is obviously a super short recap, so if you need to, go back and revise!
There are many different combinations of notes and therefore chords, but there are eight main chords that are used most of the time in Jazz. If you learn these, I would guess that you would be able to play around 95% of the chords that you come across. These eight chords are important for two main reasons. Firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, they are very common. If you play Jazz, and you are familiar with these chords, you’ll rarely be in a situation where you’re not sure what to play. Secondly, any other chord that you come across is likely to be a variation of these eight chords.
Here they are the chord names with the chord tones in brackets:
- Major 7 (1 – 3 – 5 – 7)
- Minor 7 (1 – b3 – 5 – b7)
- Dominant 7 (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
- Minor 7b5 (1 – b3 – b5 – b7)
- Dominant 7b5 (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
- Diminished 7 (1 – b3 – b5 – bb7)
- Augmented 7 (1 – 3 – #5 – b7)
- Minor Major 7 (1 – b3 – 5 – 7)
These chords are all variations of 1 – 3 – 5 – 7.
What Are Chord Inversions?
We’re going to explore chord voicings using something called the Drop 2 system. This is the same system we used to figure out 42 different ways of playing the same Major chord (not part of this lesson series).
You can read that lesson in the link above, but since it is the basis for this lesson also, I’m going to go through the whole process again.
Before we dive into the system, we need to have a look at something known as chord inversions.
In order to understand inversions, let’s pretend we are piano players (this will make sense in a minute, I promise).
Let’s say we wanted to play the Major 7 chord.
The Major 7 chord contains the following notes of the Major scale:
- 1 – 3 – 5 – 7
As piano players, we could easily play the Major 7 chord, with the notes in perfect order.
For example, the C major 7 chord contains the following notes:
- C – E – G – B
This is known as the Root Position Major 7 chord, because the root note (in this case C), is in the bass of the chord (it’s the lowest pitch).
Chord inversions effectively mean that we change the order of notes, so that different notes (other than the root note) are in the bass.
For example, if we take the above Root Position Major chord, and shift the root note up one octave, we get the following:
- 3 – 5 – 7 – 1 (the 1 is up one octave from the Root Position chord)
Using the C Major 7 chord again, it would look like this:
- E – G – B – C
This is what is known as a ‘1st Inversion’ Major 7 chord, which basically means that instead of the root note being in the bass, the 3rd note (of the scale) is now in the bass.
The next logical thing is to move the 3rd up the octave as well, so that we have the following:
- 5 – 7 – 1 – 3
As you may have already guessed, this is known as the 2nd Inversion Major chord. The 5th note (of the scale) is now in the bass.
Using the C Major 7 chord, the 2nd Inversion Major 7 chord would look like this:
- G – B – C – E (the C and E are up one octave).
Of course, the last possibility is the 3rd Inversion Major 7 chord:
- 7 – 1 – 3 – 5
Using C Major 7, the 3rd inversion Major 7 chord would look like this:
- B – C – E – G
Here is a summary of what we’ve just covered:
Represented using only numbers (chord tones):
Why have I gone to all this trouble to explain this?
Two reasons. Firstly, chord inversions are an important part of chord playing in general. If you play the above examples, you will hear that each inversion has a unique colour and flavour, so you should practise becoming familiar with the different sounds that chord inversions offer.
The second reason why inversions are important, is because they provide us with a system for figuring out chords along the fretboard.
As a basic example, let’s keep on pretending we’re piano players. This time we are going to take the G Major 7 chord (G – B – D – F#) and look at the 4 different inversions:
This is all pretty simple so far. Easy on a piano. But what happens when we try to play the same thing on the guitar? Observe the tabs!
As you can see, apart from the root position chord, the other inversions are pretty much unplayable!
Because of the way the notes on the guitar are set out, we are often unable to play certain voicings that a piano player would take for granted. This is something that I’ve talked about already in some of the lead up lessons, but I’ll touch on it again here.
Because of the way the notes on the guitar are set out, playing chords (on the guitar) isn’t simply a matter of choosing the notes we want to include, and then playing them (although we can sometimes do this). We are limited by the notes that are available to us in any given position. This often means that we have to change the order of notes around, double up on different octaves of the same note and sometimes even leave notes out.
This in and of itself isn’t a huge problem. There’s nothing wrong with picking a random position on the fretboard, and trying to figure out different ways of playing a given chord, based on the notes that are available. In fact, I highly recommend doing this as a way of exploring chords and becoming more familiar with the fretboard.
However, it’s not a systematic way of learning chords.
There is a solution. It turns out that those awkward piano inversions that we just looked at become very playable, when we drop one of the notes down one octave…
Using The Drop 2 System To Make Guitar Chords Easy
We can turn these ‘unplayable’ voicings into relatively easy voicings, by simply dropping the second note of the chord down one octave. It’s important to note that the ‘2’ that we refer to here does not refer to a specific note of the scale, but rather the 2nd highest note (pitch-wise) of each chord voicing:
Let’s explore this approach using the G Major 7 chord inversions that we looked at before. We’re going to take the four G Major 7 voicings and drop the second highest note (pitch-wise) of each chord down one octave:
We are left with the following four voicings:
By itself, there’s nothing especially interesting about the above chord modifications. However, when we try to play these chords on the guitar, suddenly, we have four very playable chord voicings.
To avoid using open strings, let’s move the first chord up an entire octave (12 frets):
Also, I prefer to start with the lowest available shape (lowest frets) and play each of the four chords while moving up the fretboard. Like this:
As you can see, we are now left with four, very playable inversions. Importantly, we have produced these chords in a very predictable and systematic way.
The above example is an example in the key of G, but of course, the shapes that we have used are moveable to other keys. Therefore, if we remember, these four shapes, we can use them in every key.
Let’s look at the 4 shapes by themselves:
Know Where The Root Notes Are
Most of the standard chords that guitarists learn are Root Position chords. This means that the root note is in the bass. Learning root position chords is relatively straight forward, and usually involves the following process:
- Learn the shape
- Remember what the label is (Major, minor, etc)
- Use the bass note as a guide to changing keys (A Major, D minor etc)
The four shapes that we have just looked at are a little bit different. You still need to remember the shape and the label, but you also need to remember where the root note is, inside each shape. Let’s look at the four shapes again, with the root notes highlighted:
As you can see, the root note is in the bass (lowest note of the chord) for only one of the shapes. For the remaining three shapes, the root note is on a different string. In theory, this shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp, but in practice it can take a while to get used to. It’s instinctive to associate the lowest pitch of every shape with the root note. For three of the above shapes, this is not the case. You need to remember where the root note is, and you need to be familiar enough with the fretboard, so that you can navigate around the fretboard and locate specific notes.
A Bit About Labels
Before we go on, it’s worth talking about labels. More specifically, how do we label each shape? For example, let’s look at the root position G Major 7 voicing, with the second highest note of the chord moved down the octave (to produce the drop 2 version).
What should we call this chord (the drop 2 version)?
We could call it a Root Position, Drop 2, Major 7 chord. But that sounds overly complicated. What’s more, since we’ve dropped the second highest note down the octave, it isn’t really a ‘root position’ chord anymore, because the root note is not in the bass. Therefore, labeling it a root position chord (albeit a ‘drop 2’ version), is a bit clunky.
So what’s the solution? Simple. Just call it a Major 7 chord. In other words, don’t try to give it a more descriptive label other than calling it a Major 7 chord. The use of chord inversions in combination with ‘drop 2’ is designed to give us a logical system of producing unique chord voicings across the fretboard. It’s important to remember the shapes, but trying to come up with detailed labels is unnecessary
The important thing is that you can visualise the shape (and play it), know what type of chord it is, and know where the root note is.
There are plenty more shapes to explore in this lesson, but first we’re going to look at some approaches to using the four shapes that we have already uncovered. By doing so, you will develop an intuitive sense of how these shapes work when applying them to real musical situations.
We don’t just want to remember how to figure out and play the shapes, we want to be able to use them freely in our day to day playing. Here is a good approach:
Play Each Set Of Shapes In Different Keys
The first step in ‘getting to know the chords’ is to play each set of shapes in different keys. By taking a four-note chord (such as the Major 7 chord) and applying the drop 2 system to the root position chord and three inversions, we produce four unique shapes. This is what I mean by a ‘set’.
It’s worth visualising the ‘set’ of shapes as a cycle:
The cycle is a good way of visualising the four shapes for two reasons. Firstly, once you’ve played each of the four shapes, you can play the first chord again, up one octave (12 frets higher than where you originally played it) and then play the second shape again, and so on, until you run out of frets. Theoretically, if you had a never ending fretboard, you could keep cycling through the four shapes, moving higher and higher with each new cycle.
The other reason why it makes sense to present the four shapes as a cycle, is because the shape that you choose to play as the first of the ‘set’, will usually change, depending on the key that you’re in.
When I play each of the four shapes one after the other, I like to start from the lowest shape possible in the key that I am using. This will make more sense as we do a few examples.
Let’s do an example with the C Major 7 chord and play each of the shapes one after another, starting with the lowest possible shape:
As you can see from the tabs, the ‘first’ shape allows us to effectively start on the first fret of the guitar. Since the shape function as a cycle, once we’ve determined the first shape, we simply move through the cycle until we’ve played the full set of four.
How do you know which shape to start with? This is really just a process of experimentation. When you first start doing this process, you will probably go back and forth between shapes, trying to figure out which one you should start with. As a general rule, the first shape of any key should be in the first four frets. If you find that you are starting from around the 5th fret (or higher), there is probably a lower shape that you could be starting with instead.
The good news is that the more familiar you become with the shapes and with the notes on the fretboard, the more easy and instinctive this process becomes.
This sounds and feels like a logical ‘set’ of chords, as we move up the fretboard through each shape.
This process is similar to how we approach playing all five scale shapes in one key, based on the CAGED system (separate lesson).
Let’s do another example with the Eb Major 7 chord:
It’s important to note that while the first shape you use will change depending on which key you are in, the order of shapes from that point is always the same. This is helpful to point out, because as you practise the set of chords in each key, your fingers will start to ‘remember’ which shape comes next, and you will also get used to the distance between each shape.
You should practise playing the set of shapes in all 12 keys. This will allow you to become familiar with the shapes, get used to moving them around, and become accustomed to how one shape ‘connects’ with another shape. Of course you can experiment as well. Perhaps play each set in reverse order by starting from the highest possible shape on the fretboard (within twelve or so frets), and moving down the fretboard (towards the 1st fret). Here is an example using the Bb Major 7 chord:
Practise Playing Chord Progressions
The next thing to do is to practise playing chord progressions with the shapes. I recommend starting with just two chords, as there are many possible combinations of movements with only two chords.
Here’s how it works…
Pick two major 7 chords, such as Bb major7 and G Major 7. Then move between these two chords, using the 4 shapes that you have just learned. To start with, you should try to keep the movements small, as there should always be an available shape close by. After a while though, it can be a good exercise to try big movements, just for the sake of experimentation.
Here is an example. In this example, each chord is simply being held for 4 beats, before moving to the next chord. Of course, you can change this as you feel necessary. You can play a specific rhythm for each chord, or change the amount of beats are between each chord change.
As you can see (and hear, if you’ve played this yourself), there are many different possible combinations of two chords. In the above example, I have tried to move in an organised way up the fretboard, but this really is not important. To start with, you should simply choose one of the shapes (in this case Bb Major 7), and then ‘locate’ another possible shape for the next chord (G Major 7). There are many different possible combinations, so the idea is to simply experiment with moving from one chord to another accurately. You can double up on shapes, move higher, move lower etc. The main thing is to try to cover all of the individual shapes available. Of course, it’s very important that you know where the root notes are (inside each shape) and are familiar with the notes on the fretboard, so that you can accurately find the chords that you are looking for.
we’re going to look at other chords later on the lesson (minor 7, dominant 7 etc.), but we’re not done exploring the Major 7 chord just yet.
So far, we have used chord inversions, and the Drop 2 system to produce four Major 7 shapes.
An important point that we haven’t touched on yet, is that these shapes used only the first four strings.
As you might have guessed, we can repeat the whole process of producing four shapes, but with a different set of adjacent strings, such as strings 2 to 5:
The process for figuring out the four Major 7 shapes on this next string grouping (2 to 5) is exactly the same as the process we used for the first string grouping(1 to 4):
- Start with the root position chord and the three inversions
- Drop the second highest note of each voicing down one octave
While this same process will work perfectly well for this set of strings, there is actually a shortcut, given that we have already completed the process for one set of strings (1 – 4).
The four Major 7 shapes are different for this new string grouping. This is simply because of the way the guitar is tuned (just like a root 6 Major chord is a different shape than a root 5 Major chord).
However, even though the shapes will be different, the voicings will be identical. Therefore, we can simply use the original voicings as a reference point, and figure out how to play them on this set of strings.
Let’s look at the original drop 2 voicings, written as notes. Since we used G Major 7 earlier as an example, we’ll stick with that here:
We’re now going to use the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th strings to play these voicings:
Remember, these are the exact same chord voicings as our original string grouping, but because of the new string grouping, the shapes have changed.
Here are the shapes, with the root notes highlighted.
Just like with the first string set that we looked at, we used G major 7 as our example chord. But once we have produced the shapes and identified where the root notes are inside each shape, the shapes can be moved around to produce different chords.
Just like with the original string set, you should practise playing these new shapes in different keys, as a ‘set of four’.
Here’s how it would look when using C Major 7:
And here is an example using F Major 7:
Of course, just like before, you should also then practise moving between two chords (such as G major 7 and D major 7), just like we did with the original shapes.
Strings 3 – 6
We have one more string grouping to cover – the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th strings:
By now, you should understand the process. It’s the same as it was for the first two string groupings that we looked at. We can go straight to the shapes this time:
Just like with the other string groupings, you should play the four shapes one after the other, in different keys, and practise moving between different chords.
We have now covered all of the Drop 2 Major 7 shapes. There are 12 in total. Here are all 12:
Major 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Major 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Major 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
You might be thinking, what about other combinations of 4 strings, such as 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th strings?
The problem with the above combination, and every other combination of 4 strings, is that because the stings aren’t adjacent, the drop 2 voicings become awkward and unplayable (generally speaking). The drop 2 voicings are a particularly logical fit for four adjacent strings, but do not work as well when there are gaps between strings. Of course, to accommodate such string sets (such as the example above), we could drop another note down the octave, which wuld solve the problem, but then we would no longer be playing drop 2 voicings (we would be playing drop 2, drop 4, for example?). But that’s for another lesson!
So far we have covered a lot. We could easily leave things here and you could go away with plenty to explore and work on. But we’ve only covered Major 7 chords! In the previous lesson, we looked at the eight most common types of jazz chords.
As a summary, there are eight jazz chord types, which a make up most of the jazz chords that you need to know when playing jazz. Each of these chords is a variation of the chord tones 1, 3, 5 and 7. Here they are:
- Major 7 (1 – 3 – 5 – 7)
- Dominant 7 (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
- Minor 7 (1 – b3 – 5 – b7)
- Minor 7b5 (1 – b3 – b5 – b7)
- Minor Major 7 (1 – b3 – 5 – 7)
- Dominant 7b5 (1 – 3 – b5 – b7)
- Augmented 7 (1 – 3 – #5 – b7)
- Diminished 7 (1 – b3 – b5 – bb7)
Learning all of the drop 2 shapes for one chord (such as the Major 7 chord) takes time. Of course, you should familiarise yourself with one chord type, before adding more. But, eventually, you should do the same process for all 8 chord types. It’s a lot, I know. But the more you do, the easier it gets, and the better you get at being a jazz chord master.
The Dominant 7 Chord
We’re now going to do the same process we did before, but with the Dominant 7 chord. The process is the same as what we used for the Drop 2, Major 7 shapes. We take the root position and three inversions of the Dominant 7 chord, drop the 2nd highest note down the octave, and figure the 4 shapes, while making sure we identify where the root note is, for every shape. We then repeat the process for each string set (or use the shortcut that w used before). We will do the whole process again shortly. However, now that we’ve already figured out the drop 2, Major 7 chord shapes, we have a much quicker way of figuring out the Drop 2, Dominant 7 shapes. Instead of starting from scratch, we can simply modify our Major 7 shapes that we’ve already figured out. Here’s how it works…
The Major 7 chord has the following chord tones:
- 1 – 3 – 5 – 7
The Dominant 7 chord has the following chord tones:
- 1 – 3 – 5 – b7
If we locate the ‘7’ in each of the Major 7 chord shapes, and lower it by one semitone, we get the ‘b7’ of the Dominant 7 chord.
Let’s take one of the Major 7 shapes (it doesn’t matter which one), and try it out. In the image below, you will see a Major 7 shape with the 7th note of the scale labeled, followed by a Dominant 7 shape (with the flat 7 labeled).
This is actually a very simply process. We are effectively using the major 7 shape as the reference shape, and then modifying it to produce the dominant 7 shape.
If we do this for all 4 shapes (using the strings 1 to 4), we get the following:
Once we have modified all 4 shapes, we have four perfectly good Drop 2, Dominant 7 shapes:
Let’s now produce these same shapes, by building the Drop 2, Dominant 7 shapes from the ground up (as we did with the Major 7 shapes).
The processed we used before was the following:
- Start with the chord tones (1 – 3 – 5 etc), for the root position
and all of the inversions.
- Drop the second highest note of each voicing down 1 octave.
- Identify where the root note is for each shape, as this will hep you move to new keys
Let’s do this process for the dominant 7 chord:
The dominant 7 chord has a flat 7 in it (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
Therefore, our four voicings will look like this (written as chord tones):
We then drop the 2nd highest note of the chord down one octave:
We then have to form these voicings on the guitar. We can do this in any key, and then just move the shapes into other keys as we need. Let’s use G Dominant 7.
G Dominant 7 (usually referred to as simply ‘G7’) contains the following notes:
- G – B – D – F
The image below shows the process of turning the root position voicing and three inversions into Drop 2 voicings:
- Start with the root position chord and three inversions.
- Move the second highest note (pitch-wise) of each voicing down one octave).
- Play the Drop 2 voicings on one string grouping (in this case strings 1 to 4).
- Rearrange the voicings to fit (approximately) inside the first 12 frets.
As you can see, these are the exact same shapes that we formed by modifying the Major 7 shapes.
Of course, we can then repeat this process for the other string sets. But by now you should thoroughly understand the process, so I’m just going to give you the shapes for the other string sets:
Strings 2 to 5
Strings 3 to 6
Drop 2 Shapes for Eight Chord Types
We’ve now covered the Drop 2 formations of the Major 7 and Dominant 7 chord. As I mentioned before, there are 6 more standard jazz chord types that you should learn. Keep in mind though, that while we’re covering lots of shapes in this one lesson, you should focus on a small few when it comes to practising them. You need to give yourself time to really master a few shapes before adding new ones. In fact, learning the drop 2 voicings for just one chord and one string set (four chords in total) will probably be enough to keep you busy for a while. You should find though, that as you become familiar with a few shapes, learning new shapes will become slightly easier, as you can use the shapes you have already learned as a reference point (for example, some of the Dominant 7 shapes are quite similar to the Major 7 shapes).
Having said all that, we are now going to cover all of the shapes for the Drop 2 versions of the eight chord types.
You can use this lesson as a reference point and come back to it when you need to. If you know how the system works, it’s actually better for you to construct these chords yourself, and perhaps only use this page if you get stuck, or want to double check your results.
Here are the shapes (including the ones we’ve already covered):
Major 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Major 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Major 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Dominant 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Dominant 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Dominant 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Minor 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Minor 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Minor 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Minor 7b5 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Minor 7b5 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Minor 7b5 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Minor Major 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Minor Major 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Minor Major 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Dominant 7b5 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Dominant 7b5 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Dominant 7b5 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Augmented 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Augmented 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Augmented 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Diminished 7 (strings 1, 2, 3, 4)
Diminished 7 (strings 2, 3, 4, 5)
Diminished 7 (strings 3, 4, 5, 6)
Some Practical Ideas For Practising Drop 2 Shapes
There are far too many shapes in this lesson to absorb in one sitting. You should spend as much time as you need working through each chord type, before moving onto the next.
We’re going to finish this lesson with some practical ways of practising the shapes covered in this lesson.
As we discussed earlier, the best place to start is to take four shapes of one chord type and one string set, and play these four shapes as a ‘set of chords’ in one key.
You should do this for all 12 keys.
You should then stick to the same four shapes (on the same string set), and practise changing between different keys (A major 7 to D Major 7 etc). Try to cover as much territory when you do this, which basically means you should try to play all of the four shapes, and make sure you’re playing in different parts of the fretboard.
You can then move to the next string set, repeat the process, and then practise moving between string sets.
Practising With Different Chords
Although sticking to one chord type is necessary for a while, you’ll soon want to practise combining different chord types.
While it can be daunting having so many shapes to choose from, this is often where the real fun starts.
I recommend taking a few different chord types, and working on chord progressions that these chord types. A great place to start is with the Major 7, minor 7 and Dominant 7 chords, as these chord types are far more common than the other five.
One approach is to focus on one string set (for example, the first four strings) and take a simple chord progression. Remember, there are four different shapes for each chord, so you will be working with 12 shapes in total. It can therefore take quite a while before things start to feel intuitive, but it’s also super fun and it can really feel like you’re uncovering new and interesting harmonic possibilities.
Let’s do an example chord progression.
This is a very simple (and common) progression. The important thing is that it covers the three chord types that we want to use. It does not need to be a long chord progression, as the aim of the game is to practise using all of the different shapes. Therefore you can simply repeat the chord progression over and over again, and try different combinations of shapes each time.
There are a few different approaches you chord use here. I think the best thing to do is to pick an approximate area of the fretboard, and try to play the entire chord progression within that area.
Remember, a big part of mastering the drop 2 voicings (for any chord type) is being familiar with the root notes inside each shape.
Let’s do an example.
Let’s use the chord progression that we just looked at, and try to stay within the 5th to 8th frets (if we move outside a little bit, that’s ok). What we need to do is identify where the root notes are, within this area of the fretboard. Since the chords that we are using are Dm7, G7, Cmaj7 and A7, I’m initially looking for those four root notes. Here is an example, within the 5th to 8th frets:
Now it’s simply a matter of inserting the correct shape for each chord, and making sure that the root notes line up with the above notes.
It looks like this:
If you play this example yourself, you will hear that the chords lead very nicely from one to the next. This is because, by sticking to one position, and using the same four strings for each chord, we are following voice-leading principles (link).
More generally, you should also hear a subtle sophistication with how the chords fit together. Each shape contains four notes, without any double ups. It sounds as if each of the four strings is playing a unique part, and those unique parts fit together to create a harmony. This is much different to the sound produced when using the more common jazz chords to play a chord progression.
These descriptions are somewhat subjective, which is why you should experiment with them, and come up with your own opinions of them. You will prefer some voicings over others, which is part of the appeal of the drop 2 system – you’re learning to play any given chord in a variety of ways, but each voicing is unique and interesting in its own right.
You should do the above example and then move to a different position on the fretboard (such as frets 2 to 5). While sticking to one position is a great way to explore the voicings, there’s nothing wrong with simply moving around the fretboard freely and playing any combination of shapes that you wish (while sticking to the chord progression).
I like to start from one position, and incrementally move up and down the fretboard, like this:
Again, if you play this exercise yourself, you’ll see how each chord moves seamlessly from one to the next.
Of course, we have used only one chord progression. Once you start becoming familiar with the shapes, and can move around freely using chord progression, the obvious thing to do is to try new chord progressions. Each chord progression will become easier and easier, as you will be using the same shapes, but simply playing them in different positions.
In the example above, we limited ourselves to one string set (1 to 4). Of course, you should repeat the process for the other string sets, and then practise using different string sets in the one exercise. Like the following example:
Playing over jazz standards is a great way to practise putting the chords to use. Jazz standards typically use Major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7 chords most of the time, as well as the other chord types, a fraction of the time, which means that you’ll be able to work on the other, less common chord types (such as Augmented 7).
After a while, with practice you’ll reach a stage where it feels like all of the shapes are instantly available to you. When this happens, you’ll be able to sight-read chord progressions and instantaneously and effortlessly use the shapes, based on where you are on the fretboard, and the sounds that you wish you express. It’s a very rewarding feeling.