Top-4 Most Popular Jazz Progressions...

Are you interested in Jazz guitar? The best place to start when working on solidifying and expanding your jazz guitar repertoire are the standard jazz chord progressions...

Jazz chord progressions are a succession of mostly 7th quality chord types played one after another and played during a specified duration. They are vital to learn, since these progressions occur repeatedly in all of the various chord sections found in the most popular jazz pieces out there.

This article breaks down some of the most popular chord progressions in jazz, and provides a short list of songs that use similar chord progressions. We'll cover the progressions in this article, and we'll also make mention of a number of the jazz guitarists who recorded these songs.

If you enjoy jazz guitar and you have an interest in studying it, there is an importance placed upon learning how to recognize the progressions outlined in this article from a Roman Numeral standpoint, (this will allow you to quickly transpose the chords to other keys).

It will also be important that players interested in learning jazz develop the ability to recognize these classic chord progressions by ear. Once they can be studied by the player, practiced thoroughly and the chords fully understood, the next step is jazz improvisation.

Jazz students need to practice improvising over these popular changes. The sound of the chords, and the use of the scales all play a role in this styles overall development. You can start your practice by learning the basic chord progressions outlined in this article. From there, branch out further to more complex sounds, chords and melodic ideas.

The II-V-I chord progression is without any doubt the most popular chord progression in jazz. I'm not going to give you a list with songs that use this progression, since a jazz standard without a II V I is almost unthinkable.

Some jazz standard chord progressions are nothing more then a series of II-V's. This two-chord move can be found in countless tunes, in all 12 keys, and with many different permutations, both rhythmically and harmonically.

For this reason, it is the best place to start when working on solidifying and expanding your jazz guitar progressions and your initial jazz repertoire.

Here is an example of how to play this progression in the key of C:

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'Rhythm changes' are a kind of chord progression that use the same chord changes as 'I've Got Rhythm', a song written by Gershwin in 1930. People started using this progression to jam on and so many different melodies came into being that use the same chord changes.

A list of standards that use this progression:

Song Title:                             Played By:
Moose the Mooche               Pat Metheny
Shaw Nuff                             Barney Kessel
Cheek to Cheek                   George Van Eps
Mean to Me                          Barney Kessel
Isn't It Romantic                   Tal Farlow
Long Ago and Far Away       Earl Klugh

Built around the I-vi-ii-V progression, with a slight variation between the first and second two-bar phrases, this chord progression can be deceptively simple, which is why a lot of guitarists don’t dig deep when exploring this progression.

However, for those that do lift the hood and explore these changes with a bit more detail, you can learn new and creative ways of outlining these oft-used chords, taking your Rhythm Changes comping to new levels of creativity at the same time.

Below is an example of how to comp through these changes to help get you started:

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(3). The "Descending II-V" JAZZ PROGRESSION:
This is also a very common jazz chord progression. There are 2 modulations in this progression: the chords start in the key of C major, modulate to Bb major in the 3rd bar and again modulate in the 7th bar, this time to Ab major.

Song Title:                             Played By:
How High the Moon             Joe Pass
Tune Up                               Wes Montgomery
Cherokee                             Tal Farlow
Joy Spring                           Joe Pass
One Note Sambe                Charlie Byrd
Solar                                    Pat Metheny

Used in jazz tunes such as “How High the Moon” and “Tune Up,” descending major ii V I’s are a commonly used harmonic device that can prove to be kind of tricky when first learning to navigate these chords through an improvisation.

When faced with descending harmonic patterns such as this, many of us simply repeat the same chords down two frets for each new key. While this can work, more advanced players will find ways to ascend up the neck as the chord progression descends, providing a nice harmonic contrast during these chords.

Here is an example of how you could practice comping through these changes:

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Heard in tunes such as “Cherokee,” the use of Dim7 passing tones to connect the Imaj7 and iim7 chords, as well as the iim7 and iiim7 chords, in any chord progression are a commonly used and important harmonic device that can spice up the playing of any jazz guitarist.

Dim7 chords not only add harmonic tension to this progression, but the chromatic bass-line helps to build tension, which is then resolved to the iim7 and iiim7 chords in the following downbeats.

Below are some song examples that use the "Dim.7" chord type...

Song Title:                                 Played By:
Cherokee                                  Tal Farlow
Have You Met Miss Jones        Kenny Burrell
Joy Spring                                Joe Pass
But Beautiful                             Lenny Breau
Ain't Misbehavin'                      Django Reinhardt

To get started using the "Dim.7" chord in Jazz, here is one popular way that you could work on comping these important chords in your practice routine:

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For those of you who want to learn more about jazz chord progressions and jazz music theory, I strongly recommend the following Jazz Guitar Lessons from my website and YouTube Channels...

How to Play Jazz Guitar

Jazz Guitar: Easy Chord Melody

The World of Jazz Guitar - PART 1

The World of Jazz Guitar - PART 2

The Chords of "Smooth Jazz" - Part One

The Chords of "Smooth Jazz" - Part Two

Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions

Jazz Harmony Embellishments

Jazz Chord Workout



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  1. Wow Andrew. One of the most impressive blog posts you've done to date! Happy New Year. You're the best guitar instructor online, (in my personal opinion). All the best in 2017. You deserve all your success.

  2. Just a quick Happy New Year 2017 Andrew. I joined your members site in September 2016 and have learned more from the courses than with 3 private teachers over the last 6 years. You are one hard worker. Please know how much we respect all of your dedication. Thanks so much for what you do. All the best in the new year to you and your wife and kids. Your lessons are #1.

  3. This was an excellent post. I'm new to jazz (long time folk strummer) and I will probably have to work on these ideas for quite awhile. Thanks for all the work you do, (honestly can't understand how you do it).

    I plan on joining your member website in 2017 (to do the Introductory & Intermediate courses). Just want to save up money and go all in for the Premium level so I can do all 20 of the courses with their printed handouts. I'm 52 yrs. old and I still prefer to have a piece of paper up on my music stand!