The simplest and most common chord progression in jazz is our friend, the tonic (home) major chord. I will show you the easiest and most effective approach to improvising over tonic major chords.
How to use this Lesson
This lesson can be applied on any of the following tonic major chords: major 7, major 9, major 6, major 6/9. If you would like to learn how to solo over maj7#11 chords using the Lydian Mode, check out my IVmaj7 lesson.
This is Part 1 of my Top 5 Chord Progression series. Remember that everything I cover in this lesson I use on a daily basis. I am not strictly a Jazz Guitar Teacher. I admit I don’t teach these concepts everyday. More importantly (I think), I am a first and foremost a Jazz Guitar Player, I USE these concepts everyday. This information is practical and ready to use.
For this lesson I will guide you through my 5 Important Steps To Learning Chord Progressions:
- Play the Chord – get the sound of the chord in your head.
- Practice the Scale – your spectrum of available notes.
- Play the Arpeggio – the most important notes in a scale.
- Target the Chord Tones – your ‘home base’ notes.
- Start improvising! – putting it all together.
Let’s get started!
The Maj7 chord progression is everywhere in jazz. For example, Cmaj on the first two bars of A Train
Now let’s examine this chord:
1. Play the Chord
Strum a Cmaj7 now. Listen to its sound.
Listen to a C maj7 in the first 2 positions above:
For any chord progression we have three tools to improvise with: the scale, chord tones and arpeggio. These three tools are closely related, let’s check them out now.
2. The Scale – Ionian Mode/ Major Scale
Think of a scale as the full spectrum of available notes you can use over a chord. Our scale of choice on a tonic maj7 chord is the Major Scale/ Ionian Mode.
I recommend you immediately check out my lesson on the Ionian mode/ Major Scale to learn how to play this scale on the guitar. I also cover the theory behind the major scale, important notes to avoid and focus on. Check it out then return here when you are ready to continue.
3. The Arpeggio
An Arpeggio is a chord, played one note at a time. When you play an arpeggio, you IMMEDIATELY play all the important notes of the chord. Arpeggios are you fastest and most effective approach to playing chord changes. Check out the most important maj7 arpeggios in my complete index of maj7 arpeggios here.
Brush up on your maj7 arpeggios then return here when you are ready to continue!
4. The Chord Tones – your ‘home base’ notes..
Chord tones (also knows as ‘guide notes’) are simply the 3rd and 7th of your chord. These two notes are INCREDIBLY important.
Wow, I used caps. Chord tones must be incredibly important.
In my humble opinion, Jazz is about playing changes. A bass player will probably play the root of a chord so don’t worry about that. The 3rd or 7th of a chord are the next important bits of information that make up any chord. These notes are your ‘home base’ while improvising. You can stray off these chord tones to add some color (such as a 9th or 13th) but these two notes are your home.
Now for some good news: you already know how to play chord tones! They are included in the arpeggios and scales you already know, free of charge. Awesome.
C Major Guide Tones
On a Cmaj7, our chord tones are E (the 3rd) and B (the 7th).
Here is where these guide tones fit on the guitar in two positions, root on the 6th and root on the 5th string. Can you see how they are closely related to your arpeggios?
How To Practice Chord Tones
Here are 3 steps to learn chords tones for a maj7 chord.
- In each maj7 arpeggio you know, highlight the chord tones by landing on and emphasizing them.
- Do the same in all the chord voicings you know.
- Do the same in all your Ionian Scale positions.
Phew, I have covered a lot. Let me put it all together now. You now know what scale to play, a few arpeggios, and most importantly – your chord tones (the most important notes to play). Continue on to step 5 to put it all together!
It is easy to get bogged down in scales, arpeggios, chord tones and music theory. Now that you know what to play, record a maj7 chord and noodle. Jam out. Try things out. Play around with all you have learned today. Jazz is about improvising so improvise!
Don’t WAIT to improvise or solo. Do it now.
My last tip for you is LEARN FROM THE MASTERS. Listen to Wes Montgomery or your favorite jazz guitarist. They are much better guitarists than me. Everything I have learnt is from the masters. You may as well go straight to the source. All I do is put what they know on an easy-to-read website!
Congrats on making it through this maj7 lesson. You have done well!
Keep on Learning
- The Major Scale\ Ionian Scale – Learn more about tonic major chords here.
- Check out the hip elder brother of the major chord, the maj7#11 chord.
- Return back to the top 5 Chord Progressions page to check some more cool progressions out.
Thanks for stopping by, feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.
~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com