Chord Progressions (Jazz and otherwise)


Does anyone have any suggestions for coming up with extended chord progressions, with a bit of jazz flavor? I'm ultimately a rock guy but I've a great fondness for people like Elvis Costello and Randy Newman and Laura Nyro who run through these long progressions with jazzy inflections and side twitches, or old broadway stuff like West Side Story.

Basically, I'm sick to death of four chord cycles. I know one way of disrupting those sort of easy patterns - the Pixies thing, cut off beats and measures or drag an extra measure out of the progression - but I want to screw with things in a more complicated way, and these huge progressions that carry an entire verse really appeal to me. Doesn't help, of course, that a lot of 'em are piano based, and the chords are unusual and inverted.

I'm just a lowly rhythm player, but that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to get complex, neh? ;)

So yeah, any suggestions you guys might have would be awesome. Thanks for your help.


Have you actually gotten The Real Book and comped through a few dozen of the hundreds of songs in there? I think it's a great resource for learning chord progressions of varying types. (Not to mention for learning melodies and for learning what types of notes to play over which chords) That book and some theory about substitutions coupled with the spirit of experimentation should take you as far out as you want to go.


"jazz chords" is a misnomer - but most jazz playing uses upper extensions to chords ... major sevenths, minor sevenths, dominant chords, ninths, thirteenths, etc.

There's no rule that says make every chord into a seventh and it becomes more jazzy - but with a little bit of theory as to what types of chords go where (or a sense of how it will sound cool if you break the rules) can add alot.


Senior Member
Playing more complex chords requires learning theory.

Many jazz guitarists never play the root of the chord, and often skip the 5th as well instead focusing on the 3rd and 7th with the extensions that are correct for the given key signature.

So you have to know not only when the 3rd and 7th are major or minor, but if the 9th is, if the 5th perfect, how about the 6th?

Learn the 21 modes inside out and backwards and you will have the opportunity to play diatonically or borrow from key centers indefinetely, that is what jazz guys do.

dewey decibel

Hey Antero,

Honestly, I think some of the suggestions aren't going to help you much. The people you've mentioned are just great songwriters, with great vocabularies for chords and melodies. I don't think learning jazz chord voicings for your guitar well help very much, IMO.

What will help is learning about song structure, and how chords work. It's not neccesary to learn theory the way they teach it in school, but you will have to gain a "working" understanding of things. The first step is to learn as many of these songs as possible. Decontruct them, reconstruct them, everything.

When you do this, you'll notice how important the melody is. What makes most of these songs is a melody, a harmony (as in the chords or a riff) and then an answer to the melody (ussually a little guitar or keyboard part). Rarely will the harmony instrument be playing a chord extened past the 7th, but often those sounds are implied, because of what the melody or counter melody are doing. The point is, the guitar may only be playing a staright C major chord, but when you add what the bass is doing, and what the little keyboard line is, you can get an overall sound something more like C6/9 with an A in the bass. You can play that chord on a guitar, but I don't think it sounds that great in a pop/rock situation. I think it sounds better to split up the sounds among the other instruments.

When you get to know a songwriter you pick up on the little tricks they like to use. For example, Costello will do a lot of this sort of thing;

The chords will be-
A / B / A / B /

but the bass note will be-
A / B / Db / Eb /

Also, a lot of times on the V chord he'll have the bass play the sixth of that chord- like a D with F# in the bass.

There is a lot you can do by simply moving the bass in a different way than the chords.

I think getting a fake book can help, but most fake books only have the melodies and the basic chord changes. They don't have all the little parts that make a song "a song", as in the little piano line in the A section of Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood. I think the best way to learn this stuff is the same way all my favorite artists did, figure out songs you like, and then try and write your own. It seemed to work OK for the Beatles.


Thanks for the advice. Yeah, I'm definitely a big fan of the bass movement in Costello's stuff... the 3rd in the bass, a lot of the time, and the implied chord changes... It's hard to figure that stuff out on my own, though, since my bassist is staying at college for the summer for some reason...

...I'm an idiot. We have a piano.

Right, I think I know what I need to be doing now. :p

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