Jazz Guitar Playing Styles, Chords, and Techniques

Jazz Comping & Jazz Blowing

There are two distinct jazz guitar playing styles, these are what are known as “comping” and “blowing”.

Comping is a playing style that refers to how an instrument complements or accompanies other instruments, particularly improvised solos. In most contexts, comping describes the rhythms, countermelodies, and basic chords used by drummers or guitar players in a song. The artist in charge of the comping jazz guitar has to understand the rhythms of the song and play in tune with the improvised instrument to create a harmonious flow for the song. As jazz guitar players improvise their music, they may move up and down the basic chord structure leading to different scales, arpeggios and other chords that tune to the melody of the song. Comping enables improvisers to sound amazing as they flow through their structure.

Blowing, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It is the slang term used to describe improvising. With years of guitar practice, jazz musicians are able to spontaneously break from the pack and create their own tunes that align with the rhythm while exploring new sounds that expand the song as a whole. In many cases, however, basic chord changes come as a result of practice and are written into the melody itself. By creating new melodies, harmonies and rhythms, musicians that improvise can bring forth completely new songs. With jazz guitar, improvisation often follows specific stylistic norms and is done according to a previously agreed upon harmonic structure, also known as a basic chord progression. Historically, improvisation became a major influence in 20th century music and it was jazz and blues that brought it to the forefront.

Further, understanding jazz rhythm guitar techniques provides new musicians with a greater framework from which to grow and explore.

Jazz Rhythm Guitar Techniques

Jazz guitar chord progressions are the key element in jazz rhythm guitar, and understanding these basic chords can lead to a long-term career.

Although these progressions may sound easy on the surface, playing rhythm can be just as challenging for musicians as playing the lead guitar role.

The basic chord progression for jazz rhythm guitar is the II-V-I chord progression. These are a series of chords that are used in almost every popular jazz guitar music piece. As an artist, a jazz musician is obligated to have these chords firmly fixed in his or her mind as part of a larger internal compositional library.

Despite being the basic form of jazz chord progression, the aforementioned are not the only basic chords that matter. In fact, there is one chord that stands above them all because of the stylistic and technique opportunities it presents—the seventh basic chord. In any guitar practice session, the seventh chord will show up. This chord is important because it’s used to create a flow within each chord progression. It adds color and life to the songs it complements.

There are several stylistic rhythm guitar techniques to consider. These include:

  • Four-to-the-bar Quarter Note Pulse
  • The Charleston Rhythm (Modernized Version)
  • Dotted Quarter Note

There are many other rhythm techniques out there, most of which have to do with combining and limiting notes from various basic chord progressions. However, the key is to firmly understand the combination of each technique before moving onto another.

 Of course, in order to accurately do this, you need both hours of guitar practice and a firm understanding of basic chord progressions. Let’s briefly examine what that entails.

Jazz & Basic Chord Progressions

Jazz guitar is synonymous with basic chord progressions. Guitar practice often involves hours spent going over and over, and over chord progressions until they are fixed firmly in one’s mind. The following are a few of the most important basic jazz guitar chord progressions every jazz musician must familiarize himself or herself with.

Major 7

The Major 7 comes in two chords, the first is rooted on the lowest string on the fretboard and the second is located on the fifth string. Experiment with both to memorize them.

Minor 7

The minor 7 chord is one of the most popular chords in jazz music. It utilizes the most harmonious strings to create a hum that even the cherubs would be jealous of.

Dominant 9

Modern jazz guitar requires the dominant 9 chord. It is a more modern version of the standard minor 7 chord. It’s tricky to learn, but with plenty of guitar practice it becomes much easier to play.

Minor 9

The 9th is added to the minor 7 to create the minor 9 chord, which sounds amazing. It’s the perfect clash with the b3 and 9, and makes for an incredible sound. Minor 9 is rooted in the 5th string.


This is one of the easier jazz guitar chords for guitar practice. It fits snuggly under the fingers, and it also happens to be one of the most widely used in all of jazz music. This half diminished chord is typically played as the two chord in any minor key.

Guitar practice always involves learning the intricate details of basic chord progressions for jazz guitar. These are just some of the chord progressions you can expect to learn when you sign up for guitar practice with any seasoned teacher.

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