Welcome back to Wired Theory, presented by Wired Guitarist. It’s time to put everything you’ve learned so far into this lesson on advanced jazz chords. You might be thinking “Jazz chords are advanced enough, what else could possibly happen”? Trust me, I’d love to tell you that you’re all set, but in the real world of professional musicianship and performance, knowledge is power. By the end of this article, I hope that you will be able to pick up any lead sheet and at least understand what the chord symbols are asking you to do. Let’s dive into it…

*Disclaimer: Make sure you have read my articles on Intervals and Jazz Chords I before continuing to have the background necessary to understand the proceeding terminology*

Compound Intervals:

Following up on my first article on Intervals, we have to discuss our intervals past the octave (step 8). Luckily for you, there are technically no new notes, just higher voicings.

Compound Intervals are intervals greater than an octave.

Let’s use the key of C Major for reference:

C will always be “1” in a C scale of any variation. If we had a D scale, then D would be “1” etc. The numbers simply reflect the basic relationship of any note to the root or tonic note of the scale.

C     1

D    2

E    3

F    4

G    5

A    6

B    7

C    8

D    9(2)

E    10(3)

F    11(4)

G    12(5)

A    13(6)

As you can see above, once you get back to C, you just add 7 and you have the same pitch an octave higher.

That’s all there is to it. Now let’s apply it.

Natural Tensions:

Now in music, you should never see an 8th, 10th or 12th chord because of 2 main reasons:

  1. Chords are built in thirds, and therefore using those intervals would break that rule
  2. Those notes are already included in the basic triad or seventh chord, and need not be repeated

So, we only have to focus on our natural tensions which are 9ths, 11ths and 13ths.

If we reference back to the chart and the rules above:

9 is the same as the 2nd note of the scale

11 is the same as the 4th note of the scale

13 is the same as the 6th note of the scale

In context, we can take “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 like we did last week and apply this concept with ease.

The basic chord progression for the tune is:

Dm  G   C

By adding our sevenths from last week, we have this:

Dm7  G7  CMaj7

I like to play the verses like the keyboard does by using compound intervals to add some flavor to the ostinato progression.

Live, I will play this progression the first half of a phrase:

Dm9  G13  CMaj7

And then this the second half of the phrase:

Dm7  G7  CMaj7

What makes this progression work so well, is the fact that these chords share some of the same notes. By incorporating voice leading (which we’ll cover in a later issue), the chords really sound like they are working together and are making their own melodies within themselves. Check it out:

Jazz Tensions

I spelt out the voicing played, tabbed out the position and included diagrams for you to analyze.


The 9 in the Dm chord is an E, which is also the 13 in G, as well as the 3 in C. Therefore, since all chords are using E as the top note, it creates a constant melody for your progression. By changing the voicings the second time around, you have a new melody using the same basic chords.

See how different the two sound, yet they both work together and achieve the same overall purpose. Being able to understand your tensions will not only allow you to perform more advanced pieces of music, but now you can add these to your own songwriting as well.

You’d be surprised if you tried to analyze the chords that some ambient and djent songs use. More often than not, they are tension chords or include open voicings to create a dissonant or complex sound.

Making These Chords Playable:

As I have mentioned in previous articles, unless you have a chord written out on the musical staff or have a position written in your music, there is NO one way to play a chord. 9 times out of 10 it is up to you or a director’s decision as to how you’ll voice the chord on a sheet of music.

So what happens when you get a G13 chord? You surely cannot play all seven notes on a regular 6 string guitar (which 95% of jazz is played on).

So out of those 7 notes: G B D F A C E, how do you decide which notes you should play?

It all depends on your situation. However, it is universal that certain notes are less important than others. In order to effectively play these chords, I recommend downsizing to three or four notes. This is for true jazz work where you have multiple instruments already covering most of if not all notes already, as you don’t want to clash with the entire band.

The bass player will usually be playing the root note, s you in this case you don’t have to play a G.

If the fifth is natural (as opposed to diminished/b5 or augmented/#5), feel free to leave that note out as well.

If you look at the way I voiced my G13 in Sunday Morning, you’ll see I used: G F B E.

I left in the root because I do not play with a pianist when I perform this song, so my singer needs to hear it. I left in the 3rd, which is B. This distinguishes between Major (B) and Minor (Bb). Very important note. I skipped the 5th (D), as I just have no need for it in a dominant chord. Next, I kept the b7 (F) because it defines the dominant quality of the chord. I then skipped the 9th (A) and 11th (C) because my focus is the 13th (E), so I did not want to clutter my higher registers.

I also took voice leading into consideration as I mentioned earlier, and since it shared certain notes with other chords, it led to a more fluid progression.

Again, there is no 100% right or wrong way to perform these chords, but a quick google search can give you chord templates and shapes you can move around the fretboard in various positions and inversions, however the BEST way to understand these chords is to try and apply the theory you learn yourself and find these voicings on your guitar.

Add Chords:

In order for us to do so, we are going to learn “add” chords. These have one distinct difference from regular chords: Once you spell the triad, you ADD only the written tension.

For example, a Cadd9 chord asks for a C Major triad (C E G) and the 9th (D).

So all you play is C E G D.

Opposed to a CMaj9 chord, which is: C E G B D.

You do not add the seventh in standard add chords.

Cadd6 would be: C E G A

Cadd11 would have: C E G F


You can freely voice these as you please to give certain flavors to your music, however you will usually want your root note as your bass and the added note as your highest.

Breaking Down the Holcomb Chord:

Now that we have a more advanced understanding of tensions, its time to djent. I mean it.

We are going to breakdown the famous Mark Holcomb chord used in Periphery’s “Pale Aura” amongst other tunes of his creation.

Behold: the Am7add2 chord.

It looks like a handful, because it is. However, it’s a lot easier to understand than it is to play.

The chord is played like this:
*Note that guitar in example is in Drop-D tuning, and on the recording is in Drop-C*

e| 7   

B| 8 

G| 5   

D| 9   

A| 7    

D| 7    

The notes from bottom to top are: A E B C G B.

So, we have the root (A), m3rd (C), 5th (E), b7th (G) and 9th (B).

All this chord really is, is an Am9 chord. The “add2” might seem redundant because we are playing the b7th. It is simply there to state that you will play the 2 on the top string. However, since Mark also plays the same note “B” elsewhere on the guitar (4th string 9th fret), it is his way of stating the exact voicing he wants you to play. Finally, the stating of the Am7, makes it clear that the minor 7th itself vital to the chord.

Again, theory wise, it is just an Am9. This goes back to the beginning of my article where I mention that sometimes there are specific ways an artist or composer wants you to voice their chord. You will see this kind of stuff very often in musical theater work, and sometimes you do not have to play the ink note for note, and sometimes you do.

That wraps it up for today! We are now 2 lessons into Jazz Chords, and there is certainly one more to come later on. Just analyze one section at a time, apply it to the guitar and try it out in your own work. I guarantee you’ll become a better musician and more knowledgeable as a guitarist by applying these concepts yourselves.

As always, never hesitate to reach out to me on my Facebook and ask any questions you may have, or if you just want to talk music and gear in general!

Until next time, stay jazzy my friends 😉

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This article written by community content contributors Zack Seif. Zack is a classically trained professional musician, currently at the helm of his solo project, Regression

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