Basic Jazz Piano Chords

Want to get to the nitty gritty of basic jazz piano chords?

This is the best place to understand it all. We’ve

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

How Do We Begin Learning About Basic Jazz Piano Chords?

I’m glad you asked.

Start with this lesson on piano chord theory.

Also go ahead and learn how to read piano sheet music. Please, please, please spend time to learn these two lessons.

I know reading sheet music can be a pain, but I promise you: Once you learn it, you can unlock centuries worth of music knowledge faster.

Anyway, once you have a hang of the basic piano chords, let’s get right to jazz.

What Are Seventh Chords?

Seventh chords are jazz harmony staples.

So, knowing 7th chords is where you start.

Seventh chords are triads plus a major 7th or a minor 7th (b7).

The chord will sound different depending on what kind of 7th you have.

Chords With Major 7ths

If you see a chord symbol that has maj7, M7, Ma7, or ▵ attached to it, you’re dealing with a major 7th chord.

Here’s are some examples:

piano chord theory

  • C-E-G (C major triad) + B (major 7th away from C) = Cmaj7, C▵, CM7, CMa7
  • C-Eb-G (C minor triad) + B (major 7th away from C) = Cm(maj7), Cm▵, CmM7, CmMa7
  • C-E-G# (C augmented triad) + B = C+maj7, Cmaj7(#5), C+▵, C+Ma7, C+M7

Chords With Minor 7ths

When you see a simple tag “7”, it means your chord has a b7 attached to it.

And so, here are chords with a b7:

piano chord theory

  • C-E-G (C major triad) + Bb (minor 7th away from C) = C7 (this is what we call a dominant chord)
  • C-Eb-G (C minor triad) + Bb (minor 7th away from C) = Cm7
  • C-E-G# (C augmented triad) + Bb = C+7, C7(#5)

Always remember, the intervals present determines their overall sound!

What Are Dominant 7th Chords?

Probably the most basic jazz piano chords, dominant 7th chords are the V chord in a key. They normally resolve to any kind of “1” chord.

Here are some cool things about them:

  • Use dominant 7th chords to modulate to any key in a song:
    For instance, a G7 chord can resolve to Cmaj7, Ebmaj7, Gbmaj7, and Amaj7 as well as their parallel minor, minor b5, and dominant 7th counterparts, to any chord a half step above or below as well as to any chord a whole step above it and their substitutes. That’s a whole bunch of chords.
  • Consequently, you can match more jazz scales with dominant 7th chords more than any other chord during improvised soloing.

A dominant 7th chord is a major triad with a b7.

You can also think about it as a diminished triad starting on its 3rd.

For example, we have C7:

piano chord theory

C7 has the notes C-E-G-Bb.

Breaking it down, you have C-E-G is a major triad and E-G-Bb is a diminished triad:

piano chord theory

Dominant 7th Chord Possibilities

Now let’s see what else you can do with it:

  • First, a diminished triad is a rootless dominant 7th chord.
  • Second, diminished 7th chords formed at the 3rd, 5th, b7, and b9 work as substitutes as well.

Additionally, a dominant 7th chord can resolve to chords that are…

  • …a perfect 4th above (C7 to any F chord).
  • …a major 2nd above (C7 to any D chord).
  • …a minor 2nd below (C7 to any B chord)

The magic of dominant 7th chords is it can help you go towards plenty of directions in your music.

Since we’re dealing with creating more tension, let’s look at another related set of chords.

Creating Suspense With Suspended Chords

As stated, suspended chords create a degree of suspense in your music.

There are two kinds of suspended chords:

piano chord theory

  • The sus4 chord is a triad where you replace a major 3rd with a perfect 4th. Csus4 has the notes C-F-G.
  • A sus2 chord replaces the major 3rd with a major 2nd. A Csus2 chord has the notes C-D-G.

Suspended chords are usually played before a dominant chord, often in a comping situation.

Here’s a great example of how to use a Gsus4(13,9) chord:

piano chord theory

From here on out, let’s make things even jazzier.

How To Play 6th and 6/9 Chords

The 6th and 6/9 chords are also important basic jazz piano chords you need to learn.

For example, here’s C6:

piano chord theory

So, a 6th chord has a major triad and an added major 6th, and so C6 has C-E-G-A as its notes.

Looking at it closely, it’s just the first inversion of Am7.

However, the differences between Am7/C and C6 are a matter of context:

  • C6 has C as its root, therefore placing emphasis on the C major triad sound. This differs in use from the  Am7/C where you want the Am triad sound to pop out.
  • If C-E-G-A is preceded by E7, it will be perceived as Am7. Again, context matters.
  • If G7 happens before C-E-G-A, the chord is perceived as C6

Breaking Down The 6/9 Chord

Even more jazzy than the 6th chord is the 6/9 chord.

Learn this easy, hip  C6/9 chord voicing:

piano chord theory

C6/9 contains C and G for the left hand then E-A-D for the right. Your A is the 6th and D is the 9th.

But wait: there’s more: E-A-D is a stack of perfect 4ths.

We call this quartal harmony.

You can turn any chord into a 6/9 chord by playing a stack of two perfect 4ths starting on the 3rd of a major chord.

To learn more neat quartay harmony tricks, check out our quartal harmony lesson here.

Since you’ve just encountered the 9th in a 6/9 chord, let’s go further and talk about chord extensions.

How To Play Basic Jazz Piano Chords With Extensions

Jazz tunes are filled with the use of extensions, so you have to learn them too in order to sound authentic. Let’s discuss further.

What Are Chord Extensions?

Extensions are notes or intervals beyond the octave.

Based on the major scale, we have the following extensions available:

9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th

It’s a matter of simple subtraction to figure them out:

8 – 7 = 1

9 – 7 = 2

10 – 7 = 3

11 – 7 = 4

12 – 7 = 5

13 – 7 = 6

14 – 7 = 7

If we use the key of C as an example, a 9th from C is D an octave up (the 2nd note of the C major scale), a 13th from C is A an octave up, etc.

It’s required to have 7th in the chord in order to correctly perceive extensions.

How To Correctly Perceive Extensions

Think of arranging all the notes of the scale in thirds:

piano chord theory

If you look at extensions (and scale tones) in this way, you’ll see how jazz chords and lines are constructed.

Now you might ask…

…What Extensions Go With What Chord?:

Follow this cheat sheet to succeed:

Major chords – 9, 13, #11:

piano chord theory

Minor chords – 11, 13 (9 if the minor chord is tonic):

piano chord theory

Learn how to play extensions on dominant seventh chords with this shortcut – 9, b9, #9, #11, b13, 13 (dominant chords with flattened or sharped extensions are also called “Alt” chords):

piano chord theory

Since notes with flat or sharp extensions are based on the altered scale, we call them altered extensions.

What Are Some Basic Jazz Piano Chord Progressions?

To master jazz tunes (or any genre of music for that matter), learn the jazz chord progressions below in all 12 keys:

  1. I-Vpiano chord theory
  2. I-IV-Vpiano chord theory
  3. ii-V-I (Major)piano chord theory
  4. ii(b5)-V-i (Minor)piano chord theory
  5. I-VI-ii-Vpiano chord theory
  6. i-vi(b5)-ii(b5)-Vpiano chord theory
  7. I-V-vi-IVpiano chord theory

You also get to learn least 4 jazz turnarounds by simply learning the above chord progressions.

To go a few notches up, here are other useful chord substitutions:

  1. bVI-bVII-I or iv-bVII-I  a.k.a. backdoor chord progressionspiano chord theorypiano chord theory
  2. ii-bII-I or II-bII-i or II-bII-Ipiano chord theorypiano chord theorypiano chord theory
  3. bVI-V-I

How To Go Further From Here

All of these jazz piano chords are useless if you don’t start playing songs.

Simply start by playing tunes. Fastest way to go and understand all of these is by learning the tune Autumn Leaves or Fly Me To The Moon.

Why? Both tunes feature the basic major and minor 2-5-1’s. Learn major and minor 2-5-1’s in all keys and you’ll have an easier time nailing all sort of jazz standards.

Now, of course learning it simply from notation or YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok is just going to suck.

Worse, you run the risk of learning things the wrong way.

To discover more hip chord voicings, sign up for Premium Jazz Piano Lessons.

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We hope you enjoyed this lesson. Happy practicing!

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Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.