A guide to develop a larger chord vocabulary.
- Understand how to create drop 2 voicings.
- Learn to smoothly transition between chords.
- Create a larger vocabulary of chords to pick from.
Inversions are one of the fundamental fountains of knowledge when it comes to learning harmony. They increase your fretboard awareness, spice up your chord knowledge, and impress all your friends who are stuck trying to get their barre chords sounding great.
Except for sight reading, inversions have been the skill that breaks the most students in terms of frustration. However, they have also led to the "eureka" moments in their studies when the neck just opens up for them. Over the years I've adopted this system on mastering your inversions by learning the shapes and applying them to songs.
The Basics of a Drop 2 Chord
There are two main families of 7th chords: drop 2 and drop 3. With these two families you have access to a vast majority of the chords used by greats like Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass. The voicings are very versatile and will open up the entire geography of the fretboard. For our purposes, we will focus on drop 2, but the concept can also apply to drop 3.
Drop 2 chords cover the most range of the instrument without creating dissonances and provide a massive number of options. How one arrives at a drop 2 chord sounds mysterious, like a strange code. However, it's not that difficult. Let's start with a basic Cmaj7 chord in root position (C–E–G–B). Next, we take the second note from the top, which would be G, and drop it down an octave to create a new shape (Ex. 1).
The new shape (G–C–E–B) is 2nd inversion Cmaj7 chord and likely doesn't look that unfamiliar. It's more open, stable, functional, and playable in any situation that a Cmaj7 chord could be played. Simple, right?
Next, we will want to extend this idea to the remaining inversions along the neck. In Ex. 2 I've written out the four drop 2 shapes for Cmaj7 along the top four strings.
I use the term 1573 for a specific reason. This is a way to memorize and visualize the voicing on a deeper level so that you know the function of each voice rather than just internalizing a grip that you spew out. It allows you to alter your voicings to suit your personal tastes in terms of harmonic extension and character. Here are the formulas that correspond with each inversion of a Cmaj7 chord.
1573 C–G–B–E Root position
3715 E–B–C–G 1st inversion
5137 G–C–E–B 2nd inversion
7351 B–E–G–C 3rd inversion
Because of the nature of the drop 2 voicings, we are now offered a large library of new shapes. These exist on four adjacent strings. That gives us three different groups of voicings to learn: one based with the lowest note of the voicing on the 6th string, one on the 5th and one on the 4th. They all have different uses, but that is something we don't need to worry about just yet, we need to get these shapes in your hands and ears.
I've outlined the set of major 7 chords with the lowest note on the 4th string (Ex. 2). In Ex. 3 you can see the shapes based on the 6th string and Ex. 4 covers the 5th string.
Mastering all three groups of voicings gets you ready to play in real musical situations. Listening to the solo arrangements of players like Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, you will discover much of their chord vocabulary is based off this group of voicings.
Now We Exercise
Memorizing the shapes of the chords is the first step to practical application. With four variations on each 1573 chord there is a lot of work to get to. One of the most practical ways is using these shapes to harmonize a major scale. Keeping everything diatonic (within a key) we end up with the following harmony:
Translate that to a key of your choice. Let's start with the key of F, which is a very common key in jazz repertoire, and covers a good range of the instrument.
We begin with the lowest possible root-position chord voicing on the top four strings, which in this key would be Em7b5 (Ex. 5). Naturally, we would move up the neck with each note going to the next scale tone.
As with every exercise we want to transpose this into other keys. Once you can play this in F major, go to the next key and apply the same concepts. After you get a grasp on your root position chords, start applying inverted shapes right away (Ex. 6). In this exercise, we are working on 1st inversion chords starting with a C7 with an E in the bass.
Continue this until you can get through all inversions in every key on each of the three string sets. Although these three exercises aren't expansive, they will give you plenty of material to practice. Remember, when you start to learn any new chord shape it takes a little time, but eventually it gets easier.
Playing these shapes across the string sets really opens things up. In Ex. 7 I apply these shapes across all three string sets.
Now you could not play this entire passage on just the lowest string set, however you need to switch string groupings as you continue to progress. The choice as to when you change groups is yours, and you will want to be able to make this "swap" at any point in the progression instinctively.
In Ex. 8 I've given you one possible way to navigate through all four inversions across all three sting sets. This exercise is very useful in getting a strong start on the basic major scale shapes. Don't rush these; nothing will be internalized and memorized overnight. Remember, we have to not only learn the physical shape of the chords but get comfortable with the sounds that they create.
Our next exercise will help visualize how each inversion works together going down the neck. In Ex. 9 we start with a higher voicing of Cmaj7 (in 10th position) and work our way down diatonically by keeping all common tones the same. For example, both Cmaj7 and Dm7 share a C, so that note stays while the upper notes move to the closest chord tones. We continue the pattern down the neck and across to the lower string sets.
Take this process and apply it to all 12 keys to reinforce all of the inversions. Remember, you will be switching string groupings throughout this exercise, so find the best option for you.
Practicing these basic exercises helps to get familiar with the shapes, but as you practice them you're going to want to use them over common progressions. Jazz standards move keys often, and in ways that are formulaic and predictable. I teach my students to learn these very common chord progressions in inversions as part of an etude. That way, they learn their inversions not only as a shape, but how they actually work in a tune.
The most common progression is the IIm7–V7– Imaj7. It's also the fundamental basic way of mastering inversions outside of just getting your fingers to make the shape. In Ex. 10 I've gone through a few examples in the key of G. Several of these will stretch out your fingers but after some diligent practice they will become more comfortable.
Now, you have progressed through learning the basic shapes of the Drop 2 or the 1573 chords, let's unlock the last subject of this lesson, how to play them in song form. As I had mentioned earlier, standards seldom stay in a key for very long. There always seems to be a key change at the bridge, or even several key changes throughout a chorus. Here are a few really common shifts that happen in jazz tunes just to get the ball rolling. Learn these relationships, transpose them, and you're going to be way ahead of the curve.
Practice these studies with a metronome, go slowly, and internalize them. It may take a while for you to get everything nice and smooth. It's a long journey to really get some of this under your fingers and into your ears.
In Ex. 11 we start in the key of G and then play a progression in E minor, which is the relative minor of G. Break open your Real Book to nearly any page and you're likely to find this one.
For Ex. 12, we start in F major before shifting to Bb major. This I–IV motion appears in countless tunes. Notice how moving across the string sets opens your ears to the relationship between the bass note and the melody. Many times those are the key notes when picking up chords by ear off a recording.
Moving around by whole steps is another tried and true harmonic pattern. By now, I'm sure you're starting to recognize sounds and inversions and how they interact. In Ex. 13 I've written out a handful of ways to play through a IIm7–V7–Imaj7 in Bb and then move down a whole step to Ab.
Finally, we get more adventurous with Ex. 14. Here we move from the tonic, in this case Eb, to a minor progression in the key of G, the 3 of the scale. Sounds like jazz to me, right?
I get it. That's a lot of information. This is going to keep you busy for a while. But remember, you don't have to use all of these voicings. Find the ones you like, pick a tune, and get to work.
- 8 Ways to Dominate Those Dominant Chords - Premier Guitar ›
- Decoding Django's Gypsy Chords - Premier Guitar ›
- Jazz Chords Made Simple - Premier Guitar ›
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.