Shell Chords the Power Chords for jazz guitar

Power chords are the simplest way to comp in a band setting, but regular power chords don’t work in jazz. There is a set of chord voicing’s known as shell chords that are used in jazz. Shell chords are the simplest type of chord used in jazz, and it is a foundation to be used to build your own guitar chords. In this lesson you will learn what makes a jazz power chord, how to finger them and how to use them to create your own new chord voicings.

Most jazz chords are built off of the shell chord. It is a 3 note chord that contains the root, third and seventh. This chord style originally came from a big band guitar player named Freddy Green. These shapes are typically played on lower strings with the root on the low E or A string. These chords are not extremely useful in non jazz music. So how to you play these?

Typically the lowest note is going to be the root note, and the 2 higher notes will switch depending on the chord shape. These are played with the index, middle and ring fingers. Most of the time shell chords have their root on the low E string or the A string. On rare occasions you will find a shell voicing on higher strings. This is just the typical. If you find that shell voicings in higher registers sound better to you then you should use them.


a Shell Chords shape for a major 7th chord.

A shell chord for the major 7th chord.

Shell chords shape for major 7th chord.

A shell chord for the major 7th chord.

Shell voicing shape for a dominant 7th chord.

Here is a shell chord for dominant 7th chords.

A shell chords voicing for dominant 7th chords.

A dominant 7 chord shell voicing

Shell voicing for minor 7 chords

A shell voicing for minor 7 chords.

Shell voicing for minor 7 chords

A jazz power chord for minor 7 chords.

These jazz power chords can be played by themselves, or you can use them to build more complex jazz chords. How do you build upon them? You can use your pinky or hold down one of your fingers to add-on notes. With this you can stretch with your pinky, or skip strings. To get the most benefit from these chords I suggest you memorize which notes are what scale degree. Here are some examples that use these chords and build upon them.

Extended shell voicings

An extended shell voicing.

Extended shell voicings

Another example of extended shell voicings

If you need to comp with a jazz band, or if you need to play a complicated jazz chord, shell chords are a great place to start. They consist of tones 1, 3 and 7. You can build upon these chords easily to make any chord you need. Memorize all the chord tones to get the most benefit from it. This will be a base for your jazz chords so you can rely on these whenever you need a new chord. Discuss this topic below.

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