How to play JAZZ on the mandolin

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Chords in a Major Key

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Players interested in chord study can download my free PDF book Jazz Chording for Mandolin

In Jazz, there are usually a LOT of options of what notes you can play when improvising.  Keep in mind what sounds good IS good! First and foremost, play what your ear tells you to play.  If you don't know what to play, it is nice to know what notes are available to us and which notes will usually sound best. This can all be learned and is where study and practice come in. 

First look at the major key.  We will use the key of C for our examples.  You should eventually know this in ALL keys.  A major scale in C contains the notes C D E F G A and B.  If I start with C and play every other note, I get C E G and B.  These notes played together are a C major 7 chord, written C Maj7.  If I start with D and play every other note, I get D F A and C.  These notes played together are a D minor 7 chord, written Dm7.

Continuing on with this idea will give us the chords Em7,  FMaj7, G7, Am7 and Bm7b5.  See this written out HERE.

When playing the C major scale, the first note is C, the second note D, third note E and so on.  In music theory we number the notes in the scale this way:

Chord Number I II III IV V VI VII
Scale Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Note in Major Scale C D E F G A B

If asked to "play C", and given no more information than that, would you play a C note or a C chord?  Either could be the right answer.  In the number system, on this website and in my teaching I differentiate between the two.  Notes use alpha numeric numbers (the type you see on a clock) and chords get roman numerals. 

 From above we learned that the chords constructed from the key of C major were CMaj7, Dm7, Em7, FMaj7, G7, Am7 and Bm7b5. Lets make a observation from this.

Chord Name in C C Maj7 Dm7 Em7 F Maj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5
Chord Number I Maj7 IIm7 IIIm7 IV Maj7 V7 VIm7 VIIm7b5


Learn this!!  The chords constructed from a major scale in any of the 12 major keys are:

I Maj7



IV Maj7





Best of luck and have fun learning Jazz!


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