Using Jazz to Expand your Repertoire

Using jazz is a great way to add variety to the music you play. There are a few options on how to do this. Composers like Roland Dyens have released arrangements of jazz standards. There’s a book by Dyens called “Night and Day” (available from GSP) containing the arrangements found on the CD of the same title. The other option is to do your own arranging. Most jazz standards can be found in The Real Book in the form of lead sheets. A lead sheet has the melody on a staff and the chord that go with it above the stuff.

The idea of arranging a jazz piece is that you play the chord with the melody note on the staff as the top voice. It can be simplified even further because the entire chord often doesn’t need to be played. A good grove and melody can work great with just bass notes.

Basic Jazz Terminology

Unfortunately jazz chord chart reading is a little bit involved, but there are certain formula. There’s essentially five types of seventh chords that are used: Major 7th, Minor 7th, Dominant 7th, Half diminished 7th (m7b5) and diminished 7th. A major 7th is a major triad with a major 7th from the root added. A minor 7th is a minor triad with a minor 7th from the root added. We’ve discussed Dominant 7ths before but they are a major triad with a minor 7th added on top. Half diminished triads are diminished triads with a minor sevenths added, and fully diminished chords are diminished chords with a diminished 7th added on top.

Here’s some examples of all the types of chords (just stacked thirds, not guitar style) with the root C.


Jazz nomenclature for these chords follows a pretty standard system (X = note letter name).

  1. Major 7th = Xmaj7 -OR- X∆7
  2. Dominant 7th = X7
  3. Minor 7th = Xm7 -OR- X-7
  4. Half-Diminished 7th = Xm7b5
  5. Diminished 7th = X°7

The idea is to learn these chords shapes, and put a melody above it! Most times you’ll have to transpose the melody up an octave to make it work. Here are some of the more common chord shapes. To make them a given chord, say to make them a C chord, place the root (in this case the lowest note of the chord) on a C. Those are divided by 4th, 5th and 6th string roots. Using some jazz standards is a great way to expand your repertoire very quickly, and make your own arrangements means it can be as hard or easy as you like.

Note: because of copyright issues, I can’t post an arrangement example here for you. Sorry!

Posted on in Classical Guitar Repertoire


  • William Bajzek

    Ten or eleven years ago, I took a real eye-opening lesson on jazz with Ted Conner. I didn’t stick with jazz, but I got a copy of his CD and loved it. It’s a great example of what can be done with what you’re talking about.

    I wondered recently if he was still around (sorry Ted, if you ever read this…). It turns out that he is, and he has made his album available to listen to at soundclick.