Advanced Jazz Piano chords on Guitar - With Audio

How are your guitar chord skills? Or, more specifically, how do you go at working out the fingering to complicated chords? Recently, we came across an online article that featured transferring piano jazz chords onto guitar. It gave a few examples inspired by some jazz greats - taking the jazzy piano chords and interpreting them onto guitar.

Playing jazz chords on guitar can get quite tricky, as the article rightly commented. Especially, if the chords don't originate on guitar. The most obvious reason is the difference in the way chords are built on piano as opposed to guitar. Piano is basically a linear instrument, the notes run lengthwise from low to high and pressing keys at various intervals creates sound. The guitar is more layered, it have multiple strings allowing for the same notes to be played in various locations, but chords must be in a relatively constrained position, rarely more than four frets. So the approach to transferring chords from one instrument to another is not a bad thing. It can open up worlds of inspiration and get those creative juices flowing. 

Except, in the article we found we came across something that didn't quite sit right. The example here is more-or-less the same the example they gave. Since, the composer's name wasn't given we'll call it 'Example 1 a-la Cool Jazz Dude'. Take a listen to our MIDI version of the piece.

Forgive the non-swing drums as jazz relies on. Actually, a straight four-to-the-floor approach might work better here to keep things simple. Let's get to the problem. The guitar tablature below is an acurate appropriation of the piano chords given.


Here's the thing. The commentary on these chords said that the chords needed to be fretted with the thumb of the fretting hand. That didn't make sense to us. No notes are played on the thick E-string, the 6th string. We're not saying it's not possible, it just doesn't seem right. You're going to fret 5th string notes with your thumb and simultaneously fret all those other notes with you fingers? If that is actually possible please let us know in the comments.

So... we got inspired and analysed the chords given then created our own fingering for each chord. None of these versions use the thumb to finger. All of them are a challenge. But, we got every note to ring out perfectly for all of these chord arrangements. The real difficulty is swapping between them. That would take quite some practice. (We are Super Rock School, not Super Jazz School after all)

tricky guitar jazz chords

Now, you may be scratching your head over the Ab13. The first finger frets at both the 8th and 9th fret. It's not unheard of. Chances are shred players do something like this. And, some slide players definitely do. It's a perfectly sane approach and it works. We played it and it works fine.

By the way, if you're a rock player that Bbmaj7 chord appears regularly in the song Plush by Stone Temple Pilots - except that it's played at the 3rd fret making it an Ebmaj7. Jazz chords in a grunge song. That's cool for both worlds! 

So, what do you think? Use the thumb or not? Have you got a better way to finger any of these chords? Hope you got some inspiration. And, comments welcome.

IK Multimedia's iRig Mic HD 2