Jazz Guitar Corner: How to Play 7#11 Chords

by Matt Warnock
Posted Nov 12, 2012 at 8:04am

One of the most common alterations you will come across as a beginning and intermediate jazz guitarist is the 7#11 chord.

Built by taking a normal dominant 7 chord, R 3 5 b7, and lowering the 5th by a 1/2 step, R 3 #11(b5) b7, these chord symbols come up time and again in big band charts and standard tunes.

While they are fairly common in the jazz repertoire, as jazz guitarists we tend to have one or two pet voicings that we fall back on time and again when confronted with a 7#11 chord symbol.

In today’s lesson, we’ll be digging into 20 different 7#11 chord voicings spread out across different string sets and through multiple inversions in order to give you a solid foundation of voicings to draw upon in your comping, chord soloing and chord melody playing.

Symmetrical Fingerings for 7#11 Chords

Before we dive into the chord fingerings in this lesson, one thing to take note of is that there are only two different fingerings for any 7#11 chord on any string set.

This means that if you are learning C7#11 on the Low String Set for Drop 2 chords, as in the first example in this lesson just below here, you only need to learn two different fingerings, as these two fingerings repeat themselves to form the four different inversions of that chord.

To help you out, try and always remember that the 7#11 chords with the root and #11 in the bass are always the same fingering, and the 7#11 chords with the 3rd and b7th in the bass are always the same fingering.

Throughout this lesson, I have labelled each fingering as 1 or 2 so you can see how these symmetrical fingerings pop up for each of the chord types and string sets presented in this lesson.

7#11 Drop 2 Chords Low Strings

The first group of 7#11 chords that you can check out are the Drop 2 chords on the lowest four strings.

These chords aren’t used as often as the other ones in this lesson, mostly because they tend to sound a bit muddy in certain keys, but they are worth looking into as different musical situations will present themselves where you can break out these voicings and use them to great effect.

Example_1.jpeg

7#11 Drop 2 Chords Middle Strings

The second group of 7#11 chords we’ll look at are Drop 2 chords on the middle four strings.

These tend to fall in the “sweet spot” of the guitar, where the tone and timbre are just right and therefore these chords are used a lot in comping, chord soloing and chord melody arrangements by many different jazz guitarists.

If you are interested in developing your comping chops, these shapes are a good place to start.

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7#11 Drop 2 Chords Top Strings

The last round of Drop 2 chords we’ll look at are found on the top four strings and are often used when soloing, writing chord melody arrangements or comping behind a pianist or bassist as they populate the upper range of the instrument.

These are very common fingerings used by countless jazz guitarists and so if you only learn one group of 7#11 chords from this lesson, these should be them.

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7#11 Drop 3 Chords Low Strings

You can also learn 7#11 chords with Drop 3 chords, such as these shapes with a 6-string bass note that were favored by players just as Joe Pass and Johnny Smith to name but two.

These shapes have a nice “spread out” sound to them as they have a larger interval between the lowest two notes than the Drop 2 chords did.

While this larger interval brings a unique sound to the table, it can also make playing these 7#11 chords a bit tricky. So take your time and go slow when you begin to tackle these fingerings in the woodshed.

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7#11 Drop 3 Chords High Strings

Here is the last string group for the Drop 3 7#11 chords in this lesson.

Again, these shapes have a cool and unique sound to them, but they tend to be some of the hardest to play out of all the ones laid out in today’s lesson.

So, as was the case with the first group of Drop 3 chords, take your time when working on these shapes in the practice room, and try using a few different fretting-hand fingerings if you find that your first choice doesn’t sit well with your hand and finger size.

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7#11 chords come up a lot in the jazz literature. From added them to blues tunes such as “Blue Seven,” or adding some crunch to your ii V I chord progressions and coming across them when reading countless big band charts, having a good number of 7#11 chord shapes under your fingers will allow you to quickly and musically apply these chords to your comping, chord soloing and chord melody arrangements.

What is your favorite 7#11 chord shape? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a senior lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).