FAQ: Understanding Jazz Chords and Symbols

(EDIT: This post's content seems to emphasize harmony without context, but I can assure you that this is most definitely NOT how harmony works. If you're reading this for some clarity on the means behind chord symbols, you've come to the right place. But understand that I've presented these symbols and meanings without regard to functionality.) I recently had a student ask me to recommend a book that would be a good resource on jazz chords and, more importantly, how to decipher the symbols for each chord.  My immediate thought was, “Book?!  There’s no book on that!”  Of course, I’m sure there’s probably a few hundred that deal with that particular topic in great detail.  However, I’m in no mood to go looking through book after book after book for good examples.  So, I went immediately to Google to find simple guides online.  There were plenty, but only a few stood out for their clarity, thoroughness and simplicity.  My main complaint was the spelling and labeling methods for each chord and the tendency of most guides to get bogged down in technicalities (i.e. intervallic structures and alterations).  People need a SIMPLE guide to this topic without being hit over the head with a ton of theory.

My guide to the CORRECT spelling and labeling of simple jazz chords: Basic Jazz Chords

If you feel like knowing a bit more, here’s a guide to deciphering lead sheets (borrowed from an article by Keith Felch in JazzEd Magazine): Deciphering Lead Sheets

Simple, right?  I’ll create a more extended guide with chord extensions and further alterations for my next update.