Rootless Chords – ii V I Essentials


I think you’ll agree that comping chords over standards is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have as a jazz guitarist. 


There’s something about the chord shapes, the rhythms, the interaction with the soloist, etc., that is just plain fun to play


While you may enjoy comping, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut using the same chord shapes over and over, leading to boredom in your playing. 


When you reach this stage in your development, you often reach for a chord dictionary and add new shapes to your comping. 


But, this isn’t the best route for most players to take, as it often leads to confusion with the new shapes and memory issues when comping. 


Instead of learning new shapes, you can alter any shape you currently use to form no chords without having to learn anything new. 


That’s a huge time saver in your comping studies. 


In this lesson, you explore one of my favorite and most important chord concepts you can learn, rootless chords. 


With rootless chords, you take any chord shape you know and drop the lowest note to create a new voicing from familiar shapes in the process. 


This allows you to comp in different musical situations and add new textures to your chords without learning anything new. 


That’s a win-win in the practice room. 


Have fun as you explore these rootless chords shapes in your comping. 


Major ii V I Rootless Chords

Minor ii V I Rootless Chords

Rootless Drop 2 Chords


The first set of rootless chords you explore are drop 2 voicings


These chords are effective when playing chord melody or chord soloing phrases, especially with the rootless chord shapes. 


Work both the full and rootless chords below in C, then take them to other keys when ready. 


From there, apply these smaller chord shapes to your comping over backing tracks and full jazz tunes when comfortable.

Backing Track 2516 C Major Slow

Backing Track 2516 C Major Medium

Backing Track 2516 C Major Fast

Here’s a second position of drop 2 rootless chord shapes


Start by playing the full version of each chord with a metronome and then over the backing track. 


From there, work the rootless chords, as you shrink the chord shape over a metronome and backing tracks


Lastly, move between this position and the first one above as you apply rootless chords to different areas of the fretboard


When ready, take these chords to other keys, other tempos, and to full jazz songs in your studies.

Backing Track 2516 C Major Slow

Backing Track 2516 C Major Medium

Backing Track 2516 C Major Fast

Rootless Drop 3 Chords


The next set of rootless chords you explore are drop 3 voicings, which normally have a string skip when playing the full chord shape. 


When you remove the lowest note from any drop 3 chord, you eliminate that string skip, making the chord easier to play while maintaining the core sound. 


Work both the full and rootless chords written here in C, then take them to other keys when ready. 


From there, apply these rootless chord shapes to your comping over backing tracks and full jazz tunes when comfortable.

Backing Track 2516 C Major Slow

Backing Track 2516 C Major Medium

Backing Track 2516 C Major Fast

Here’s a second position for drop 3 rootless chords to explore in your practicing


Start by playing the full version of each chord over a metronome and then with the backing tracks. 


From there, work the rootless chords as you shrink these shapes in your playing over a metronome and backing tracks. 


Lastly, move between this position and the first drop 3 shapes above as you apply these chords to different areas of the fretboard. 


When ready, take these chords to other keys, other tempos, and to full jazz standards in the practice room. 

Backing Track 2516 C Major Slow

Backing Track 2516 C Major Medium

Backing Track 2516 C Major Fast

Rootless Closed Chords


To finish this lesson on rootless guitar chords, here are closed chords, 1357 in that order, followed by their rootless versions. 


Notice that the closed chords, the top line, is very difficult to play. This is where rootless chords become essential


They allow you to play these cool-sounding chords and not have to grow an extra finger to do so. 


More colors, less stretching. 


Work on these chord shapes on your own, both versions, then over the backing track when ready. 


Closed chords aren’t for everyone, but with this rootless chord exercise, you can add these shapes to your comping regardless of hand size or experience level.

Backing Track 2516 C Major Slow

Backing Track 2516 C Major Medium

Backing Track 2516 C Major Fast

Creative Challenge


You’re now ready to test your skill set with a creative challenge based on the concepts in this lesson. 


Here you have a chord study written out over the changes to the jazz standard Summertime


I’ve given you chord shapes to get started, and you can use your own chords if you feel ready for the added challenge


Here are the goals for this challenge, have fun!


- Memorize the chord shapes, one at a time. 

- Play 4 bar phrases when ready, from memory

- Play the entire study, no rhythms, with a metronome then backing track. 

- Remove the roots to play rootless versions of these chords. 

- Add in rhythms and picking patterns to the chords over the track. 

- Replace these chord shapes with your own shapes

- Write a chord study based on the concepts in this chapter. 

- Sing the top note of each chord as you comp. 


Now that you know how to work this creative challenge, here comes the cool part, getting it on the fretboard!

Backing Track Creative Challenge