You might not think a folk/rocker like Bob Dylan would be recommending jazz chords, but you can read it for yourself here in this wonderful interview he gave about songwriting. About halfway through, he asks the interviewer: “Do you play jazz? It never hurts to learn as many chords as you can. All kinds. Sometime it will change the inflection of a whole song, a straight chord, or, say, an augmented seventh chord.”
Most folk, rock and pop music is based on 3-note chords, or triads. In contrast, jazz usually revolves around the more complex sound of 7th chords. 7th chords sound colorful in a different way than triads and bring a different sense of tension and resolution to a chord progression. So it’s only natural that many rock musicians want to have these chords at their disposal. They may not use them in every song, but they want to have them available for use when the mood calls for it.
Songwriters as diverse as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Prince, and yes, Bob Dylan, have a much wider harmonic palette than one might think. They all have a working knowledge and appreciation of the jazz vocabulary and can call upon it when they need it. I’d even go as far as to say this is one of the reasons their music has stood the test of time. They don’t limit themselves by the more obvious conventions of their “genre.”
What does this mean to us, as pianists? It encourages us to stretch our knowledge of chords in a practical way. As Bob Dylan says, “learn as many chords as you can.” This will stimulate your musical appetite as you learn more and more new and interesting sounds. See for yourself; you never know where this might lead you with your music!
If you want to discover more about jazz, you might enjoy this: How to Learn Jazz Piano (Part 1): Immersion Through Listening
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