Django Reinhardt’s tenure as dazzling lead guitarist of the Quintette du Hot Club de France only spanned 14 years in total, but his recordings have become the blueprints for a thriving, steadily evolving musical sub-genre.
The main focus is, of course, his seemingly impossible lead playing, but his approach to chords – also shaped by the injury to his fretboard hand – have also become a major part of the style.
To understand these shapes, we need to consider the nature of Django’s caravan-fire injury and disfigurement. His third and fourth fingers, curled permanently into his palm, were not used for soloing, but he had a limited ability to fret high notes in chords.
Spending 18 months convalescing in a nursing home, Django developed not only a virtuoso soloing style but also a chord vocabulary to suit his flexibility. Using inversions and condensing chords to their essential ‘flavour notes’, he was able to cover a surprisingly wide range of chords.
Here are some ways for you to try this approach…
Here’s the first fundamental shape, built from just root, 6th and major 3rd.
You can easily adapt this to cover major 7th, dominant 7th, minor 7th and minor 6th, just by moving the two upper notes. What’s more, this shape will also work as an (inverted) E minor.
This one is a bit more advanced, taking Django’s approach into more subtle territory. Assuming you’d have a bassist playing the root (E), this shape adds the major 3rd, b9th and 5th.
The lack of 7th means it’s not strictly correct, but it works in the context!
One of the potential variations of our initial G6 chord. The major 3rd has dropped to a minor 3rd, and the 6th has risen to the minor 7th.
The compact nature of this shape means that Django could feasibly have played it with two fingers.
Another fundamental shape in the Django chord approach. This is a 2nd inversion D7, lacking a root (again, this can be provided by the bassist).
Drop the middle note and you have a minor 7th; retaining the middle note and raising the top note gives major 7th.