One of the first overwhelming concepts you encounter when you begin studying jazz piano is the number of chords and chord progressions. There are a lot. A real lot. But when you really break it down there are actually a finite number of chords. And to be perfectly honest with you, the VAST majority of chords you'll encounter in jazz standards are one of three types: major, minor, and dominant. In this article I'm going to show you a really simple exercise that gets you playing and learning all of your major, minor, and dominant chords in all 12 keys. Master this exercise and the results will be hugely beneficial.

Chord Progressions - the "ii" and "I" Chord

The great thing about the "ii - V - I" progression is that it contains one of each primary type of chord - minor, dominant, and major. Learn it in all 12 keys and you've learned how to play every minor, dominant, and major chord that there is.

I'm going to show you some "rules" for building some totally pro rootless voicings that will help you attain that authentic jazz sound. Of course, there are no "rules" in music, but the idea is that you follow these steps to build each of these chords in order to master this concept.

Let's take a "ii - V - I" progression in the key of C major, which gives us the chords "Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7." For major 7th and minor 7th chords we're going to perform the following steps:

Step 1: Play the chord in root position.

Chord progressions 1

Step 2: Invert the chord so that the 3rd or 7th is the lowest note.

Chord progressions 2

Step 3: Replace the root of the chord with the 9th.

Chord progressions 3

The chords you have in step 3 are referred to as rootless voicings, and they work great for accompanying yourself (left hand comping) or others. Play the chord in your right hand, and the root of the chord with your left hand in the lower register of the piano so that you can hear these chords in context.

So far we have 2 of the 3 chords in our "ii - V - I" progression.

Chord progressions 4

Chord Progressions - the "V" Chord

In order to build the "V" chord we need to complete the above steps, with one additional step.

Step 1: Play the chord in root position.

Chord progressions 5

Step 2: Invert the chord so that the 3rd or 7th is the lowest note.

Chord progressions 6

Step 3: Replace the root of the chord with the 9th.

Chord progressions 7

Step 4: Replace the 5th of the chord with the 13th.

Chord progressions 8

Now insert this chord into the "ii - V - I" progression.

Chord progressions 9

Notice the excellent voice-leading between the chords that we have created. The notes of one chord resolve smoothly (by half or whole-step) to the notes of the next chord. Notice also that if you start with the 7th as the lowest note of the minor chord, the inversions move 7th - 3rd - 7th. If you start with the 3rd as the lowest note of the minor chord, the inversions move 3rd - 7th - 3rd.

Play (and memorize) this "ii - V - I" progression through all 12 keys in both inversions (24 in total). Learn 1 key per day and you'll be done in 12 days!

Have you ever listened to the climax of a great bluesy piano solo, when the pianist is playing big piano chords with two hands, and wondered "how is he getting that sound? What is he playing?" In this article we're going to show you how you can build big piano chords with two hands. But more important than just showing you how to build these chords, we're also going to show you how to practice playing these big piano chords in a blues form. Understanding this information is going to help you use these big piano chords in your own solos and comping.

Play Big Piano Chords Step 1: The Right Hand - Solo Line

Using the 12-bar blues form we'll first create a right hand solo phrase. This can be your own improvised solo idea. In our example below, we'll use a 2-bar example in the key of F.

Play Big Piano Chords 1

As you can see, the solo idea that we came up with is based entirely on an F minor pentatonic scale.

Next, we're going to simply double the melody in octaves. This means that you'll be playing the entire solo idea above in octaves (most likely using your thumb for the bottom note and your 5th finger for the top note).

Play Big Piano Chords 2

Practice the example above so that you can play it in time with your metronome with a solid sense of time and swing before going on to Step 2.

Play Big Piano Chords Step 2: The Left Hand - Chords and Rhythm

Part of the secret of achieving two-handed, big piano chords and using them in a solo context is that the left hand really isn't doing anything very complex. The left hand is playing a single chord over and over again as the harmony changes, and doubling the rhythm of the right hand. In other words, the left hand part is based on playing an F7 chord in measure 1 and a Bb7 chord in measure 2 and repeating each chord by doubling the same rhythm as the right hand melody.

Play Big Piano Chords 3

One quick note about the left hand chords - the example above uses rootless chords. Check out our article on how to build rootless chord voicings for more detailed information on this topic.

One other quick note - notice that the final left hand chord (bass clef, measure 2) is not a Bb7 chord but rather an F7 chord, even though it is in a Bb7 measure. This is because of a little musical device known as anticipation. Anticipation means that although the F7 chord does not actually occur until measure 3, we play an F7 chord on the last 8th-note pulse of measure 2 because the resolution to that chord is felt slightly early.

Play Big Piano Chords Step 3: Listen

There are countless examples of this type of playing in jazz and blues, but two pianists who employed this technique regularly that come to mind quickly are Wynton Kelly and Red Garland. Check out Wynton Kelly on "Freddie Freeloader" at the 1:48-1:55 mark. Check out Red Garland using this technique on the melody of "Bye Bye Blackbird" at the 1:35-1:45 mark.

Rootless chord voicings are an essential aspect of jazz and blues playing and usually thought of as an advanced concept. But the most challenging aspect of rootless chord voicings is simply the practice that they require. This is good news because you don't need to know a lot of theory or a ton of tunes to get started with rootless chord voicings. These chords go a long way in helping you achieve the advanced, mature sound of the pros! And here, we'll show you a simple step-by-step method for learning these chords AND getting them into your playing.

Rootless Chord Voicings: Step 1

We're going to look at major, minor, and dominant seventh chords when constructing these rootless chord voicings. The first step is simply to know how to build all of these chords in root position, meaning that the root of the chord is the lowest note in the chord. Make sure to practice playing these major 7th, minor 7th, and dominant 7th chords in all 12 keys.

Rootless Chord Voicings 1

Rootless Chord Voicings: Step 2

In Step 2 we are going to invert these chords so that the 3rd or 7th is the lowest note of the chord, like so:

Rootless Chord Voicings 2

Rootless Chord Voicings: Step 3

In Step 3, we are going to substitute the root of each of these chords with the 9th. This is where the rootless aspect comes in to play. By substituting the root of the chord with the 9th we re making the chord a rootless voicing.

Rootless Chord Voicings 3

Now here's the important part - for major and minor chords, you're done. For major and minor chords Step 3 is the last step. But for dominant chords, we're going to go one step further.

Rootless Chord Voicings: Step 4 (Dominant Chords Only)

At the risk of beating a dead horse, Step 4 is for dominant chords only. We are now going to replace the 5th with the 13th.

Rootless Chord Voicings 4

Rootless Chord Voicings: Practice Tip

Learning how to build rootless chord voicings is only one part of the puzzle. The really important thing is to learn how to play rootless chord voicings! The exercise below is an excellent way to get these chords under your fingers - fast. Plus, you'll get practice playing through ii-V-I voicings in all 12 keys and see the voice-leading qualities of these chords.

This "ii-V-I Exercise" is quite simple: you'll play the root of each chord in your left hand while playing the rootless chord voicing in your right hand. Let's look at an example starting in the key of C major:

Rootless Chord Voicings 5

Notice that the ii-V-I progression can be played two different ways - starting each chord with either the 7th or 3rd as the lowest note in the chord. This gives you two possible ways to play each ii-V-I progression. And notice how much excellent voice-leading is created by using these rootless chord voicings.

Rootless Chord Voicings 6

Voice-leading refers to the smooth, half- or whole-step movement as the notes of one chord resolve to the notes of the second chord.

After learning to play through these ii-V-I exercises in all 12 keys, you'll be well on your way to mastering this professional and advanced jazz-blues sound!

In this article we're going to explore a classic jazz piano sound - drop 2 chords. Drop 2 chords, though simple, can be used to create some beautifully rich jazz harmony and are incredibly helpful when working as an orchestrator or arranger. Here, we're going to learn how to construct drop 2 chords, when we can use them, and we'll also look at a couple examples of drop 2 chords being used on classic jazz standards.

What is Meant By "Drop 2 Chords"?

First some vocabulary. "Closed-position" refers to a chord within an octave range or less, while "open-position" refers to a range larger than an octave. Drop 2 chords (or drop 2 voicings) refer to taking a closed-position chord and dropping the second-highest note down an octave in order to create an open-position chord. Let's look at an example.

On the left we have a D minor 7 chord in root position (closed-position because the entire chord is within an octave range). On the right we have the same D minor 7 as a drop 2 chord, now in open-position (larger than a one octave range):

Drop 2 chords 1

Play these two chords at the piano to hear the difference between the two.

When Should I Use Drop 2 Chords?

Drop 2 chords are very useful in all kinds of jazz arranging. Many composers and arrangers have used this device when writing big band music and scoring for saxes and brass instruments. As pianists we are especially fortunate because drop 2 chords sound great at the piano and can be used at slow and fast tempos. One particularly effective use is to harmonize melodies on jazz standards. Let's take a look at a couple examples.

Drop 2 Chords on "In a Sentimental Mood"

On this arrangement of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" drop 2 voicings are used in measure 5 as the melody ascends. Here is the lead sheet version of the measure:

Drop 2 chords 3

The next step is to harmonize this passage in closed-position voicings using Dm7 and D7 harmonies, such as this:

Drop 2 chords 4In order to create drop 2 chords, we simply take the second highest note in each chord and drop it down one octave (i.e., "drop 2" = move the 2nd note from the top down an octave). This results in an open-position chord which has wider spacing between the notes of the chord and therefore sounds a bit larger.

Drop 2 chords 2

Drop 2 Chords on "The Days of Wine and Roses"

Let's look at another example of drop 2 voicings on the classic jazz standard "The Days of Wine and Roses." In this example we'll look at measures 25-26. Here is the original lead sheet version of this passage:

Drop 2 chords 5

Next we'll harmonize these chords in closed-position voicings, resulting in something like this:

Drop 2 chords 6

And lastly, we will drop the second highest note from the top down one octave, resulting in a drop 2 chord and an open-position voicing:

Drop 2 chords 7

Now start Practicing this technique in your own piano arrangements!

In this article we'll cover a couple advanced jazz comping techniques. These are the jazz comping techniques employed by the pros that help them achieve those sophisticated, classic jazz sounds you've probably heard on recordings. Oftentimes these "advanced" jazz comping techniques are not very difficult to play. So why, you might ask, are they considered advanced and seem challenging to less experienced players? The answer is that these jazz comping techniques are fairly easy to play but a little difficult to understand. And if players don't really understand why or how the technique works, they are less likely to get better at employing the technique. So we're also going to spend some time here getting into the nitty-gritty, music theory-related explanation to solidify your understanding. Let's get started!

Jazz Comping Techniques #1: Side-Stepping

"Side-stepping" is a technique that has many names. It's sometimes called "planing" and also "chromatic resolution," which is probably the name that says the most about what this jazz comping technique is really all about. Side-stepping is advanced not because of how difficult it is to play, but because of how cool it sounds. Have you ever heard professional jazz players play a chord that sounds so perfectly wrong that it sounds really cool, and then resolve to the intended "normal sounding" chord? Or have you ever tried to master that advanced "inside-outside" playing of the pros? Well, this is pretty much what side-stepping is all about.

Let's break this down by starting with a quartal voicing (a chord constructed by stacking perfect and augmented 4ths) using an F7 chord.

jazz comping techniques 1

As you can see above, the notes Eb, A, D, G, C, and F represent the flat-7th, 3rd, 13th, 9th, 5th, and root. This is a great voicing to use for jazz comping.

"Side-stepping" refers to the idea of sliding into the intended chord from either a half-step above or below. So from a theory perspective, side-stepping is a matter of approach - the intended chord remains the target, but the chord that we use to get to the target is a half-step away. This allows all of the notes of the chord to resolve, either up or down, by half-step - and half-step resolution is what makes for very strong harmonic progressions in jazz. Using some side-stepping techniques gives us a completely different (more advanced-sounding) jazz flavor:

jazz comping techniques 2

Jazz Comping Techniques #2: Major Bebop Scale Comping

The major bebop scale is simply a major scale with a half-step inserted between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. Consider the C major bebop scale:

jazz comping techniques 3

From this scale we can extract two alternating chords - the C major 6 chord (and all of its inversions) and the D diminished 7th chord (and all of its inversions).

jazz comping techniques 4

What if you had a C major chord that lasted for 4 measures? What would you play? The same chord over and over throughout the 4 measures? That would eventually start to sound somewhat boring and uninspired. This power major bebop scale jazz comping technique allows you to fill those four measures of C major with some variety, creativity, and harmonic motion.

jazz comping techniques 5Practice these two advanced jazz comping techniques in various keys and on specific tunes in your repertoire in order to use them effectively!

Understanding slash chords is very important when playing rock music and reading sheet music or lead sheets ("lead sheets" refer to the kind of music you find in fakebooks, in which the melody and chord symbols are given but nothing else, meaning it is up to the player to create an arrangement or accompaniment from this limited information). But what are slash chords? How do we interpret them? And how are they different from regular chord symbols.

First off, slash chords can be found in all kinds of music - rock, jazz, funk, pop, etc. - so it's important to understand how to decipher them. Slash chords are simply a short-hand way of telling a chordal player (in our example, a keyboard player) how to "voice" a particular chord.

Let's throw out some examples. If we were to see chord symbols like this:

Slash chords 1

We could simply play something like this:

slash chords 2

But what if we see something like this:

slash chords 3

These are slash chords and they sort of look like chord symbol fractions in which one letter is to the left of the slash and one letter to the right of the slash. And these slash chord symbols give us some very important information. Some pianists make the mistake of thinking that slash chords are only important to bass players. Not the case. Slash chords tell us how the chord is to be "voiced," meaning how we are to spell the chord when playing it at the piano. The letter to the left (sometimes written on top) indicates the chord that is to be played. The letter to the right (sometimes written on bottom) indicates the note that is to be played in the bass register.

slash chords 4

 

The chord symbol above (G/B) tells us that we are to play a G major chord with a 'B' in the bass. Here are some possible voicings for that chord:

slash chords 5

Notice that in the right hand, any of the various ways to spell G major are acceptable, but the left hand continues to play a 'B' in the bass register as the chord symbol indicates.

Slash chords can be found all over rock music. Play through the example below which is the chorus to an incredibly popular rock tune and see if you can identify it.

slash chords 6

 

Here are those chords fully notated. This is the accompaniment to Billy Joel's classic hit "Piano Man."

slash chords 7

Check out our great rock lesson on James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face" for some more great examples of slash chords!

 

 

Diminished chords can certainly have a spooky and nefarious sound, but they also have a lot of functionality. So much functionality, in fact, that besides simply being a diminished chord it can also function as one of four different dominant chords. That’s right, those diminished chords you thought you knew so well have in all likelihood been masquerading as dominant chords in disguise. Want to know how they do it?

OK, first let's talk about guide tones.
Every 7th chord (major, minor, dominant, etc.) has a pair of guide tones. The guide tones refer to the 3rd and 7th of a chord. Notice that the guide tones of the three different chords below are unique to each chord, while the root and 5th are the same in each chord.

diminished chords 1

Notice also that the guide tones for the dominant chord are a tritone interval (augmented 4th or diminished 5th) apart. That relationship of the 3rd and 7th being a tritone away from one another is unique to dominant 7th chords. The fact that the root and 5th are unchanged among these three chords is good evidence of how important the 3rd and 7th are to the distinction if each chord (because they are the variables) and often why we (as piano players) often substitute other tones for the root and 5th in our chord voicings (such as the 9th and 13th, respectively).

OK, now let's talk about resolution.

The tritone interval present in dominant chords between the 3rd and 7th is what gives dominant chords the feeling of being unstable, wanting to move or resolve to some other chord (generally its "I" chord). Notice how the C7 chord wants to resolve to its "I" chord, F major. This "V to I" resolution is the strongest and most common in all of music.

Diminished chords 2

Notice that the "Bb" pulls down by half-step to resolve to the "A," and the "E" pulls up by half-step to resolve to the "F." Two things are going on to make this resolution quite strong: First, the movement is by half-step, which is the smallest and strongest motion when moving from one chord to another chord. Second, the movement between chords is by what is referred to as contrary motion, meaning that the notes which are resolving are doing so in opposite directions.

What's the takeaway from all of this information? The presence of tritone intervals in a chord is a big clue to the possibility that the chord has dominant function, even if it doesn't look like a dominant chord at first (because we're about to learn how diminished chords can have dominant functions). When you see a tritone interval in a chord, you should consider that the chord could be functioning as a dominant chord.

Read more in PART 2 of this article to see how one diminished chord has the power of FOUR DIMINISHED CHORDS!

Using Quartals To Make Richer Chord Voicings

I love the sound of those big, fat jazz chords. Don’t you? Those tensions and ‘extra’ notes really make the song go from dull to dazzling. Creating these rich chord voicings becomes much easier when we use quartals.

A quartal is two stacked intervals. It is two perfect fourths stacked on top of one another. The interval from C to F is a perfect fourth. If we add another perfect fourth above F, we’d get Bb. C-F-Bb played together becomes a quartal.

example 1

Before adding quartals to our chords, let’s break down the basic C Major 7th chord.

The plain ‘ol “block” chord for C Maj 7 is C-E-G-B.

example 2 - c major 7th block chord

C is the root, E is the third, G is the fifth and B is the seventh.

You’ll notice that I referred to the chord as a block chord. It is called a block chord because it sounds “blocky” but also because it is built by stacking thirds on top of one another. This is called a tertial chord voicing because it is made up of only thirds.

Creating chords using only stacked thirds is a fine way of making chords, but after a while they sound bland to the ears. Triads are another example of a tertial chord voicing.

We can add a lot of spice to our chords by replacing or re-arranging the notes of our chords. This process is called creating new voicings. Voicings are how chords are constructed. For example a C Major triad is C, E and G. If we play C-E-G, E-G-C or G-C-E, we have played the triad in three different voicings. An inversion is one way of quickly creating a new voicing for a chord and that is exactly what I just did to the C Major triad. C-E-G is root position. E-G-C is first inversion and G-C-E is second inversion.

Now, let’s “spice up” our C Major 7th chord by adding some quartals.

The first step is to remove unnecessary notes from the block chord to create a “shell”. In the left hand, play C, E and B. I removed the G, which is the fifth, because it does not define the quality of the chord. We need the E and B to know that the quality of this chord is a Major seventh. We keep the C, the root, so that our ears know which chord it is. Otherwise, without a root, the chord might sound like an E chord or many others.

example 3 - chord shell

In the right-hand, add a quartal starting on the 9th.The Quartal & Pentatonic Improvisation DVD comes with a handy chart that makes it easy to pick out the quartals.

chord chart

In the example below, you can see I’ve built a quartal starting on the 9th. Now, I like to think of building from the bottom up, so the bottom note is the 9th, the middle note is the 5th and the top note is the root. Play this with your right-hand.

example 4 - quartal built on the 9th

Now we can put the two hands together to get a very rich chord.

example 5 - rich quartal voicing

You might hear that the chord sounds a little “tense”. This is because the root (C) in the right-hand is conflicting with the major seventh (B) in the left-hand. An easy way to avoid this tension is to replace the seventh in the left-hand with the 6th, A. Example below:

example 6 - replace the seventh with sixth

Other options for forming rich Major seventh chords include building quartals starting on the 3rd and 6th. Here are two examples:

Built on the 3rd:
example 7 - built on the 3rd

Built on the 6th:
example 8 - built on the 6th

There are several ways that you can form chords:

1. Number the scale and choose the appropriate scale degrees
2. Use intervals to “stack” notes
3. Use your ear to “hunt and peck” at the notes

Let’s work backwards.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
#3 Use your ear to “hunt and peck” at the notes
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

This is not a very accurate way of forming chords. However, it will
produce some interesting sounds! I DO like the idea of taking some
time at the piano to “free play”. Simply try creating new chords by
spreading out your fingers and hit three or four notes at a time.
What do you think about the sound you just made?

Sometimes you’ll come up with a sound that you really like. If this
happens, write the notes down! You can create a “black book of
chords” of different chords that you like the sound of. When
looking for something to practice, pull out your little black book
of chords and practice one of those chords.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
#2 Use Intervals to “stack” notes
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

You’ll produce accurate chords with this method, but you might not
know the “function” of the notes.

To create a dominant 7th chord, start with the root. Let’s use G as
our root.

Next, go up a Major 3rd higher than G. This note would be B. Now
you have G & B as the first two notes of the G7 chord.

Next, move up a minor 3rd from B and play a D. The notes are now
G-B-D, a Major triad.

Finally, go up another minor 3rd from D and play F.

The complete G7 (G Dominant 7th) chord is G-B-D-F

Using this method requires you to -really- know your intervals.
But, that is a good thing! Here’s a trick, take 2 stacks of note
cards. On one stack (stack A) write one note on each card. So, on
one card, you’d write C. On the next card, write Db. On the next, D
and so on until you have all 12 notes.

On the other set of cards (stack B), write an interval on each
card. So, one card would say Major 3rd. The next card would say
minor 3rd. The next would say Major 2nd and so on. You do not need
to write all of the intervals at this time. You might just want to
start with Major and minor 3rds.

To use the cards, pull one card from stack A and B. So, you might
have Eb — Major 3rd. You need to say what note is a Major 3r
higher than Eb. Do you know? It is G.

This is a great way to learn your intervals.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
#1 Number the scale and choose the appropriate scale degrees
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

I think this is the best all-around method for creating chords.
With this method, you review your scales and also get to know the
function of the notes in each chord. So, let’s go through this
method.

First, you NEED to know your Major scale. The pattern for creating
the Major scale is: W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

Start on any note. Let’s use F for this example. Now, go up a
whole-step (that’s what the ‘W’ stands for) to G. A few points to
remember. First, when you started on the F, you did not go anywhere
yet. Many students think the first note is the whole-step. In
reality, you need to move between two notes to create the first
whole step. Second, a whole-step is equal to two half-steps. A
half-step is when you move to the very next note higher or lower.

O.K., so we now have F-G as the first two notes of our F Major
scale. Next, move up another whole-step to A. Next, move up a
half-step to Bb (B flat). Now a whole-step to C. Another whole-step
to D. One more whole-step to E. Finally a half-step to F. The
complete scale is:

F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F
W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2

Now that you have the F Major scale, we number the notes of the
scale.

F=1
G=2
A=3
Bb=4
C=5
D=6
E=7
F=8 or 1

The Dominant 7th pattern is 1-3-5-b7. So, 1=F, 3=A, 5=C and b7=E
flat. The completed F7 chord is F-A-C-Eb.

Using this method, it is easy to see how each note is functioning
in the chord. You know that the 3rd is A and the seventh is Eb. It
also gets you learning your Major scales. More importantly though,
you learn the NOTES of each scale. You will start to recognize the
3rd of a scale or flatted 5th.

Here are the patterns for some other types of chords:

Major 7th: 1-3-5-7
Minor 7th: 1-b3-5-b7
Dominant 7th: 1-3-5-b7
Diminished 7th: 1-b3-b5-bb7 <– that’s double flat! Same note as 6,
so we could write it as: 1-b3-b5-6

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
Conclusion
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Yikes! That’s a lot of stuff to learn. I know, it has taken me
years to master it. You should now have a better understanding of
how to create these chords in a variety of ways.

In this article we’ll show you a very common chord progression made simple by this step-by-step approach. This chord progression is EVERYWHERE - one of the most common chord progressions in all of jazz (and many other styles of music). And this progression uses only four chords!

Chord Progression Made Simple: Which Four Chords?

Many of you have probably heard that the most common chord progression in all of jazz is the “ii – V – I” (read “two, five, one”). These Roman numerals refer to the diatonic chords in a given key, representing four distinct chords starting on each indicated scale degree (i.e., a chord built on the 2nd scale degree, 5th scale degree, and 1st scale degree). We’re going to add one additional chord to that progression (the “vi” chord) to make it a “ii – V – I – vi” chord progression. In the key of C major, these chords would be:

D minor 7, G dominant 7, C major 7, A minor 7.

chord progression made simple 1

Chord Progression Made Simple: Which Hand Plays What?

Step 1 is to be able to play the roots of these four chords with your left hand smoothly and in time. Pretty easy, right?

Step 2 involves using some inversions and upper extensions in order to make our chords sound a bit cooler and more advanced than the vanilla, root position chords we see pictured above. So we’re going to reconstruct our chords to create some nice voice-leading (i.e., make the chords transition nicely from one to the next). And we’re going to do that according to these “rules”:

For major and minor chords:

  1. Invert the chord so that either the 3rd or 7th is the lowest note in the chord;
  2. Replace the root of the chord with the 9th (which is the same thing as the 2nd).

Following these two steps for the chords in our progression results in the following:

chord progression made simple 2

Make sure you understand those two rules and how they led us to the versions of the Dm7, Cmaj7, and Am7 chords above.

For the G dominant 7th chord we are going to follow the 2 steps above and add one additional step:

  1. Replace the 5th with the 13th (which is the same thing as the 6th).

Following these 3 steps for the G7 chord gives us the following:

chord progression made simple 3

Notice that in re-writing these chords, a clear pattern developed. When we use the 3rd as the lowest note for one chord we must next use the 7th as the lowest note for the next chord in order to allow the voice-leading to work, alternating in this way… and vice versa.

chord progression made simple 4

Step 3 is to practice playing the left and right hand together:

chord progression made simple 6

Chord Progression Made Simple: Make It Sound Even Better!

Want to tweak it a bit more? Try these two bonus steps!

Step 1: Create a bit of a walking bass line feel by playing the root of the chord on beat 1 and the 5th of the chord on beat 3.

chord progression made simple 7

Step 2: Change the “vi” chord (A minor 7) to a “V7/V” chord (read “five-seven of five,” or A dominant 7th chord). Add some cool extensions like flat-9 and flat-13 by lowering those tones by a half-step.

chord progression made simple 8

I get asked a lot "How do you create those BIG chord voicings and Jazz Piano Chords?" Well, it is not as difficult as it might seem.

In this article I am going to share with you my thoughts on good vs. poor chord voicings.

What is a chord voicing?

Chord voicings are basically how you arrange the notes of any chord. For instance, let's use a C Major triad as an example. We could play all three notes C-E-G together and play them up high on the keyboard or way down low. We could choose to re-arrange the notes so that the note E or G is the bottom note. So, it might look like this:

C <--- top note

G

E <--- bottom note

Or like this:

E

C

G <-- bottom note.

You could even go so far as to play the lowest C on the piano, have someone play an E in the middle and someone else play the highest G. So, chord voicings are all about how you arrange the notes of any chord. Now this last example is extreme and not practical for everyday use on the piano. But it is interesting because when you hear a symphony or large orchestra, this IS what is going on. The different instruments space out the notes of the chord with basses usually on the bottom and violins or instruments like flute, piccolo on top...usually.

Low Interval Limits

When creating these chord voicings it is important to understand that certain intervals have lower limits. Go to your instrument and play a C-E together as low as possible. It will not sound very pleasant on a piano and you would probably say that it is "muddy" or even indistinguishable. Whereas the interval of an octave can be played all the way down to the low 'A' on the piano.

Octaves and Fifths can be played the lowest on the piano.

Thirds and Fourths can not go as low. A Major 3rd can go about as low as an octave and a half below middle C.

Seconds sound good to about an octave below middle C.

Now, it is important to realize that these "rules" are subjective and what is tense to one person might be pleasant sounding to another.

Creating Better Chord Voicings and Big Jazz Chords

When creating chord voicings here are a few tips that will help you maximize your chord sound.

  1. Remember the defining notes of the chord are the 3rd and 7th and the root if you are playing without a bass player.
  2. Try to avoid chord voicings built using only 3rds. This is very subjective and is a "soft" rule.
  3. Use tensions to create fuller sounding chords

Let's just stick with these three tips for right now while we analyze the example below. You'll see that the "good" example avoids a chord voicing built entirely of thirds by playing the Root-5th-7th in the left hand. By leaving out the 3rd in the left hand, we also "open up" the sound more and avoid those lower interval limits.

You'll also notice that the "good" voicing adds the 9th for some color to the chord. The example also contains both the 3rd and the 7th which help define the chord quality.

Now, the "poor" example is not really that bad, but it is more stale than the first voicing because it is basically "stacked" 3rds and does not have much "intervalic creativity".

Chord Interval Creativity

Looking at the good example again, you'll see that the intervals from bottom to top are: 5th, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd.

The intervals of the "poor" example are: 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, -6th, 3rd, 3rd.

So, it is easy to see that the "good" example has more intervalic creativity in the chord voicing than the "poor" example. By adding in different intervals you are able to take a bland sounding chord and add a lot of spice to it.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that these voicings are subjective. You can play both of these chords for someone and they'll dislike both of them or like the "poor" example over the "good" one. However, with that said, following these tips will help to "fatten up" your chord voicings and create smoother transitions between chords.

If you would like to learn more about Big Chords, Progressions & Fills please take a look at this lesson as part of a PianoWithWillie online membership.

Suggested Lesson: Big Chords - Progressions & Fills

In this article we're going to answer the question "what are chord shells?" Chord shells are a voicing (i.e., particular way to spell a chord) that is used by pianists in the left hand. Having an understanding of chord shells is particularly helpful when playing and arranging solo piano pieces. We're going to take a look at the jazz standard "Fly Me to the Moon" and investigate how to use chord shells in order to start to build a full arrangement.

What's the Difference Between a Regular Root-Position Chord and a Chord Shell?

Ok, so let's get into the nitty-gritty of what it means to build chord shells. First, chord shells are simply just chords. They are primarily spelled in root position, which means that the root of the chord (the note for which the chord is named) is the lowest note in the chord shell.

As the name suggests, the biggest difference between a C major 7 chord and a C major 7 chord-shell is that the chord shell does not contain all of the notes of the chord. Some notes are left out (i.e., the term shell). Two basic chord-shell spellings are the root-7th and root-3rd.

Chord Shells 1

What Happens to the Notes We Left Out of the Chord Shell?

Why would we leave out certain notes? Well, we're actually only leaving them out of the chord shell voicing - we're going to add the missing notes back when we start harmonizing the melody (in the right hand).

Let's take a look at the first four measures of "Fly Me to the Moon" in lead sheet format:

Chord Shells 2

 

Now, let's add in chord shells in our left hand, using only root-7th or root-3rd chord shells. Doing so results in the following two possibilities:

Chord Shells 5

Or...

Chord Shells 4

Adding Those Omitted Notes Back to the Harmony

Let's start by looking at the first of the two examples above. The first chord is an A minor 7 chord. On beat 1, we're playing an 'A' and 'G' in the left hand (the root and 7th). We want to make sure that every chord has a complete set of guide tones ("guide tones" refers to the 3rd and 7th of a chord). That's because guide tones determine a chord's quality (whether a chord is major, minor, dominant, etc). With our right hand we will now play and hold, under the melody, the chord tone that is being omitted from our chord shell voicing. By doing this, every chord will have a root and a complete set of guide tones being played across two hands under the melody.

Chord Shells 6

Making the Harmony Sound Denser

Coincidentally, the melody of "Fly Me to the Moon" happens to often resolve to chord tones at each new chord change. Taking this approach further, we can now start to add other tones to our arrangement, such as the 5th or upper extensions.

Chord Shells 7If you like this kind of jazz study check out the entire lesson on this "Fly Me to the Moon" arrangement!