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):
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:
The next step is to harmonize this passage in closed-position voicings using Dm7 and D7 harmonies, such as this:
In 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 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:
Next we'll harmonize these chords in closed-position voicings, resulting in something like this:
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:
Now start Practicing this technique in your own piano arrangements!