Drop 2 Voicings for Piano: Master These Exciting Chords

Drop 2 voicings piano technique formula is an essential jazz piano technique. In this article we’re going to explore a classic jazz piano sound – drop 2 chords.

Drop 2 voicings, though simple, can be used to create some beautifully rich jazz harmony and are incredibly helpful when working as an orchestrator or arranger. This is a simple but powerful way to create beautiful jazz harmonies and can be very useful for anyone writing or arranging music.

In a regular four-note chord, all the notes are stacked close together. But with drop 2 voicings, the second-highest note is moved an octave lower, creating a more spread-out sound that feels fuller and richer. Musicians love this style because it provides a nice balance between a simple structure and a rich, pleasing sound.

These voicings are great for both playing background harmony and leading a melody. They work well with any instrument, whether you’re playing the piano, guitar, or even arranging music for a brass or vocal group. Drop 2 voicings are a versatile tool that can make your music sound deeper and more interesting without being too complicated.

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.

Differences Between Open and Closed Piano Voicings

In piano music, “open” and “closed” voicings refer to how the notes of a chord are arranged.

Closed Voicings:

  • Definition: In closed voicings, all the notes of a chord are arranged close together, within the smallest possible range.
  • Example: For a four-note chord like a Cmaj7 (C, E, G, B), all the notes would be stacked closely so that the highest and lowest notes are less than an octave apart.
  • Effect: This creates a more compact sound because the notes are grouped tightly together, which can result in denser harmonies.

Open Voicings:

  • Definition: In open voicings, the notes of the chord are spread out, so there’s more space between them.
  • Example: In an open voicing of Cmaj7, you might place C and G in the left hand, and E and B in the right hand, or distribute them differently across the keyboard. The notes would be more widely spaced.
  • Effect: Open voicings produce a fuller, more resonant sound because the spacing allows the chord to breathe and the notes can ring out more clearly.

So, closed voicings offer a tight, dense sound, while open voicings create a broader, more expansive feeling. Both styles are useful and are chosen based on the specific musical context and desired effect.

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 Voicings?

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.

Drop 2 chords are incredibly helpful for jazz musicians when arranging and writing music. The “drop 2” technique has been used by many composers and arrangers to create exciting big band music, especially when writing for saxophones and brass instruments like trumpets and trombones.

Here’s why drop 2 chords are so versatile:

  • Big Band Music: In big band arrangements, where many instruments play together, drop 2 chords create open, rich harmonies that allow each instrument to blend smoothly.
  • Saxophones and Brass: The wider spacing of drop 2 chords gives these instruments room to play together without clashing, resulting in a full, balanced sound.

For pianists, this technique is especially useful because:

  • Sounds Great: Drop 2 chords sound fantastic on the piano, offering a wide range of beautiful harmonies.
  • Works with Any Tempo: They work equally well in slow songs, where they add depth, and in fast songs, where they create clear, bright harmonies.

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 voicings, 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.

To create drop 2 voicings, we take the second highest note in a chord and move it down one octave. An octave is the distance between one musical note and another of the same name but at a different pitch. For instance, if the second highest note is a G, moving it down one octave means playing a lower G. The term “drop 2” comes from the idea of dropping this second-highest note by an octave.

After doing this, the chord’s notes will be more spread out, creating what’s called an “open-position” chord. In an open-position chord, the notes are not all stacked closely together but are spread further apart. This gives the chord a fuller, more spacious sound that feels richer and bigger.

Think of it like stacking building blocks: if you arrange them neatly and tightly together, it makes one type of structure. But if you space them out, you create a different, larger structure. Drop 2 voicings work in the same way, providing chords that can give your music a unique and interesting sound while keeping it simple and elegant.

We can call this our drop 2 voicings piano formula.

Drop 2 Chords on “The Days of Wine and Roses”

Let’s look at another example of using the drop 2 voicings piano formula 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:

Practicing Drop 2 Chords

Here’s a summary of key points for an aspiring jazz piano player to practice based on this article:

Understand Drop 2 Voicings:

  • Definition: Drop 2 voicings involve taking a four-note chord and moving the second highest note down an octave. This results in an “open-position” chord with wider spacing between notes.
  • Purpose: The wider spacing makes the chord sound bigger and richer.

Practice Chord Construction:

  • Start by playing the basic closed-position chord.
  • Move the second-highest note down an octave to achieve the drop 2 voicing.

Explore Different Jazz Standards:

  • Experiment with this technique on classic jazz songs like Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood and The Days of Wine and Roses.”
  • Play the melody with drop 2 voicings to hear the difference and add richness to your arrangements.

Use in Various Arrangements:

  • Drop 2 voicings sound great on the piano, whether you’re playing slow ballads or fast tunes.
  • They also work well for harmonizing melodies and can blend seamlessly in ensemble arrangements, making them valuable for pianists, composers, and arrangers.

Practice Formula:

  • Play the melody and harmony together using the drop 2 formula.
  • Experiment with different chord progressions to become comfortable incorporating drop 2 voicings into your playing.

Broaden Musical Horizons:

  • Think of these voicings as flexible building blocks.
  • Apply them across different songs and styles to add depth to your harmonies while keeping things simple and elegant.

By practicing these points, you’ll expand your skills as a jazz pianist and enhance your ability to create beautiful, sophisticated harmonies.

Now start practicing this technique in your own piano arrangements!

Here are some jazz standards where drop 2 voicings work particularly well:

  1. Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma
  2. In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington
  3. The Days of Wine and Roses by Henry Mancini
  4. All the Things You Are by Jerome Kern
  5. Misty by Erroll Garner
  6. Stella by Starlight by Victor Young
  7. Body and Soul by Johnny Green
  8. My Funny Valentine by Richard Rodgers
  9. Have You Met Miss Jones? by Richard Rodgers
  10. Blue Bossa by Kenny Dorham

Each of these songs features rich harmonic progressions that provide ample opportunities for pianists to use drop 2 voicings creatively.

Further Study

It is also a great idea to look into and practice the “locked-hand” style of jazz piano.

The “locked hands” style of jazz piano is a fun and dynamic way to play that can make your piano playing sound really full and lively. Imagine playing both the melody and the harmony of a song all at once, right under your fingertips—that’s what locked hands style is all about!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Melody on Top: The main melody of the song is played by your right hand, and it’s always the highest note in the chord. This keeps the melody clear and prominent.
  2. Chords Follow the Melody: Directly beneath the melody note, you place the rest of the chord. These chords are usually played with both hands, with your right hand playing the melody and part of the chord, and your left hand duplicating some of these chord notes an octave lower.
  3. Close Voicing: The notes of the chords are closely spaced and typically include 4 notes that harmonize with the melody. This close arrangement of notes is what makes the “locked hands” style sound so rich and cohesive.
  4. Every Note Moves Together: As the melody moves from one note to another, the accompanying chords move with it in the same rhythm. This synchronized movement of melody and chords is why it’s called “locked hands” because your hands sort of “lock” together as they move up and down the piano.

The style was popularized by pianists like George Shearing and Nat King Cole. It’s great for jazz tunes where you want a smooth, flowing sound, and it really showcases a pianist’s ability to blend melody and harmony creatively.

Locked hands style is like having a mini orchestra right under your fingers—you control the lead singer (the melody) and the background singers (the chords) all at once, creating a full, harmonious sound.

author avatar
Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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