Category Archives: Chord Voicings

Jazz Piano Chords: Minor 9th Chord Voicing

Jazz-Piano-ChordsAny discussion of jazz piano chords much acknowledge this popular chord voicing among the pros. It’s a stock voicing that you’ve got to know. It’s another one of what we call rootless voicings. Many times when a min7 chord is called for, this is one that is used…

Let’s play a Dmin7 chord in its basic root position, which is spelled out like this:

D  F  A  C

Now, if we related this chord to a corresponding scale, we see that the 1, 3, 5, and 7 comprise this chord:

D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  etc.
1  2  3   4  5   6   7  8  9  …

We have stretched a little beyond an octave to illustrate that, if we continue building in thirds beyond that 7 of the chord, the 9 is next in line. Well, lets add that to our original Dmin7 chord:

D  F  A  C  E

This results in a Dmin9 chord. To a jazz or cocktail pianist this is one of those jazz piano chords that is often played when the 7th chord is asked for. So, the music doesn’t have to call for a 9th in order to play it. It is often automatically considered for extra color.

Well, if we take away that root of the chord, what we have left is:

F  A  C  E

So, we have the 3-5-7-9 chord voicing. Again, this is a rootless voicing. So, does that mean the root never gets played? Well, not exactly. If you are playing with a bass player, he or she will be playing that root. If you are playing solo piano, you can certainly play that root in the bass area before or after playing the voicing for added fullness. Perhaps the root in the bass area can be played on beat one and the voicing above can be played on beat 2 (or vice versa). Maybe each is played for 2 beats, which works nicely for ballads.

In addition, if you are playing as an accompanist for a singer or other instrumentalist, you might play that root in the bass area with the left hand while playing the voicing with the right.

This min9 voicing is one that you will want to learn in all the keys so that you can play it anytime on command. It’s a good idea to practice voicings around the circle of fifths. You can also play them chromatically up and down, raising each chord tone up or down a half step as you change keys, which makes it easier to find them.

As you play toward mastery over this popular voicing, remember…






12 Bar Blues Piano: Easy Left Hand Technique

12-Bar-Blues-PianoWe have already touched upon playing 12 bar blues piano as we focused on scale options for improvising. Here, we will acknowledge an easy way to accompany your right hand lines.

We are already familiar with the three essential chords in the basic blues which are the I7, IV7, and V7 chords. In the key of C, these are:




Let’s look at these chords spelled out:

C7 = C  E  G  Bb

F7 = F  A  C  Eb

G7 = G  B  D  F

Playing these chords in this fashion is certainly okay. However, we can actually play them in a way that is more conducive to a “bluesy”
kind of sound. Let’s see how this works as we have fun playing 12 bar blues piano in a manner that’s relatively simple and yet sounds good…

Let’s take a look at each of these chords above and, as we do, focus on the 3 and 7 of each of these chords…

For C7, the 3 and 7 are:

E and Bb

For F7, the 3 and 7 are:

A and Eb

For G7, the 3 and 7 are:

B and F

Now, let’s take a closer look at these combinations as they are played below middle C on the piano. Play the E and Bb (for C7) just below middle C (the E is below the Bb). Next, although the 3 and 7 of F7 are A and Eb, respectively, let’s invert those so that the Eb (the 7) is played lower than the A (the 3). Doing this keeps the 3 and 7 of C7 and the 7 and 3 of F7 one half step away from each other. This is smooth voice leading. Next, play the 7 and 3 of G7, respectively, so that they are only one whole step from the 7 and 3 of F7. This all looks like this on the staff:


So, you see, all three positions of these combinations are very close to each other. Again, it’s smooth voice leading and it sounds good!

Begin by practicing at a slow tempo through the 12 bar blues form as you move from one chord to another, playing only the 3 and 7 of each chord. Not only does this sound good but it’s also a great way to practice because your focus can be placed more on that right hand as you have fun creating some improvisations. The left hand is playing with minimal effort yet what it is playing is quite effective.

So, by playing less, we actually  attain more of the kind of sound we want with that left hand. The chord voicings are thin and tasteful. Once you gain confidence with playing these combinations for the I, IV, and V in the key or C, have fun exploring them in other keys as you make playing the blues a part of your daily routine!







Jazz Piano Chords: 13th Voicing

Jazz-Piano-ChordsHere we will illustrate one of the most popular jazz piano chords of all time from the perspective of the pros. Yes, it’s another one of those “stock” voicings that you just have to be familiar with. Also, you’ll want to learn this one in all the keys. Not only will you want to but you’ll find it to be one of the easiest jazz piano voicings to execute as well

Specifically, we will be playing a voicing for the dominant 7th chord. Let’s use the G dominant 7th chord for our example. The symbol you’ll see in sheet music and fake books for this chord is G7. Here is the spelling of the G7 chord in its most basic root position chord:

G  B  D  F

Relating this to a corresponding scale (the mixolydian scale), we see that the chord consists of the 1, 3, 5, and 7:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G
1  2  3  4   5   6  7   8                       13

We are illustrating the scale in two octaves so that it becomes evident that, when we continue building in 3rd intervals above the 7th, we eventually come to that E, which would be designated as the 13th degree. You’ll also notice that the 13 and 6 are the same pitch name. When we are referring to dominant chords and use the 6th, we opt to call it the 13th.

So, let’s take a look at this voicing. Again, when it comes to jazz piano chords, you’ll want to use this one over and over again…

Jazz-Piano-ChordsFrom bottom to top, we have F, B, E. In terms of scale degrees, these are the 7, 3, 13. Play this voicing and listen! Then play the G7 in its basic form above. Go back and forth and compare the sounds of the two. You’re likely to notice that the G13 voicing is quite contemporary in nature. This is due to the fact that it includes a tritone (F to B), a perfect fourth interval (B to E), and a Major 7th interval (F to E). So, there’s quite a bit of dissonance within this chord voicing! (Note that we do not use the 5 in this voicing)

Again this is a popular one among the pros. When a G7 is called for in a tune, a jazz pianist will often consider this G13 voicing as an option as long as the melody warrants. If the melody was an Eb, for example, that would generally be considered to be too clashing with that E. So, instead of playing the E in the voicing, you could, of course, change it to an Eb, giving you a G7b13 voicing!

You are highly encouraged to look for dominant 7th chords in your music and consider trying this voicing. Transpose it in the other keys so that you will have it readily available whenever you want it.

Remember, this is a rootless voicing. The G is not in the voicing above. When playing with a bass player, this works out great for a couple of reasons: 1) The bass player will play the root of the chord, which makes for a nice “sharing” of the chord with the piano player, where each is taking a different role; 2) the bass player and the piano player are not coinciding on the same note, which eliminates the possibility of obvious intonation problems.

Of course, if you are playing as a soloist, you can play that G in the bass before or after playing the chord to give it more substance! Experiment with this.

Okay, have at it! Play this voicing using the 7-3-13 formula on all those roots to satisfy all the keys. As you gain more and more mastery with this voicing, remember…







Cocktail Piano Chords: 9th Voicing

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsDuring one of lessons that focused on cocktail piano chords, we introduced the 1-7-3-5 chord voicing. We arrived at this voicing by simply starting out with a 7th chord in its basic root position like this:

Cmaj7 = C  E  G  B

and then taking the two middle chord tones (the 3 and 5) and moving them an octave higher, resulting in this voicing:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsThis is one of those cocktail piano chords that sounds great when climbing up the diatonic scale, as it sounds great over all the chord qualities, including but not limited to minor 7ths, dominant 7ths, diminished 7ths, and half-diminished chords.

Now, let’s take this jazz piano chord voicing a step further by adding the 9 at the top. Here is what this looks like when we apply it to the same chord (the Cmaj7):Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAs the chord symbol states, we are now playing a 9th chord, specifically Cmaj9.

If you are playing a song that calls for a Cmaj7 chord and the melody happens to be the 9, how appropriate! However, take notice of the space between the 5 and 9 of this chord voicing. There are three notes being skipped (the 6, 7, and 1). When using this chord voicing, you have a nice compliment to any melody note that happens to be one of these tones as well.

Consider this: we have only applied this 1-7-3-5-9 chord voicing to a Major 7th chord. In addition to playing this voicing for the eleven other Major 7th chords, you will find great pleasure and satisfaction in applying this voicing formula to other chord qualities.

This chord voicing works great when you are accompanying a singer or instrumentalist, too, so you’ll want to keep this one at the top of that “piano playing toolbox” of yours for sure.

It’s interesting, too, that simply playing this voicing over a few chords really projects nicely when you are wanting to compliment a quiet ambience. Consider “rolling” them as well (playing the voicing one note at a time from bottom to top and/or top to bottom).

We acknowledge this chord voicing in ProProach as a beginning to a journey that’s full of musical goodies. We explore lots of interesting chord structures in that popular chord voicing program that is being enjoyed worldwide. A great feature of that program is that, once you get a handle on a particular chord voicing, you are shown how to actually apply it in your favorite tunes, which is really conducive to confidence!









Cocktail Piano Chords: Parallel Chord Voicings

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsThe cocktail piano chords being presented here, when used sparingly and in the right places, really serve as a tasteful addition to your “piano playing toolbox” if you haven’t been using them already.

Specifically, we are referring to the concept of parallelism. Let’s take a look at the beginning of a well known melody for our purpose. Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon is a great example to illustrate this cocktail piano technique. In the key of C, the first measure of this melody (into the second measure) proceeds down five notes of the C Major scale. When a melody moves in a stepwise fashion like this, it’s a terrific opportunity to utilize this strategy, though it is not limited to such scenarios.

We are maintaining the melody notes as the top notes of the chord voicings we are playing. For now, look at the first melody note C. You’ll notice that the note being played below that C is an Ab, which is a Major 3rd below that melody note. Building downwards, we have and Eb, which is a perfect 4th below that… then a Bb, which is another perfect 4th below that… and we do that one more time with an F, which is a perfect 4th below that.

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsOkay, as we proceed with the melody, notice that we utilize the same exact construction below each melody note. So, again, from top to bottom, it’s:

Major 3rd

Perfect 4th

Perfect 4th

Perfect 4th

Listen to the result here!

One common way to play these voicings is to use the right hand for the top three voices and the left hand for the bottom two.

We are leaving the harmony normally used for this segment of the song. Normally, an Amin7 is played. However, using concept of parallelism is a nice way to put a “twist” on a tune. When used briefly and then followed by proceeding with the standard chord progression, the contrast achieved is nothing less than amazing!

Parallelism can be used with many different chord structures than what we see here. The fourths really are especially effective when played in this manner.

You are highly encourage to choose segments of your favorite songs and incorporate parallelism into your playing. When preceded and followed by your usual way of playing through the tune, this technique really creates a nice element of “surprise” in your music.

The more you apply parallelism, the more you are likely to fall in love with it. As you explore your potential with this one, remember…






Jazz Piano Chords: The Drop 2 Voicing

Jazz-Piano-ChordsYour investigation of jazz piano chords would be well served by gaining a familiarity of drop 2 voicings. It’s one effective way to take what you already know to more creative levels for sure.  As a cocktail piano player, you’ll absolutely learn to love this approach to voicing chords on the piano. Simply playing a couple of drop 2 voicings in succession results in your sounding like you know what you are doing at those keys.

So what are they? The concept is simple to grasp. Now, although this is true, the implementation of these jazz piano chords can be taken to many levels with regular practice of them in various musical contexts. Okay, we call them “drop 2” because: 1) The focus is on the second chord from the top of a given chord structure (second from the right on the piano keyboard) 2) That note is simply dropped to become the lowest member of the chord voicing. Let’s see how this looks when we apply it to a basic chord that you are already likely to be familiar with, the Major 7th chord…

Specifically, we have the Amaj7 chord here in its basic root position:

A  C#  E  G#

Play this chord formation with the right hand beginning with the A above middle C. Okay, next, see that E, which is the second chord tone from the top? Instead of playing it there, play it one octave lower with the left hand. Therefore, the order of our chord tones is as follows:

E  A  C#  G#

Play this chord voicing and listen!

Now, play the original Amaj7 above… then play this drop 2 voicing again. Go back and forth. It won’t take long for you to appreciate the difference!

When it comes to your adding more and more jazz piano chords to your “piano playing toolbox,” the drop 2 voicing approach will open all kinds of doors for you, as you can apply this to any chord structure!

Let’s do one more here before you go on your own to explore the endless possibilities:

Here is a Gmin7 chord in second inversion (yes, you can apply this to all the positions!):

D  F  G  Bb

Play this Gmin7 chord with the right hand beginning with the D just above middle C. Then drop the second chord tone from the top to the bottom, which gives you this:

G  D  F  Bb

You are playing the G with your left hand. Of course, you can split the voicing between the hands so that each is playing two chord tones if you like.

Apply the drop 2 voicing to all the inversions of a 7th chord as you ascend and descend and listen to what you get! As you take your cocktail piano playing to many different heights with this one, remember…






Jazz Piano Chords: Quartal Voicings

Jazz-Piano-ChordsSince we have been on the subject of jazz piano chords, one that you’ll want to add to your repertoire for sure will be shown here. It is one of many quartal voicings that are popular among jazz piano players. As a cocktail piano player, you’ll incorporate this into your playing quite a bit. What’s more, it’s an easy one to assimilate and start using right away.

This particular voicing can be used for Major 7th chords, Major 6th chords, and more. Right now, we’ll consider it for these major chord qualities. Let’s take a look at it as it applies to a Gmaj7 or G6 chord. For starters, let us look at the G Major scale here:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G  A  B  etc…
1  2  3   4  5   6   7    8   9

As we know, a Gmaj7 chord is based on the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of this scale. A G6 chord is based on the 1, 3, 5, and 6 of the scale.

A quartal voicing is one that is built using perfect 4th intervals. Well, what we will be playing is a jazz piano chord voicing that fits this description and consists of only three notes.

This is one of those jazz piano chords that you’ll use again and again. Looking at the major scale above, take a look at the 3, 6, and 9. We will be playing them in this order, as follows:

B  E  A

You’ll note that this chord voicing does not contain the 7th. However, a jazz or cocktail piano player will often use this quartal voicing when a Major 7th chord is called for just the same. In addition to the perfect 4ths creating a nice contemporary sound, the 6 and 9 in the same voicing make for more interest.

As a cocktail pianist, you will find that playing the root of the chord (G in this case) in the bass area followed by the voicing in the register just below middle C will “complete” the chord nicely. Also, you may play the voicing first and then the root in the bass area. For example, you can play one for two beats and then the other for the next two beats when playing four beats to the measure.

As an accompanist, playing the root with the left hand and the voicing with the right hand will work well. With playful experimentation, you will become more and more comfortable using this jazz voicing in the context of your playing.

Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner made quartal voicings very popular, as he used them regularly! They are used extensively in modal playing but are certainly not limited to that.

Be sure to play this voicing in all the keys! It’s easy to do, since you only need to start with the 3rd of the corresponding major scale and build up in perfect fourths. You’ll learn to love this one as part of your “piano playing toolbox.”







Jazz Piano Chords: Less Is More?

Jazz-Piano-ChordsWhen it comes to jazz piano chords, less really can mean more when it comes to sound and texture. You probably already realize that it doesn’t take a lot of notes to create some really interesting harmony. Actually, this is very true. Let’s consider one example of this concept in action below.

Let’s take a look at a Cmaj7 chord (of course, you are encouraged to apply this in all keys for maximum benefit and appreciation!). Here is a Cmaj7 chord in its basic form:

C  E  G  B

Naturally, this chord structure gives us a nice sound in its own right. But when it comes to playing jazz piano chords, players use these basic positions less often. Now, by making a couple of very easy adjustments, we can come up with a voicing that is much more contemporary sounding. So that this is easy to transpose in other keys easily, let’s acknowledge the chord tones in terms of degrees of the major scale:

C = 1

E = 3

G = 5

B = 7

Okay, now here is where the “less is more” comes into play. Rather than using all four of these chord tones for the piano chord voicing that we are going to be playing, we will use only three of them. Specifically, we will include the 1, 3, and 7 in our voicing. However, we will make a simple modification, as follows…

Instead of playing the chord with the C furthest to the left of the voicing (C, E, B), we will begin with the B furthest to the left. Use the B next to middle C. Then play the C and E to the right of it. So, our voicing looks like this:

B  C  E

We are playing a 7-1-3 chord voicing. This will make it easy when playing this structure in other keys.

Play this jazz piano voicing and listen!

You’ll notice a bit of dissonance when playing it. This is especially due to the half step that is created between the 7 and 1 of the voicing. Also, within this chord structure, there is a perfect 4th interval between the 7 and 3. This also lends itself to that more contemporary sound. It’s interesting that the major 3rd interval between the 1 and 3 sets it off a bit since it is a consonant interval. Seeing jazz piano chord voicings in this manner will lead to a better understanding of how different textures are created.

This Major 7th chord voicing is one you’ll want to add to your “piano playing toolbox” for sure. By doing so, you’ll be joining the likes of pianists like Bill Evans who was well noted for playing such contemporary chord voicings!








Piano Chord Progressions: This One’s Easy And Fun

Piano-Chord-ProgressionsAs you have fun with different piano chord progressions, one that is easy and yet conducive to achieving some interesting sounds on those keys is shown here:


We are looking at the first three diatonic chords of a key. Let’s use the key of C Major for our purposes here. In this case, we will be playing:

Cmaj7 – Dmin7 – Emin7 – Dmin7 – Cmaj7

So, we are climbing up to that III chord and back down to the I chord in a stepwise fashion. Now, this is one of those piano chord progressions that you can have a lot of fun improvising with. Actually, if you’re sitting in the corner of a restaurant or club with the lights dim and want to compliment the ambience with something delicate and tasteful, you can really make this sound like something.

The chords in their basic root positions are:

Cmaj7 = C  E  G  B

Dmin7 = D  F A  C

Emin7 = E  G  B  D

However, let’s apply that 1-7-3-5 piano chord voicing to this progression. So, what we will be playing is as follows:

(The Root and 7 of each of these chords are played with the left hand and the 3 and 5 are played with the right hand. Begin with the C below middle C as the first root and simply climb up in steps)

C  B  – E  G  (Cmaj7)

D  C – F  A   (Dmin7)

E  D – E  G   (Emin7)

Begin by playing up and down as you play all the chord tones of each chord at the same time. Then play the 1 and 7 of each chord together while you play the corresponding 3 and 5 in a melodic fashion, playing each note separately. As you do this and become more and more comfortable with it, you’ll begin to see that you can really get a nice cocktail piano sound climbing up and down this progression.

Play through this progression delicately and, as you do so, create some simple improvised melodies with the 3 and 5 of each chord. You’ll become more creative with this. Also, consider playing everything up one octave. Then come back down to the original octave. Then play the voicings in a “rolled” fashion, playing from the bottom chord tone (Root) to the top (5th), too!

Naturally, this chord voicing structure works well in your tunes. However, just using it as you play through this progression really lends itself to complimenting a quiet setting. In addition, just by playing these three chords, you can explore your potential improvising with just these few notes. Experiment with your dynamics as well, using crescendos and decrescendos.

As you really set the scene with this simple yet great sounding combination of chords, remember…






Cocktail Piano Chords: Open Voicings

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAs you explore your world of cocktail piano chords and voicings, you will undoubtedly find yourself investigating open voicings if you haven’t already. In this message, I would like to suggest a concept that is so very easy to get a handle on yet is very effective at the same time.

Consider applying this to any 7th chords you are already familiar with. Simply play any 7th chord in its most basic position. For now, let’s use G7:

G  B  D  F

Here we have a G dominant 7th chord in root position. With your left hand, you would most likely finger this chord with your pinky, middle finger, index finger, and thumb.

Well, perhaps you have often heard the expression “less is more.” A perfect example of this can be realized by doing the following: simply leave out the middle two chord tones and play only the G and F (the Root and 7 of the chord) aith your pinky and thumb. This is often referred to as a “shell.” If you think about an oyster, you can imagine the two shells with the oyster inside. You can think of that 3 and 5 (B and D) as the “oyster” or middle and the 1 and 7 as the outer shell.

Becoming familiar with playing your 7th chords in this fashion will open you up to many possibilities when it comes to cocktail piano chords. For one, playing just the shell voicing (the root and 7) works well on its own without adding anything else to it. Go ahead and do this. Play through a favorite song of yours using only the 1 and 7 of those 7th chords with your left hand and playing the melody with your right and listen to the very open sound that results. You’ll learn to love these shell voicings before long.

In addition, becoming acquainted with these shells and implementing them will lead to your being able to extend the idea to playing other piano chord voicings. One example would be playing the shell with the left hand and playing that 3 and 5 that you left out an octave higher. That’s a nice chord voicing that I’ve often referred to as the “oyster voicing” (it’s just a name I attached to it). So, if you are playing that G7, one way to approach it would be:

G and F with your left hand

B and D with your right hand

The D would be the highest chord tone. Now, if that happens to be your melody note, this works nicely. If your melody note is higher, then you could play this voicing under it, thus creating a 5-note voicing.

Focus on creating shells for a while and you’ll appreciate more and more the “thin” or “open” sound they create. Then you can expand on them, too. As you have fun with them, remember…