Category Archives: Jazz Piano Chords

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: Tritone Substitution

Jazz-Piano-ChordsAs our exploration of jazz piano chords continues, it’s a good time to acknowledge that tritone substitution principle that is so often used by the pros. There are variations on this concept but the most popular one is what we will be looking at here.

Specifically, we are looking at tritone substitution as it applies to dominant 7th chords. Your perspective of jazz piano chords will expand as you become more and more familiar with this strategy. Let’s see how this works. We’ll start by looking at a G7 chord in its basic root position here:

B  D  F
3   5  7

You’ll notice that we have highlighted the 3 and 7 of the chord in red. You’ll see why in a moment.

Let’s give attention to the root of this chord, the G. What is the note that exists a tritone away from G? (A tritone is an interval of three whole steps)

Whether you count three whole steps to the left or to the right, you arrive at Db, since a tritone divides an octave exactly in half. Now, let’s create another dominant 7th chord with Db as the root. This results, of course, in a Db7 chord:

Db  F  Ab  Cb
1       5     7

Pay special attention to that highlighted 3 and 7 of this chord. What do you notice?

Look again at the G7 and then at this Db7. You’ll notice that the 3 and 7 of each chord are the same! That’s right. The 3 of the G7 chord is the 7 of the Db. Likewise, the 7 of the G7 is the 3 of the Db.

The 3 and 7 are the most important notes in a 7th chord. These are the notes that one could say define the chord. Since this is so, a very interesting possibility makes itself evident. Because the 3 and 7 of each of these chords coincides and these are the essential chord tones (more important than the 5), we can use one of these chords as a substitute for the other!

So, yes, if your tune calls for a G7 chord, you can consider playing a Db7 in its place… and vice versa. Essentially, the only thing that is changing is the root. This can quite a very tasteful option, depending on what the melody note is and the context of the chord itself. Also, your personal taste comes into play here as to which you prefer.

There is much more than can be said of this concept of tritone substitution but, for now, you are highly encouraged to become curious and explore your tunes by looking for those dominant 7th chords and considering substituting the dominant 7th chord whose root is a tritone away, as we have done above.

Your eyes and ears are about to open! Take your time with this and notice places where you prefer the substitute chord and where you prefer the original one. It’s your exercise of this privilege of choice that contributes to your own personal playing style!








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: Diatonic 7ths

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsYour exploration of cocktail piano chords must include the eventual understanding and implementation of diatonic 7th chords. In essence, within a given key, the diatonic system represents the “skeleton” of that key that you are playing in.

What do we mean by “diatonic?” Let’s take a look at the scale of C Major:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

Now, if we build chord structures using 3rd intervals (in other words, playing every other note from left to right) beginning on any given degree of this scale, this will result in playing a 7th chord. For example, starting on C, we would have:

C  E  G  B  (Cmaj7)

Keep in mind that we are adhering to the members of the scale (we are not playing any sharps or flats since the scale of C Major contains none).

As we do the same using D as the root of the chord, we arrive at:

D  F  A  C  (Dmin7)

Again, notice that we have built our chord using 3rd intervals while adhering to the members of the C Major scale.

When we adhere to the members of a given scale as we are doing here, we are playing diatonic chords. These are cocktail piano chords that you will want to have mastery over!

Here are all seven diatonic 7th chords in the key of C Major:

C  E  G  B  (Cmaj7)

D  F  A  C  (Dmin7)

E  G  B  D  (Emin7)

F  A  C  E  (Fmaj7)

G  B  D  F  (G7)

A  C  E  G  (Amin7)

B  D  F  A  (Bmin7b5)

So, you see, we have constructed every possible chord in this fashion within the key of C Major. As you play your favorite standard songs, you will want to take note of the key you are in and pay attention to which of the chords are diatonic.

In order to become more proficient at recognizing these chords within a song, you will want to gain familiarity with each of the scales and the chords that are constructed using the members of these scales.

Take note of the following:

The I chord is a maj7 chord

The II chord is a min7 chord

The III chord is a min7 chord

The IV chord is a maj7 chord

The V chord is a dominant 7 chord

The VI chord is a min7 chord

The VII chord is a min7b5 chord

Since the musical system is mathematically perfect, the same will be true for all the major keys. Although the roots and chords will vary, the qualities of these chords will always remain the same (The I chord will always be a maj7 chord, the II chord will always be a min7 chords, the III chord will always be a min7 chord, etc)

You will want to become familiar with the diatonic 7th chords in all the keys. Not only will this enhance your understanding as to how music is put together, but you will also be able to more efficiently improvise your own musical ideas as you become more and more comfortable with the diatonic system. As a cocktail piano player, this will be conducive to your coming up with some pretty interesting improvisations of your own!







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: 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!








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…






Jazz Chord Voicing: Minor 9ths

Piano-Chord-VoicingLet’s take a look at what can be referred to as a stock jazz chord voicing. We use the term “stock” since this is a voicing that virtually all jazz piano players will use. In other words, it’s “on the shelf” ready for use and it gets used often. This particular chord structure can be used for minor 7th chords.

First we will acknowledge a minor 7th chord in its basic root position. We’ll use Dmin7 for our example. Here it is:

D  F  A  C

Now if we associate this chord to a minor scale beginning on D that includes these chord tones, we have:

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

(8 is the same as 1)

For our purpose, we have the scale illustrated in two octaves above.

Let’s look at it again as we highlight the chord tones in the Dmin7 chord:

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

Specifically, the chord is constructed using the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the scale.

Now, if we extend the numbers a bit, we notice that the second E can be called a 9:

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

So, in other words, the 2 and the 9 are really the same letter name.

Okay, now imagine a bass player playing that root of the chord (the D). This means that the pianist does not have to. Therefore, he or she has the freedom to use those fingers to play some more interesting colors. That remaining F  A  C  E can be played with the left hand while the bass player plays the D. Of course, you can play the root with the D an octave lower, taking on the role of the bass player, while playing the F  A  C  E with the right hand (the C is middle C so you know what range we are playing in).

Play this and listen! You are actually playing a jazz chord voicing for Dmin9. Yes, that’s right, more often than not, when your music calls for a Dmin7, you can play a Dmin9 instead, thus achieving more color! This is typical for a jazz pianist to do. Jazz players will add colors like 9ths to 7th chords without needing to be told to do so. That’s one of the great liberties a jazz player enjoys.

Now, go ahead and create more Minor 9th chords on other roots based on what we’ve learned here. As a cocktail piano player, you’ll learn to love these! While you have fun with those 9ths, remember…