Piano Chord Voicings: Building A Foundation
What Is A Piano Voicing?
They are often referred to as piano voicings, chord voicings, jazz piano voicings, or a combination of these terms (or even just “voicings”). What we are referring to here is the structure that results when you take a basic chord and rearrange and even double and/or delete certain notes in that chord.
Why Learn Jazz Piano Voicings?
Why even bother to learn Why would you want choose to play chord voicings instead of the regular basic chords that you are familiar with? Knowing how to play chords is one thing, but when you can take any chord and learn how to play it in a number of ways, you actually are in touch with a special way to create different textures that are both tasteful and conducive to your creating your own personal style at the piano.
Is learning voicings specifically for those who want to play jazz? Absolutely not. Both jazz pianists and non-jazz pianists benefit from learning all the tools they can when it comes to playing in a creative fashion. The jazz art form lends itself to being the most bountiful resource for such voicings since jazz pianists through the decades have consistently created ways to form variations of those chord structures made popular by their predecessors, and the tradition continues.
Jazz piano voicings do not need to be complex to sound great, as you will soon see and hear for yourself. Let’s explore this basic piano voicing upon which the majority of others are built.
In the above illustration, we have a Cmaj7 chord in its basic root position. For reasons we clearly explain in ProProach, the G or 5th of the chord is not always necessary. That leaves us with the C, E, and B (or 1, 3, and 7). As the red arrow below shows, we can move that E up one octave, leaving us with this chord structure:
This 1-7-3 chord voicing is one you want to learn and have in your “piano playing toolbox” because you will use it often. Keep in mind that it is certainly not limited to using with major 7th chords. You can use it with all 7th chords.Take this simple jazz piano voicing and apply to all the 7th chords you know!
Let’s Apply It
Let’s take a look at an example of how useful this is:
I would like to show an excerpt to illustrate this very popular chord structure, which the pros love to play. Let’s take a look at an all-time popular standard song that I have always enjoyed playing myself…
All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics)
We can apply the exact same 1-7-3 structure in all four cases above. The root of each chord can be played an octave or two below the melody, thus completing the voicing. The result? A tasteful chord texture! Leaving that 5th of the chord out of the picture makes for a “thinner” sound. Also, playing that bass in the lower area of the piano creates more “openness.” But always play and listen for yourself… that is what it’s all about! Do this now.
On the piano keyboard, these four chord structures look like this:
(Keep in mind that this simplest jazz piano voicing that you absolutely must know as an essential building block for more great sounds)
Of course, you can experiment with the root of each chord being playing in another octave. Doing so will provide you with different textures, since playing it lower will result in giving your chord voicing more “bottom” and playing it higher creates a voicing that is a bit more delicate. That’s the beauty of learning jazz piano voicings, you see… even the slightest variation can create a world of difference. The piano keyboard becomes your “artist’s palette.” jazz piano voicings are really a way to make the most of your available colors.
Increase Your Confidence With Piano Voicings
Now, let me ask you… can you imagine if you were to learn all your 7th chords and started to become comfortable using this 1-7-3 whenever you pleased? Would that provide you with a certain degree of confidence that you haven’t enjoyed up to now? Wouldn’t that be a great feather in your cap? You bet it would! Take me up on this suggestion: Learn your 7th chords. Then have some fun applying the above formula to those chords and see for yourself whether or not things change for you! This is a great start for introducing yourself to jazz piano voicings because iyou’re just dealing with three notes of a chord and they sound great : )
By the way, this is one particular jazz piano voicing we have been focused on in this lesson, but it certainly does not stop there! I would like you to also take a look at this very easy yet effective left hand approach to playing a ballad (although it can be used for up-tempo tunes as well!).
In ProProach, we have fun over the span of 24 weeks as you become introduced to not only more and more great jazz piano voicings that you will make your very own to turn you into the kind of piano player you’ve always wanted to be, but you also learn how use those piano voicings in your favorite songs. You’re off to a great start. Have fun using what you learn!