Tag Archives: cocktail piano chords

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…






Cocktail Piano Chords: Getting Your Feet Wet

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsWhat exactly are cocktail piano chords? Well, as we have acknowledged, cocktail piano in itself is a way of playing. Therefore, whatever chords you decide to play can be considered to be “cocktail piano chords.” Of course, when the phrase is used, it is often referring to chords or voicings that are especially tasteful from the perspective of a certain individual. Playing a simple C Major triad (C-E-G) can be considered quite appropriate when played in a context that calls for simplicity.

For fun, let’s consider opening up that triad. Start with playing the chord in its most basic form in root position beginning on the C one octave below middle C on the piano keyboard:

C  E  G

Next, take that E out of the middle and, instead, play it one octave higher. Thus, the order of the chord tones from left to right is:


Now we are playing a C Major chord in open position. Doing just that much creates a nice alternative to the more basic way of playing it. So, let’s say you’re playing that C and G with the left hand and the E with your right hand thumb. You now have four fingers of the right hand that can enjoy the freedom of playing the melody as long as it’s higher than that E.

The topic of cocktail piano chords, of course, goes way beyond the scope of what we are talking about here but it can rather helpful and encouraging to the beginning cocktail pianist to know that making even the slightest of adjustments to basic chords can be conducive to some creating some nice flavor.

Go ahead and do the same with the inversions of that C Major chord by opening them up as well. This chord played in 1st inversion is arranged like this:

E  G  C

Take that G out and replace it with the G one octave higher and listen to the result:

E  C  G

Again the lower two chord tones can be played with the left hand and the G can be played with the right thumb while the other fingers of that hand can accommodate the melody.

The C Major in 2nd inversion is arranged like this:

G  C  E

Do the same and listen to the texture of this open voicing.

So, you see, it takes very little effort to make what you already know sound like something quite different. We’ll talk more about cocktail piano chords as we progress. Right now, I would like to invite you to begin with a few chords that you already know and begin opening them up. Learn to listen and really appreciate the many different chord sounds that you are capable of. As you do so, remember…