Music Theory

Piano jazz chords: voicings | inversions

Here I list and analyze the most used chords in jazz, played with the left hand at piano. These positions or voicings are used both for accompaniment both in improvisation. They are chords that derive above all from Bill Evan’s voicings in which the ninth is added into the minor seventh chord, the sixth and the ninth into the dominant seventh chord.

You can play the ninth in most major chords and, sometimes, the sixth one, above all if there is the fundamental one in the melody (this to avoid the dissonant clash between the major seventh note and the fundamental one)

  • You note the fundamental one among parenthesis and you must not play it when you improvise
  • Therefore you have to play the four notes around the central C (C4) with the left hand
  • You could also play the fundamental with the left and the chord with the right hand to learn to harmonize the melody or to accompany a singer or another musician.

piano jazz chords

The first position or the second is used according to the necessity. Keep in mind the chord of the left hand must be played as near as around the central C(C4) and it has to contain the central C inside (in virtual way, if the C does not belong to the chord), to avoid cacophony. Instead, if it is too much above the central C the right hand can be disturbed.

Second position (voicings) in jazz piano chords

Study all these progressions of II-V-I in major key and practice to play them on famous jazz standards. Certainly there are also other chords besides minor seventh, dominant seventh or major seventh: in another pages I will treat about the half diminished, diminished and altered seventh chord voicings (with augmented fifth and ninth or minor ninth).
jazz piano chords

Remember the most important notes of a chord are the third one and the seventh one that determine the mode (major or minor) and the type of chord. Therefore you should never miss these two notes in the chord, except if, for example, you need to play a sus4 chord: in this case the third is omitted leaving the place to the fourth note.

How to use jazz piano chords and voicings

In music and art the complexity is generally synonym of ugliness, unnatural, difficulty of understanding. So you do not need to exaggerate in the use of dissonances inside chords, even if you are playing some modern jazz.
For example, I do not like the sound of the sixth on the dominant seventh chord and I do not often use it, replacing it with the fifth or omitting both the sixth one and the fifth.

Besides you can often omit the fifth on the minor and major seventh chords, the fifth or the ninth in dominant seventh chords. In this way you play a lighter chord, airy, less heavy.
I will publish soon in another pages half diminished ,diminished seventh and altered chord voicings.

One thought on “Piano jazz chords: voicings | inversions

  • gugus

    quite a good food for thought

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