Chords & Voicings


Complex chords and rich progressions are hallmarks of jazz. This group of lessons teaches you basic chord types, one- and two-handed rootless and root-based voicings and comping techniques.

This lesson will get you playing lead sheets faster than any other method. There are five types of seventh chords that make up the chord progressions to most tunes. Learn these and you will be able to play the chords to virtually any tune. This method streamlines the process of learning the chords by starting with the first, third, fifth and seventh notes of the major scale and then adjusting these notes by half step to form the remaining chord types. In addition, you will learn how to read chord symbols and learn the chord changes to four tunes: "Solar," "Night and Day," "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "There is No Greater Love."

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These standard one-handed voicings (often erroneously referred to as left hand voicings) are the bedrock of every jazz pianists' technique. From Wynton Kelly and Red Garland to Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans and beyond, these rich sounding voicings, with their their smooth voice-leading and effective use of tension, pervade bop and post-bop jazz piano. Presented in twelve chapters, this lesson will introduce you to both forms of the major and minor ii-V-I progression voicings (major A and B and minor A and B forms) and discuss how to use them in tunes.

Two-Handed Voicings

Two-handed voicings are an essential element of jazz piano. Most often used for comping, two handed voicings are integral to solo playing, improvising and arranging. Based on a transcription of Red Garland improvising over the title track of John Coltrane's 1957 album with the Red Garland Trio "Traneing In," Part 1 introduces the versatile open fifth voicing technique. Part 2 derives "So What" two-handed voicings from a transcription of the tune of the same name from the classic 1959 Miles Davis recording "Kind of Blue." Part 3 explores the rich, bitonal sounds of upper structure triads.

The open fifth voicing technique introduced in this lesson is perhaps most associated with the style of Red Garland, the early bop pianist. These voicings can have up to seven notes and are equally suited for the divergent tasks of harmonizing an improvised line, harmonizing a melody or for comping. All of these roles are considered in this lesson using a transcription of Red Garland's solo over the tune "Traineing In," the title track of John Coltrane's 1957 album with the Red Garland Trio.
The music on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" was influential on many levels: it ushered in the style of modality, it introduced a new voice to jazz piano, Bill Evans, it established several new standard tunes to the repertoire and went on to become the best selling jazz album of all time. It's influence extends literally down to the piano voicings that Bill Evans played on one of the most popular tunes on the recording and in all of the jazz repertoire, "So What." Known as "So What" voicings, the notes of these two-handed chords are arranged with a major third above a stack of perfect fourth intervals. "So What" voicings confer a modern sound and are a versatile two-handed voicing technique that can be used equally as well for comping or solo playing. In this lesson, the "So What" voicings are derived from a transcription of Bill Evans' comping the changes to their namesake tune and their use is applied to traditional tonal progressions. A closely related technique of voicing chords using only fourth intervals is explored as well, synthesizing both techniques into a unified method for two-handed chord voicings.
Upper structure triads have been an enduring feature of jazz since the early Bebop era. This chord voicing technique produces a rich, bitonal effect that can be used for harmonizing melodies, comping and improvising melodic lines. This lesson opens with an analysis of Bill Evans' use of upper structure triad voicings in harmonizing the melody to "My Romance" from his 1961 Live at the Village Vanguard recording. The lesson continues with the derivation of all possible upper structure triad voicings for all five essential 7th chord qualities and a discussion of how to use this versatile technique for melodic harmonization, comping and improvisation.

The word "comp" as it is used in jazz is probably derived from the word accompany. It may also come from the word complement. In either case, when you are asked to "comp" in an ensemble setting, rarely are you given more direction as to what to do than whatever vague meaning either of those words may imply: to accompany in a complementary way. In this lesson, a transcription of Wynton Kelly's comping behind the flute soloist Bobby Jasper over the changes to his Bb blues head "Kelly Blue," from his 1959 sextet album of the same name is used as a model for deriving and codifying the essential elements of good comping: voicings, voice leading and rhythmic placement, duration and activity. The application of each element is discussed in the context of standard tunes in common jazz styles such as mid tempo swing, up tempo swing, ballad, latin and 3/4 waltz time.

Solo Jazz Piano

The beauty of our chosen instrument is the ability to play alone -solo- without the accompaniment (or interference) of others. Anything you can dream up is fair game when you are on your own. Based on a transcription of Cedar Walton playing "Someday My Prince Will Come," from his 2005 High Note album "Underground Memoirs," Part 1 in this series gives you the tools to play solo jazz piano by demonstrating and explaining the fundamental technique to this style, spread voicings with independent lead. Part 2 shows you how to mix rootless voicings into your solo playing. Part 3 demonstrates how to accompany your own improvisation when playing solo.

Get started playing solo jazz piano with this lesson by learning spread voicings with independent lead. These voicings produce a rich, full sound and are used for playing the head of tunes. The right hand supports the rhythmically independent melody with guide tones and the left hand plays root-based shell voicings.
Tommy Flanagan's solo over the changes to the tune "The Very Thought of You," from his 1977 Denon release "Alone Too Long," opens this lesson and serves as a model for the use of spread and rootless voicings in solo jazz piano. This lesson builds on Solo Jazz Piano Part 1, in which the technique of playing solo jazz piano was established with the use of spread voicings. In addition to the analysis of Tommy Flanagan's transcription, "Come Rain or Come Shine," I Hear a Rhapsody," "These Foolish Things" and two more standard tunes are realized using these voicing techniques in this lesson.
Improvising while playing solo piano is a lot like juggling. You have to do four things at once: you have to play the solo, comp for the solo, play the bassline and keep things moving rhythmically. Bill Charlap's solo over the changes to the tune "Somebody Loves Me," from his 2005 solo piano EP "Bill Charlap Rolling Stone Original," opens this lesson and serves as a model for how to manage this juggling act. Building on the Solo Jazz Piano Part 1 and Part 2 lessons, his solo is analyzed in this lesson to uncover how to keep the balls in the air by using shell and rootless voicings in support of the right hand line.
Every tune presents unique challenges. In these supplemental lessons, you are taken through excerpts of standard jazz tunes note-by-note to learn the how to use spread and rootless voicings as well as other voicing techniques to realize full-sounding professional solo jazz piano arrangements.

Block-chord harmonization (also known as locked-hands playing) is the technique of harmonizing each note of a melody with a three- or four-note chord to create a lush, full-bodied sound reminiscent of the sax sections of the swing era big bands. Popularized by George Shearing in the 1950s and used extensively by Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and all manner of straight-ahead jazz pianists since then, it remains a fundamental skill of the modern player. A transcription of Dave Brubeck's The Duke is used to introduce the concepts of this technique in this lesson, followed by the note-by-note block chord harmonization of excerpts of three tunes commonly played in this style (Polka Dots and Moonbeams, You Make Me Feel So Young, and What Am I Here For?) showing three ways to create standard block-chord harmonizations: four-way close, four-way close double lead, and drop 2. The accompanying PDF practice sessions will guide you further through the harmonization of these and other tunes.

Artist Voicings

What voicings do the pros use? How do they use them? How can I apply these voicing techniques to my own playing? These are some of the most common yet vexing questions from intermediate and early advanced jazz piano players that this series of lessons hopes to address. Each lesson in the series examines a transcription of a major jazz pianist (Danny Grissett and Taylor Eigsti) and looks at how they voice chords, the ways in which they use them and shows you strategies for applying them to tunes. Use the voicings to enrich and enliven your harmonic concept and inspire you to think out-of-the-box to create new sounds and colors. The Practice Sessions and Playalongs included with each lesson help you to learn the voicings in all keys and show you how to adapt them to your own playing.

Learn the voicing techniques that Danny Grissett uses in his solo piano introduction to Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," from his 2008 Criss Cross release, "Encounters."
Three voicing techniques from the beautiful solo piano introduction to Taylor Eigsti's tune "Midnight After Noon" from his 2010 Concord Records release, "Daylight at Midnight," are examined in this lesson: a dramatic voicing without a third, an ascending major chord line cliche and rich drop 2 voicings. Learn how he uses them, the theory that makes them work and strategies for incorporating these devices into your own playing.