Block Chord Harmonization
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, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "What Am I Here For?" demonstrating 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.
Watch the Lesson
Practice Session 1 - Harmonize Five Tunes with Block Chords
Practice Session 2 - Improvise Block Chord Harmonizations to Five Tunes
Q: When I play four way close in my right hand what do I do with my left hand?
A: You can play a stride left hand, you can play a bassline, either walking or just two-feel roots or you could play left hand shells, root and 7, 3 or 5. Because the texture of four way close is so thick you should keep the left hand minimal. Block chords are less well suited to solo piano than to a group setting with at least bass and preferably drums.
Q: I was taught that for notes a step above chord tones you can use diminished chords.
A: Yes. Notes a step above chord tones will work when harmonized as diminished chords. This is another way of saying non chord tones diatonic to the chordscale.
Listen to Dave Brubeck play his tune "The Duke," harmonized with 4 way close drop 2 on his album "Brubeck Plays Brubeck."