Jazz Harmony for Piano: Volume 1

I constantly get questions about how to develop good jazz piano voicings. I’m currently writing a book about  this very topic. Here are a few examples from it, and how to practice them.

1. There are two basic versions of every voicing: one with the 3rd  (above the bass) on the bottom (the A version) and one with the 7th  (above the bass) on the bottom (the B version).  Good voice leading switches the two, so that the 3rd in the m7 chord resolves to the 7th in the next chord, and the 7th to the 3rd. Simply play this progression, and keep going with the pattern established; Am7 D7 Gmaj7, Gm7 C7 Fmaj7, Fm7 Bb7 Ebmaj7, Ebm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7, C#m7 F#7 Bmaj7, Bm7 E7 Amaj7.  Notice each series of three chords progresses downward in whole steps.

2. In this example, the same progression is played, but now in descending half  steps.

3. This is the same as #1, but with the 3rd and 7th reversed.

4. This is the same as #2, but with the 3rd and 7th reversed.

5. This is the same as #1, but with an added note, either the 9th or the 6th. The right hand is actually a great left hand voicing, too. So practice this with the hands reversed. Same with #6.

6. Same as #2 with the added note.

7. Now, we’ve added a 3rd or 7th to the left hand. This is called a “shell” voicing, and often serves in bebop piano as a minimal accompaniment to a linear right hand when there’s no bass player. We’ve changed the right hand so there’s no 3rd  or 7th. Notice that there’s NO duplication of notes. This makes the voicing more sophisticated and contemporary sounding.

8. Same concept as #7 with the harmonic progression of #2. I’ve transposed the voicings so they sound good even when they get lower. In general, avoid the 3rd sounding below the C below middle C.

– Bill Cunliffe