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#2387472 - 02/17/15 02:05 PM Approaching Jazz Chords
amv256 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/24/14
Posts: 12
I just watched this video on jazz piano and have a burning question about chords:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwM6rm65D0U

I'm only a year or so into piano, but I have a few years logged on guitar and music theory and this video makes total sense to me theoretically.

My question, though, is where these chord shapes (meaning these particular fingerings) are "coming from" as he plays them. From triads to 7ths to 9ths and beyond, along with inversions, there are literally thousands of unique chord shapes that can be played on a piano. I understand how chords are formulated, but he's playing them in real time, so to speak, which, to me, tells me one of two things:

1) He figured out this progression ahead of time and got comfortable with the chords in the specific voicings he needed.

2) He's somehow fluent with all of those thousands of chord shapes, and could have played any chord progression as naturally as he played this one.

Neither seems likely, though. This guy's too experienced for the answer to be as simple as #1, but I can't imagine anyone has enough of Rain Man-esque human computer brain to store all of the information needed for #2.

So as an aspiring jazz dabbler, what should my path be? Should I formulate a daily practice routine where I drill every 7th and 9th inversion imaginable, so they're all ready if/when I need them? That sounds enormously impractical. But the only alternative I can think of is working out chord fingerings on a case-by-case basis, which just can't be how a gigging (or even just "casually jamming") jazz musician does it.

In short: I could explain what notes are in, say, a second inversion Dmaj7, or a root position Fm9 but as of this moment I couldn't quickly or accurately play either. I'd have to figure them out finger by finger since I've never drilled them and don't have any muscle memory associated with their shapes.

What's the third option I'm missing? Thanks!


Edited by amv256 (02/17/15 02:11 PM)

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#2387482 - 02/17/15 02:19 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
JazzPianoOnline Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/14/07
Posts: 108
Loc: raleigh, nc
hi amv256

jazz uses 7th chords (as opposed to triads). there are basically 5 types of 7th chords that comprise >95% of the jazz repertoire. they are:

major 7th chords
dominant 7th chords
minor 7th chords
minor 7 b5 chords
diminished chords

each of these chord types can be played in all 12 keys. so there are 60 basic chords that you need to know.

if you want to get started with jazz you should learn to play these chords in root position and be able to read a lead sheet and interpret the chord symbols.

nobody actually uses these root position chords when they play. they instead use voicings of these chords. voicings are arrangements of notes of the basic chord along with color tones (tensions) to enhance the basic chord sound.

there are standard voicings (rootless and shell [root-based voicings]) that you use when you play tunes with a bass player (rootless) or solo piano (shell).

let me leave it at that. i hope it clears up the enormity of the issue for you.

please write to me (you or any pianoworld members) with more questions. i'm happy to help out.
_________________________
br
bill@jazzpianoonline.com
www.JazzPianoOnline.com
Step-by-step, easy-to-follow online jazz piano lessons.

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#2387503 - 02/17/15 03:01 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
amv256 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/24/14
Posts: 12
Sorry, I think I tried over-explaining my question and didn't make my point clear. smile

I understand how chords are formulated theoretically and that they can take on many different voicings in practice. However, a jazz player is going to be playing all sorts of chords throughout a given jam session or gig, and isn't going to have time to drill those specific ones ahead of time. Formula aside, without muscle memory it can be very hard (for me, anyway) to quickly and accurately play a brand new chord, even if I know exactly how it works on the level of theory.

So is the answer to drill every imaginable chord on a regular basis and keep them all fresh? I know that can't be right, but I'm not sure how else to be a versatile jazz player that can summon arbitrary chords, voicings and inversions as needed.

Thanks!

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#2387575 - 02/17/15 05:16 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1737
Loc: uk south
Just don't expect to run before you can walk. For sure it will be a slow grind but finally it's muscle memory you'll need to rely on. I wouldn't try and drill every imaginable chord but instead work in one or two closely related keys and get to grips with a good cross-section of chords in those keys. I found with rootless voicings that the variety can be narrowed down to a relatively small range of perhaps 1.5 octaves. So at the outset, find, for example, a rootless Cma7 that you like and stick with it. Once it's locked in to muscle memory you can go looking for alternatives but you'll be surprised at how few there are, and therefore how much more manageable the task is.

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#2387825 - 02/18/15 08:48 AM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
Farmerjones Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 231
Loc: USA
It's not that I can answer the question. I play violin, mandolin, & guitar, semi-pro.
If I know the key.. . even if I don't know the key I can find it. Then the next step, if I'm not given the chord progression is to find it. Each thing that I know ahead of time helps me limit my decision as to what I should play.

Having three chord inversions multiplies one of these decisions.
So, I guess I want to know too:
You know your ax (keyboard). You're in a jam. The tune you want to play is new to you. You know the key. You may know the progression. What inversion do you go to first? Is it a matter of key, or chord?


Edited by Farmerjones (02/18/15 08:51 AM)

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#2387836 - 02/18/15 09:03 AM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
beeboss Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/18/09
Posts: 1221
Loc: uk south
You need a twofold approach...
1- learn some useful chord voicings (like 251's and cycle of 5th etc) and drill them until they are automatic
2 - get really used to thinking about chords quickly, practising inverting chords, transposing voicings, playing as many chord sequences as you can, thinking about theoretical stuff, developing your ear etc.

Nobody can be familiar will all the possible chord shapes (there are zillions) but experienced players can find a nice voicing in the time they have, even if sight reading.
Gradually it will come together if you work at it (over years not months).
_________________________
http://www.youtube.com/davebeeboss

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#2387861 - 02/18/15 09:46 AM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: beeboss]
pianoman9 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/15
Posts: 84
Originally Posted By beeboss
You need a twofold approach...
1- learn some useful chord voicings (like 251's and cycle of 5th etc) and drill them until they are automatic
2 - get really used to thinking about chords quickly, practising inverting chords, transposing voicings, playing as many chord sequences as you can, thinking about theoretical stuff, developing your ear etc.

Nobody can be familiar will all the possible chord shapes (there are zillions) but experienced players can find a nice voicing in the time they have, even if sight reading.
Gradually it will come together if you work at it (over years not months).


Agreed. You have to work on these "rootless" voicings
for a while until they become automatic.

One thing that is useful, is to play your ii-V-I patterns, with minimal movement of your left hand fingers, so you will discover you can change the chord with only one note, keeping everything else the same.

Experiment with the "half-whole" diminished scale, and how it applies over Dominant 7 chords. Also the Altered scale, and whole-tone, and Lydian-dominant.

What really broke ground for me was this "simple" Bill Evans voicing lesson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKDMufBVkdA

Hope this helps....


Edited by pianoman9 (02/18/15 09:47 AM)

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#2388746 - 02/20/15 02:15 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 671
Loc: Chicago
One concept mentioned in some of the replies is to me the key: Learn chord voicings in the context of a progression. There is no need to know every possible inversion of every chord; all players have certain voicings they have chosen in advance, practiced and now can put on auto pilot. But the key is to learn to link voicings so that you can play common progressions.

The very first thing my jazz piano teacher did with me was show me how the ii-V-I progression worked. She then showed me one simple voicing where you move as little as possible between the chords. I then practiced that ii-V-I voicing in all 12 keys.

Here's a drill she showed me I still do. Find the ii-V-I voicing you want to learn. Start on d minor which leads to C major. Then, turn C major into C minor, which starts a ii-I-I to Bb major. Turn Bb major into Bb minor, etc. This will take you through half the keys. You then need to do that same drill a half step up (starting on Eb minor) to get the other 6 keys. This drill is not some abstract exercise. Take a look at How High the Moon and you'll see that this chord movement comes from actual music, and is a fun way to practice a chosen ii-V-I voicing.

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#2388804 - 02/20/15 04:24 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: jjo]
pianoman9 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/15
Posts: 84
Originally Posted By jjo
One concept mentioned in some of the replies is to me the key: Learn chord voicings in the context of a progression. There is no need to know every possible inversion of every chord; all players have certain voicings they have chosen in advance, practiced and now can put on auto pilot. But the key is to learn to link voicings so that you can play common progressions.

The very first thing my jazz piano teacher did with me was show me how the ii-V-I progression worked. She then showed me one simple voicing where you move as little as possible between the chords. I then practiced that ii-V-I voicing in all 12 keys.

Here's a drill she showed me I still do. Find the ii-V-I voicing you want to learn. Start on d minor which leads to C major. Then, turn C major into C minor, which starts a ii-I-I to Bb major. Turn Bb major into Bb minor, etc. This will take you through half the keys. You then need to do that same drill a half step up (starting on Eb minor) to get the other 6 keys. This drill is not some abstract exercise. Take a look at How High the Moon and you'll see that this chord movement comes from actual music, and is a fun way to practice a chosen ii-V-I voicing.



That's a good exercise. Try it with these simple rootless Jazz voicings:


http://www.scoreexchange.com/scores/124828.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMGwnH4-HOw&feature=youtu.be


Edited by pianoman9 (02/20/15 04:51 PM)

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#2391172 - Yesterday at 10:33 AM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
Farmerjones Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 231
Loc: USA
I asked this question to a Jazz guitarist that also plays piano. His explanation thus, "Playing everything in 1st inversion is like bar chording everything." It's not the jumping around that deters me, in fact I practiced a bunch of songs, just playing 1st inversion block chords. But the tonality difference between a bar chord and a figured chord is key to me. So basically the left hand needs to tell the story, but stay out of the mud, and the right hand needs to fulfill what the left hand can't? I think I can work that.

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#2391244 - Yesterday at 01:42 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: Farmerjones]
Hidden son of Teddy Wilson Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/09
Posts: 114
There are two things at play:

1) you have to play an inversion that sounds good rangewise. The 1st inversion for an F chord might sound good but the same inversion for a C chord might be either to low of too high.

2) there's "voice leading" meaning that when you go through your chord changes, inner voices move against the melody. That's what happens when you're "moving just one finger" like the previous poster said.

So in the very common iim7-V7-IMaj7 progression you pick the inversion of iim7 that sound good and then move only one finger at a time to play the other chords. (Sounds better if you have a bass player).

If the progression is other than ii-V-I you'll still have voice leading but different.

It takes a little time to internalize but after some practice it becomes automatic.

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#2391464 - Yesterday at 11:50 PM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: amv256]
gracegren Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/02/11
Posts: 18
Loc: California
I am a jazz upright bass player who is learning jazz piano, so I am very attuned to the idea of why rootless voicings need to be used and that they sound better. What I cannot really understand is why the several method books, and even the one online program I tried for awhile, seem so focused on playing ii v i or anything using the root. Not much seems to be devoted to rootless voicings in these methods.

Is it that a lot of these methods assume one is learning to be a solo pianist vs. playing in a trio or other type of jazz group?

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#2391521 - Today at 05:39 AM Re: Approaching Jazz Chords [Re: gracegren]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1737
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By gracegren
I am a jazz upright bass player who is learning jazz piano, so I am very attuned to the idea of why rootless voicings need to be used and that they sound better. What I cannot really understand is why the several method books, and even the one online program I tried for awhile, seem so focused on playing ii v i or anything using the root. Not much seems to be devoted to rootless voicings in these methods.

Is it that a lot of these methods assume one is learning to be a solo pianist vs. playing in a trio or other type of jazz group?

Could it be that they're trying to teach the structure of chords always using the root as reference? So, e.g. a m7 chord would be root,3,4,3 (semitones) and they want to grind that in before even considering rootlessness?

From my experience, it's a waste of time as a first step since ultimately these things have to be habituated without any time to refer to structure. For example, for a rootless Gm7b5 (G half dim?) in the LH I would instinctively play F Bb Db. There are others but that's an easy go-to. Now, I've been playing that for years and my hand goes to it without thought but when, just now, I stopped to think about the structure of the chord I realised I didn't know what it was in terms of root,x,y,z, I had to visualise the keyboard before establishing in my minds eye that it's r,3,3,4. But that is something I simply don't need to know.

What I'm advocating is the idea of learning things by rote (rootless Gm7b5 = F Bb Db - 'nuff said) rather than trying to get to grips with the underlying 'theory'. No need to learn how to build chords, just learn to identify and play them as a chunk.

And another thought; if it's possible to rote-learn a couple of dozen rootless chords in one key, who needs a book when an A4 page will cover it? (the Realbooks use a couple of pages IIRC).

These guys want to sell you something you might not need to buy.

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