The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings

Posted by: Filibogado

The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 10:33 AM

For years, I've done pretty good playing solo piano with simple closed position chords in the left hand and octave melody in the right hand. I use a chicken foot in the left hand and a tiger claw in the right hand (I'm talking fingering here). Now I'm learning the Dave Sudnow and Bill Susman and Dave Sprunger method where the notes are spread out between two hands and I'm finding the going real slow and tedious. The thing is it takes my 60-year old brain a long time to jump from chord to chord since I have to recall which finger goes where in switching from a D7 to a DM7 then to a Dm7 and to God knows where. I've been repeating the 1st 2 measures of "I've Got Rhythm" for a week now, 30 minutes a day, and the movement is nowhere near performance speed. My question is: if I persevere and not get discouraged, how long will it take me to learn open chord voicings to the point where I don't have to think about it - I just open a fakebook and the fingers know where to go automatically? Is this even possible? I appreciate any encouragement.

Discouraged,

Fil
Posted by: knotty

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 11:33 AM

Hey Fil,

2 things.
1. If you spend 2 weeks on 2 measures. Either the measure is just way too hard, or, more likely, you are practicing too fast. Randy Halberstadt in Metaphors for the musicians explain how one can practice at a tempo of 20 bpm. At that pace, things should become much easier. If you can play at a given speed with no challenge at all, that is waht I call a comfortable tempo. Depending on what you are practicing, that can vary from 20bpm to 90bpm.
If you master the measures at very slow speed, it should make it much easier to move up the metronome. That becomes challenge speed. Practice challenge tempo until it becomes comfort tempo. The best way to waste a lot of time is practicing too fast.

2. I actually don't really like the method of applying a formula to given tunes. Regardless of what you call open voicings, to me, the goal is not to open a fakebook and the fingers just know where to go. Yes, I think that is achievable. You will be able to play dozens of tunes, but most likely, they'll all sound the same.
A better approach if you ask me is to actually sit down and write arrangements for tunes. The head I mean. Write something beautiful, as beautiful as you can given your own taste, but still playable. That should be more fun.
So learn all the voicings and arrangements techniques you can, then apply by writing down the arrangement and learning how to play your own.
That sounds more fun to me. And the result will undoubtedly be better.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 11:43 AM

Look at the last few pages of the Jazz thread 1- AL, ATTYA where two handed voicings are discussed. I have no idea what Sudnow teaches but there are shapes here.

If you are aware of the shapes, then it's done by feel instead of visualizing every single note. Until you get the shape down it cannot be automatic.

That will cut the learning time to months instead of years. But it's not instant since you have to know it on every chord type. But at least it can be fairly quick on the common chords (Maj7, Min7, Dom7).
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 12:33 PM

Fil - I'm at the same point, and was talking with a friend about this the other day. It's tedious and you don't get the musical satisfaction you're looking for.

Reminds me of learning verb forms by rote.

I don't think there's any way round it.
Posted by: Chris G

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 01:45 PM

It's not an easy thing to learn - when I started to work on this I found that it felt like I had to solve this complex problem of how to distribute the notes over the two hands without doubling any of the notes and not moving either hand too far when making a chord change. Add trying to outline the melody with the right hand while it is playing one or two notes from the chord and it gets much harder.

For me approaching the problem in stages made it easier. The voicing where you play 1 and 5 in the left hand in either inversion and play 3 and 7 in either inversion in the right hand is the easiest of the two handed formulas to learn and once you have that down you can start to work on the other voicings.
Posted by: Kymber

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 04:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Filibogado
I use a chicken foot in the left hand and a tiger claw in the right hand (I'm talking fingering here).


I'm glad you cleared that up because I was wondering where one would get a chicken foot and a tiger claw and if having them would it improve my playing. laugh ha
Posted by: Gyro

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/20/10 05:35 PM

What I would suggest is that you just dig in an play purely by ear, with no concern
for textbook-type theory or standard voicings. For example, the song, "I've Got
Rhythm," you know the tune already, so just play your own version of it, by ear.
Using its rhythm as a guide, which you already know, dig in with both hands and
play your rendition of it by ear. Of course, initially you're not going to hit all the
"right notes," and your version might sound pretty bad, to ears used to hearing
polished commercial recordings. But like all things on the piano, playing by
ear requires a lot of practice. With practice you should be able to get closer
and closer to a "correct" version, as you train your ear to know what notes
to hit in order to get the sound you want.
Posted by: custard apple

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/21/10 07:26 AM

Knotty
At what stage should I sit down and write arrangements for heads ? I’ve nearly finished Composition 4 in JOI and I’m up to Lesson 13.
Posted by: knotty

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/21/10 10:57 PM

Apple,

Whenever you're ready?
Ideally, you've covered all of the voicing exercises. The idea being that even if you do not master those voicings, you should still be able to recall them. Or go back to the book for examples.

At first, you probably want to use mostly drop 2s for solo piano arrangements.

Before you start writing your own arrangements, you might want to play some existing ones for a few months. Simplified Bill Evans arrangements are great. Or the real thing if you can take it. If you play those, you'll notice they are mostly made of the drop 2s you already learned.
Posted by: custard apple

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/22/10 01:02 AM

Thanks Knotty.
I’m up to the min7b5 voicings in JOI and am comfortable with them.
Re drop 2 voicings. I’ve almost automated maj7 and min7.

Is there a simplified Bill Evans arrangement book that you recommend ?
Posted by: knotty

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/22/10 08:59 AM

http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Evans-Arrangements-Solo-Piano/dp/0634018728
Posted by: custard apple

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 01:15 AM

Hi Knotty
I’ve just ordered it ! I can’t wait to start in a month when I return from holidays. The way I see it is that the Bill Evans book should complement my work on chord voicings/ harmony, and the compositions I do should complement my melodic development. Do you agree ?

BTW in the order I also bought Keith Jarrett’s Solo Tribute DVD – the 100th performance in Japan.
Posted by: Wizard of Oz

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 01:25 AM

Originally Posted By: Gyro
What I would suggest is that you just dig in an play purely by ear, with no concern
for textbook-type theory or standard voicings. .


Gyro, you are a broken record, "just dig in and play by ear". When are you going to post some clips so we can hear it. I bet you either use the same chords we all do, or are banging away and sounding real bad.

Your method has got to be the worst advice, and you can't even see it.
Posted by: Wizard of Oz

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 01:27 AM

Originally Posted By: custard apple


BTW in the order I also bought Keith Jarrett’s Solo Tribute DVD – the 100th performance in Japan.


custard, you'll love that album! Beautiful playing, lots of great ballads. KJ is still the best.
Posted by: custard apple

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 07:25 AM

Wiz, I've been trying to get it for over a year.
KJ's diversity will never cease to amaze me.
Posted by: knotty

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 08:05 AM

>> The way I see it is that the Bill Evans book should complement my work on chord voicings/ harmony, and the compositions I do should complement my melodic development. Do you agree ?

Yes. Enjoy your vacation on the west coast!
Posted by: Wizard of Oz

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 09:51 AM

custard, there's lots of clips from that concert free on Youtube.
Posted by: JimF

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 02:42 PM

Thanks, Knotty. I also ordered the Evans book. I'm quite pleased to have found these easier arrangements because I thought it would be years before I could even approach most of Evans' work. Peace,Piece here I come. cool grin
Posted by: knotty

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 03:31 PM

You're welcome.

These arrangements are easy to play and could probably be played by a beginner.
However, the value is in the way it is arranged. And that is actually quite advanced. A beginner could not come up with it.

So spend a bit of time understanding the chords that are used and why they work.
Posted by: custard apple

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/23/10 09:29 PM

Knotty
Thanks very much for your wishes. I’m only in San Francisco for a few days as a stopover to England.

Thanks Wiz
Knotty got me to buy the Stardust album by Trane. I liked all of the songs on it and then looked up you-tube for the Keith Jarrett version of Then I’ll Be Tired of You.
Posted by: Markham

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/29/10 12:09 PM

Filibagado,

It's not really a "brain" chore, it's a hand chore. You should pick a pedagogy you feel an affinity for and stick with it. I can't speak to Susman and Sprunger but one of the reasons Sudnow starts with the visual representations of the keyboard is to encourage you to regard the chords as shapes rather than formulas, as jazzwee suggests.

It can be tedious and it does take time, but patience and a zen-like approach to the task rather than a fixation on the goal is helpful. (A certain sort of obsession is also valuable.)

Your 60 year old brain is more than up to the task. I speak from experience.
Posted by: Ken.

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/30/10 02:49 AM

Originally Posted By: knotty
...A better approach if you ask me is to actually sit down and write arrangements for tunes. The head I mean. Write something beautiful, as beautiful as you can given your own taste, but still playable. That should be more fun.
So learn all the voicings and arrangements techniques you can, then apply by writing down the arrangement and learning how to play your own.
That sounds more fun to me. And the result will undoubtedly be better.

I recently started working my way through a jazz piano method book and looking through it I see it has various concepts like drop voicings, fourth voicings, upper triad structures, open voicings, approach note harmonization, etc. Does a jazz pianist typically play all these things on the fly as they play a lead sheet, or do they work some things out beforehand? I guess the better players can do more on the fly, but they would still work some things out beforehand or would they arrange the head completely if it was a tune in their repertoire?
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 08/30/10 04:51 AM

I've found the zen-like obsession approach to be quite helpful - just tried it since I rea Markham's post, and it's curiously addictive.

I'm also singing the chord I'm playing which helps keep my mind on task.
Posted by: Markham

Re: The Drudgery of Learning Jazz Open Chord Voicings - 09/02/10 02:03 PM

Ken, I think the answer to your question is "yes to all of above".

If you're not aware of it, you might be interested in Dick Hyman's book "Piano Pro". Interesting stories, technical insight (including written scores), and the musician's perspective on a wide range of topics. You can even see Hyman's scores of songs "as so-and-so would play it", which tells me that the best musicians develop their own preferences for the technical and stylist approaches they use.

Like many areas of skill demonstration, what appears effortless and improvised is always a particular and peculiar sort of illusion.