tips for reading jazz chords

Posted by: musiccr8r

tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 10:07 AM

I feel that I must be missing some essential trick or technique for reading jazz chords. Frankly I can't even wrap my head around how someone can process chords at a rapid rate, with different inversions, etc. For example, something I'm looking at, tempo 120, there are often two chords per beat, but even if there was only one, I can't understnad how to mentally process what goes in a G #4 flat 9 before the next chord arrives. Do you actually mentally "spell" out each chord as you play it? Is it more a matter of using your ear and not actaully "reading" each chord? Do you practice with flash cards or some other technique? Any advice is appreciated.
Posted by: jjo

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 10:37 AM

This is one of the most basic skills in jazz, and there are no shortcuts. I've been studying jazz for over 2 years (after 40 years of playing sheet music), and I still struggle to get the right chord. Here are some tips:
1. Get a Real Book or other fake book, and spend time just site reading the tunes and comping the chords with your left hand. It's fun to play the tunes, and through repetition, you start to learn the chords. If you intend to play in a combo, go through tunes just comping the chords with both hands, no melody. You'll really learn the harmony this way.
2. For dominant 7 chords, if you want to alter them, it will be flat or sharp 9 and/or flat or sharp 5. That's only four possible alterations. Not so bad.
3. As you site read, patterns will emerge. For example, if it's a II, V I to a minor chord, you will frequently notice that the minor II has a flat 5, and the dominant V a flat 9 (check it out, they are the same notes). The patterns will help you know what is coming.
4. For dominant 7, you don't always have to alter it exactly as written. If you see a V7 with a #5, but you play a b9, most times it will be O.K. The music is just calling for an altered dominant 7 of some kind.

So my bottom line for you is two fold:
1. There are no shortcuts; just keep playing and slowly but surely you'll learn the chords.
2. Make sure to study theory so you begin to see patterns.

Good luck. Jazz ain't easy but it's so so so worth it.
Posted by: pianojazz

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 11:04 AM

I assume you are talking about chord names as opposed to the actual notes on the staff. Before you begin actually playing the music, look at a group of chord names - ask yourself what notes are changing from chord to chord - often times there is a moving voice or two in the chord progression that is not immediately apparent by just looking at individual chord symbols. Another thing to be mindful of, especially when dealing with complex chords like G13+11-9 is to mentally split them up into simpler chords - one basic chord in the LH, another basic chord in the RH but when played together form the complex chord. I will also tell yoyu that this, like anything else, takes practice.
Posted by: angelojf

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 12:01 PM

Hi musiccr8r:

I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert with this stuff. But I would suggest that you look into the Sudnow Method at

http://www.sudnow.com

The Sudnow Method has ways of simplifying how to look at and play some monstrous chords as they appear in fakebooks without simplifying the sounds of the chords.

Angelo



Posted by: knotty

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 12:10 PM

what jjo said.

If you have an expectation to learn chords, then you'll be able to apply them, then I think that will not work.

Instead, pick a tune, figure out nice chord changes slowly (it's not just the chords, but how they fit in the tune).
Learn in the context of that tune.

Then that progression kind of becomes yours.
And you move on to something else.

It becomes natural what you can do when you see C7. You just need to do it a lot.
Posted by: Swingin' Barb

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 12:34 PM

To add to what Angelo suggested, you may want to check out a recent PW thread that gives a lot of information about the Sudnow Method. Below is the link:

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1174459/Sudnow.html#Post1174459
Posted by: Markham

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 01:16 PM

An interesting thing happens, in my experience, when you start thinking about chords in terms of their "shapes" rather than their individual notes. With practice, you'll find that you can work out the shape from the individual notes (or chord notation) and then "lock" that in and forget the individual components, learning in the context of the song rather than as a prerequisite. Play enough songs and you'll start to see the same shapes over and over, then your chore changes to the more atypical voicings or experimenting with different sounds. The written notation becomes an archival device more than a playing aid.

Having done this a lot, I'm sometimes startled at how easy it's become for my hands to remember a new shape after only a single "stop and look".

When you think about it, how could it be any other way? Even with traditional notation you can't "read" individual notes at any speed or complexity, you have to recognize clusters or groups as single things.

I think the same thing is true for scale paths.
Posted by: jjtpiano

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 03:26 PM

If you can find a community big band that practices every week, and play with them, you'll see all the usual jazz chords.

Go to rehearsal every week, and in about five years you'll be able to play all the chord progressions, voiced intelligently, in your sleep.

This is how I learned, and I don't think there is a shortcut. It's easier to learn them by rote first, then you'll see the theory behind them after that.
Posted by: daviel

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 07:12 PM

It is experience in playing them. All good suggestions, above. Do not worry too much about the intellectual side and just learn tunes. Good hunting!
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/07/09 08:31 PM

Hello Musiccr8r,

Learning the chords and their inversions is most definitely an integral (and fun) part to learning jazz. Like most comments above, the more you do it, the quicker you will learn. Try to play with as many people as you can (jam sessions, fellow musicians, etc). The best thing is to find a bass player who wants to sit down and read through tunes with you. This will help you get started.

As another help, below are a few videos on jazz voicings that may give you more guidance...

ii-V-I Jazz Piano Voicings #1

ii-V-I Jazz Piano Voicings in all 12 Keys

Left Hand Jazz Piano Voicings in all 12 Keys
Posted by: musiccr8r

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/08/09 04:59 PM

this is an eclectic and immensely valuable set of suggestions! Thanks to everyone
Posted by: MonksDream

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/08/09 06:05 PM

I have some suggestions:

1) Simplify - In most chords in jazz the "important" tones are the 3rd and the 7th. So when you see a chord like G7b9b13 on a page you can omit all the other notes and just play B (the 3rd) and F (the 7th). It won't sound as full and coloured as the full voicing but you won't be playing anything that clashes either.

2) Learn to hear/play changes - With the above in mind practice playing ii-V-I progressions around the cycle of fifths. Play the roots with your left hand. In the right hand play 3rds and 7ths. You will soon notice that the same shapes and movements recur. In most cases you'll only need to move one finger at a time in the right hand. Do this in all major and minor keys. Don't worry, it gets easier as you do it.

3) Start adding extensions to your voicings - Keeping the 3rds and 7ths start adding 9ths and 13ths to your chord voicings. Keep either a 3rd or a 7th at the bottom of the right hand voicing. Take this through the keys as well.

4)Start altering extensions - Once you're comfortable with #3 try altering extensions (b9, #9, b5, #5/b13 etc.) You guessed it: do this in all keys too!

5) Sound like a jazzer - Play the chord voicings with your *left* hand and play melody with your right hand. If you get confused as to the chord reach over and play the bass note with your right hand.

Western tonal music tends to follow patterns. They're not hard to learn, partly because you've internalized them already from listening to them all your life. A little practice and you'll no longer be intimidated by altered chord notations. My jazz theory professor once told me: "A jazz chart doesn't tell you what to play, it tells you what's going on." The fun part of jazz is that you get to *choose* what notes to play. It can be as lush or as sparse as you want. What's important is to have a context, or a point of departure. That's what the exercises above are all about.

Try this for a few weeks and you'll soon find that you can follow chord progressions a lot more easily and that you'll know not only what to play, but what *not* to play, which is just as important.

I *highly* recommend Mark Levine's - The Jazz Piano Book as a great way to learn and apply chord voicings.

All the best!
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/08/09 06:17 PM

"My jazz theory professor once told me: "A jazz chart doesn't tell you what to play, it tells you what's going on.""

Excellent way to look at it...
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 08:20 AM

I find what works the best for me is thinking of the more complex chords as using major & minor chords in the right hand against like the bass with the seventh for example in the left (for starters). Example: C-9+5

RH} Play C#m
LH} Play C and Bb

So for a b9+5 Play a C#m a half step up from the root.

This system really works for most of the complexer chords.
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 08:36 AM

Another example: C(7) +9+5

Play the major chord that's a half step up from the 5th.

RH} Play Ab (Major)
LH} Play C and Bb

See? Remember, this is just for starters! Anyway this way one CAN think fast enough using charts if you know the combinations.. after you learn the basic combinations you can also of course use 7th (both major & minor)chords, 6ths chords what-have-you in the RH against the root of the chord (even of course if it's not played).. and of course other voicings in the LH!
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 08:48 AM

Yet another example: C(7)13+11

Play the major chord that's a step up from the root (in this case you can play the 7th chord even as the 7th of D (Major) is a "c", which is the root).

RH} Play D or D7
LH} Play C and Bb (or how about E and Bb and D)

Get it?
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 09:43 AM

This technique is methodically presented by Mark Harrison, in his "The Pop Piano Book". He does a nice job describing the upper three note and four note upper chords in the RH, paired with the root note in the left hand. And of course root/flat7th is a common LH jazzy voicing. After reviewing the theory, Harrison presents case studies using these techniques for various popular styles of music. It's not specifically a jazz book.

Other sources use this technique also. David Unger's on-line courses (playpianotoday.com) goes into it somewhat (look at his phat chords presentations).

Hop
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 10:55 AM

Thanks Hop for responding, 'preciate it. Of course it's no secret, (music is after all science/construction too as I'm sure you well know). However, I musr admit there are a few things I generally tell not many (especially in my own town!) as concerns some really nice voicing techniques, as they work so well.. (Got to have some extra uniqueness somehow!)

On the other hand though is the fact that you can watch someone play & analyze what they're doing, or they can tell you; but by all means it doesn't mean you can play it that way as well as they do, if at all! Everyone plays differently, that is the supreme beauty of it.
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 02:23 PM

I agree. I came across a very pleasing voicing in one of the arrangements I play.

The LH plays the root and the (flat or dominant) 7th (nothing surprising here). The RH plays the third, then the 6th, then the 9th. I have heard the intervals in the RH described as "quartiles", since they are a fourth apart.

Wow!

Hop
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 03:36 PM

Thinking triadically is a very nice way to come up with interesting voicings. To me voicings are all about memorizing shapes. As you do more of it, you'll start to recognize common shapes making it easier for your muscle memory to take over and get to the chord you want. One thing I recommend if you are building the chords with the LH 3&7 RH Triad approach is to make sure you are understanding what chords you are playing instead of just calling them something like 'C maj 7 with a D triad on top' or 'D/C'. As you are practicing, form those voicing but then also call out the chord tones and their names in your mind or out loud.

This is also something you can practice away from the piano just by visualization in your mind. If you do it enough, eventually you won't have to think so hard about it and it'll come naturally...
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 04:00 PM

True JPE in what you say. Also shapes really help, but some quite different shapes makes the very same sound (neglecting the way different key signatures sound)!

Hop, that's a 13th chord you've got there! Yes, there is even a system utilizing stacks of 4ths (mine!). Can you reach a 4 note 4ths stack in your LH? (C F Bb Eb) I like 4ths stacks as they're so easy to memorize. Anyway, if you lower the 2nd & 3rd notes in this stack you get a 6/9 chord. If you contract them 1/2 step each you get a dimĀ°7. If you lower just the 2nd you get a 7+9. And so on. You use the 4 note 4th stack as a "home base". Pretty cool eh?

I started to write a book about this kind of helpful theory stuff, I need to get with it and just do it! Makes me kind of scared to even mention it here..
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 04:47 PM

...but some quite different shapes makes the very same sound (neglecting the way different key signatures sound)!


Yep that's for sure, that's why it helps me to learn them in groups so that playing in different keys won't be an issue. To take a simple example with just major triads, the groups below each have the same shape. This concept can be applied to more sophisticated voicings

D major
A major
E major

C major
F major
G major

Eb Major
Ab Major
Db Major

etc etc...

And yes A1A, where is this book? smile
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/17/09 10:48 PM

Yes, I agree. I think of it as a root seven (R7) in the LH, and a 9th, 11th and 13th in the RH (not a Dmin/C).

I agree with your visualiztion suggestion also. I like to go through chords and even music mentally while on a long highway drive (assuming very light traffic, such as in South Carolina during the afternoon). If a traffic situation makes me suddenly abandon the effort, it's even more helpful to mentally find your way back later.
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/18/09 04:38 AM

JPE, the times I've taught piano I taught them music theory, using this same system. The "all three" whites, the group with black in the middle, the blacks with white in the middle & the "oddball" group with all blacks, or two blacks or whites together on top. What's nice is that the minor chords follow this as well. Truly this is the BEST way to remember your basic chords, first in root position. Thanks for the link, isn't the internet useful? 'Wish they had it when I was a kid, but perhaps then I wouldn't have learned to play the piano, because of excessive surfing, you know?

I need to write my book already, to share the joys of music and to make hopefully some $!

I don't quite follow you Hop. You had a (from bottom up):

1 7 3 6(13) 9

Hey, I grew up in North Carolina!
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/18/09 02:56 PM

I think hop was saying from the bottom up would be

1, 7, 9, #11 (if it's a d major triad in RH), 13

notes being

c, b, d, f#, a
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/18/09 03:50 PM

Well, actually I was thinking LH (C w/wo the Bflat) RH (D F A, or D minor). But a major 7th and a D major works too.

For the interesting voicing, I was thinking ditto in the LH (with the Bflat), and E A D in the RH. This is just a cool sounding C 9th with a 6th.
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/18/09 04:45 PM

Actually as you're in your interesting voicing playing the a 7th in the bass it's a 13th chord as I've previously stated. It's very common practice to leave the 11th out in a 13th chord. Anyway play around on the "A" blues scale against this harmony for yet more pleasing interesting effects!
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/18/09 08:08 PM

Yes, the first example is a 13th; the second example is not.

I actually like the 11th present, and sometimes I sharp it.

Hop
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/19/09 02:32 AM

Oh yes it is, ask some others around here! ;-)
Posted by: Bhav

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/19/09 07:19 AM

Ive been practicing my bass reading just 1-3 times a week, and I can really feel the improvement. Im now reading through the bass line of magnetic rag (easy to read with a lot of single or double notes), faster then I can learn it - I can get through one page a day, but its still slower then my treble reading and more difficult.

I am making 0 mistakes when learning the notes too, I can read them all correctly, and just need to improve my reading speed and ease.

I think I might be able to take on they Charleston after a couple more Joplin pieces - I am going to try really hard to learn the rest of the notes to magnetic rag by the end of April, if I manage that, I will have learnt the notes in just 2-3 weeks, which will be a personal major accomplishment for me smile.
Posted by: Hop

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/20/09 12:42 PM

Well, I guess it is a sixth and/or a 13th. If you calculate from the root in the LH, sure it's a 13th. But when I play the 3rd, 6th, 9th in the RH, that's the way I think of the chord, and it's easier (at least for me).
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/21/09 05:09 PM

I see you really like those rags. The Chopin Waltzes are my favorites. Very beautiful. I wish he wrote more of them. Have you ever tried any of his Mazurkas? Some are very beautiful.
Posted by: Bhav

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/21/09 08:36 PM

Originally Posted By: A1A
I see you really like those rags. The Chopin Waltzes are my favorites. Very beautiful. I wish he wrote more of them. Have you ever tried any of his Mazurkas? Some are very beautiful.


I only have Chopin complete Preludes Nocturnes and Waltzes, Joplin complete piano rags, and a Mozart sonatas book, I want to learn K333 sometime as well. I listen to and pick my favorite pieces to learn.

Im reconsidering learning Paragon Rag as it doesnt sound as good anymore. After my current two pieces of maple leaf and magnetic are done, Im planning on going for Pineapple Rag, Grande Valse Brilliante, and the Charleston, all of which I can hopefully get learnt by the end of this year.

Then next year I want to try joining some performance groups, either jazz or classical, and going back into music Education in sept 2010. I'll be 26 then, so I will be older then most other students, but I want to be able to progress academically as well.

I live in Bradford so can go to Leeds college of music to study their Advanced Piano / Jazz courses, and try and pick up my Grade 8 Piano and Theory qualifications too, then try and convince somewhere to let me onto an MA in Music.

I just still need a lot of work in theory and sight reading, but it shouldnt take longer then a year or two.
Posted by: A1A

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/22/09 10:46 AM

I understand you Hop. Simplicity in thinking ='s quicker processing time! A real common way to play a 13th voicing in one hand (assuming the LH is not too low for this) is to play 7 3 6. I think of it that way to. A quick way to get to this voicing is to think the major chord in root position & simply expand the chord "on the outsides" a whole step (ie. so in C the C "goes" down to Bb & the G goes up to A). Get it? That'll be $10 ;-)

Bhav, shucks, you're not old at all, don't do like I did (n't); get that education! Plus a perk that's nothing to sneeze at is you may find a several years younger-than-you girlfriend to boot.. Although piano/music - wise learning songs from the recording in order to play in good bands did me a WORLD of good. It's important to play with good musicians if you can, it rubs off as you tell yourself those "parts" you hear in your head "Hey this'll go nicely in the mix" & you try to "catch your head-imagination" & make it reality... it's WONDERFULLY satisfying. Ensemble playing really helps LOTS. 'Course I don't know if you're interested in ensemble playing.
Posted by: Bhav

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/22/09 12:25 PM

I CAN READ BASS CLEF!!!

I can read it, and the chords, I can spot all the notes, and I read through it faster then I can play!

Just from spending a few weeks practicing. I still need to speed up the reading though, but I read and played through a page again in no time, and needed to stop to practice the chords, fingering and hand movement.
I just kept on practicing reading notes in my head for a while everyday.

Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/30/09 06:57 AM

Analyse the chords any way you want - you've had plenty of good suggestions. Just remember that merely by reading this message you're achieving something far more complex - looking at a group of symbols, recognising and translating them instantly into meaning without analysing them individually. How did you get there from when you were laboriously spelling out C-A-T? You'll get fluent with chords just the same way.
Posted by: kennychaffin

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 04/30/09 07:04 AM

Originally Posted By: Bhav
I CAN READ BASS CLEF!!!

I can read it, and the chords, I can spot all the notes, and I read through it faster then I can play!

Just from spending a few weeks practicing. I still need to speed up the reading though, but I read and played through a page again in no time, and needed to stop to practice the chords, fingering and hand movement.
I just kept on practicing reading notes in my head for a while everyday.



Good for you! I'm still struggling with it but I can tell I'm gaining on it a bit.
Posted by: JazzPianoEducator

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 05/01/09 05:21 PM

"Ensemble playing really helps LOTS. 'Course I don't know if you're interested in ensemble playing."

I couldn't agree with this more. If you can, try to get involved with a big band where you are forced to read charts at tempo. It can definitely be a struggle at first and probably quite frustrating. However, putting yourself in this situation will require you to learn fast. Plus you'll be surrounded by other musicians who will hopefully influence you. I think of it as learning another language. If you wanted to learn spanish from simply reading books, you certainly could. However, if you went and lived with a family in Mexico City (after the swine flu blows over of course:)) you would learn much quicker. Surround yourself with what you are trying to learn and you'll create the best learning environment possible...
Posted by: loxley11

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 05/01/09 11:51 PM

I think a lot of the replies are missing the point. The OP is talking about sight reading jazz chord charts cold. Very few jazz pianists have to do this, as they already have a good idea of what they're going to see in front of them when playing a new tune. Even a pro will have to back off when sight reading cold at fast tempos. It certainly won't sound like it would once he (or she) has had a fair amount of time to learn the tune and changes. In other words, it's always nice to have extra skills, but this one I really don't consider critical to being a successful jazz musician as long as you learn your tunes and practice your ii V I's.

There are shortcuts to make things easier, but it mainly depends on the setting you're playing in. If you're having trouble sight reading fast tunes in public playing solo, just don't pick fast tunes! smile Seriously, work on the changes at home and figure out your chords there where you can take the time to think about it. If you're playing in a group, try this out:

LH plays only 3 and 7 or 1 and 7
RH plays two extension notes. Just limit yourself to notes that are some kind of 4th or 5th apart.

Example:
read..........C7............D7............Em7...........C7
LH............E,Bb..........F#,C..........G,D...........E,Bb
RH............D,A...........Eb,Bb.........F#,B..........D#,G#
sounds.....C9(13)......D7#5b9......Em9.........C7#5#9

Notice that the LH is always a tritone for dom 7ths and 4th/5ths for M7/m7 chords. Yes, it's limited, but it's a good way to start out if you're under the gun. And you can still get those hip altered extensions. Practice ii V I's using these formations in every key (you knew that was coming!) and you shouldn't get many big surprises when sight reading.

Unless you're a session musician, I wouldn't kill myself if you can't sight read the chords to Giant Steps at full tempo. Unless you play at a lot of jam sessions, tunes get presented in an environment where you can take your time to learn them and pick out some juicy chords. Sight reading skills will come later in your self-education.

I know this is contradicting what everyone just said, but I want the OP to know that, just like in classical or pop music, you really aren't put on the spot to sight read complicated stuff at full tempo very often. I'd focus more on learning the tunes so you're not suprised when you're asked to play tunes. And like I said, I wouldn't even try to use huge chords sight reading. just keep it simple and it will still sound good I guarantee!

Drew
Posted by: musiccr8r

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 05/03/09 10:22 AM

Drew/Loxly, it was great to hear that perspective, it cheered me up immensely after I got to page 2/3 and found myself thinking, What on EARTH are they talking about? Tho' I did go, for fun, and play the chord that was laid out in complete detail somewhere on page 3, and I did like it!!! smile But the idea of trying to figure out and play the third and 7th in my LH....well, that will be enough of a project to last me for many moons. I do think you guys presented a key feature: playing with a group. I liked the language immersion comparison, and also it makes intuitive sense; after all, how many of us do any activity as purposefully when it is just for our own amusement? Add the accountability and the regular meeting times, however, and I can see how you'd grow quickly. I can still recall the utter humiliation of being in HS, with the "combo" for our "jazz" choir, never having played ANYTHING not written down, and having the teacher ask us to play the blues. The guitarist, who could not read music, launched into it and sounded fabulous as always. I sat there having not the slightest idea what to do, later just jokingly playing the first few notes of Mary had a little lamb and suffering the most withering, disgusted, appalled look from him. It still gives me shivers to think about. And it does make me happy that I can now play the blues!!!! But that's all I can play. frown
Posted by: Bhav

Re: tips for reading jazz chords - 05/04/09 02:39 AM

Oh, Im reading full note chords on a normal scale.

Up to Grade 7 my books used to have those jazz chords, hence why I never developed bass reading.

I couldnt ever read chords written as C7, Dsus4 etc.

Today I noticed a problem. When I look at the treble clef, I see it like bass clef automatically now frown.

Its sooo confusing, but I still manage to spot the notes.

Still a far way away from being able to read and play without practice though.

Just need to keep on practicing.