Playing jazz piano chords is no difficult task. Learn the structure, choose an appropriate fingering, and press down the keys. Easy-peasy. But jazz piano chord mastery is a different ballgame. We will acknowledge this today as you prepare to get in the driver’s seat.
Mastering Jazz Piano Chords: The Key Ingredient
Even with just a modest amount of piano technique, playing new jazz piano chords is about as easy as speaking any new word in your chosen language. You see it or hear it, then mimic it.
Now, what function does that word have on its own? Not much, usually, until you use it in the context of a phrase or sentence.
Mastering jazz piano chords involves the same process. Like the spoken word, that chord or voicing has no real function by itself. However, when you play that chord in the context of a musical phrase, you’ve put it to good use. You have mastered that chord, at least to some degree.
The key ingredient to mastering jazz piano chords is making it a point to use them in the context of your favorite songs. The more you do this, the more confident you become with that particular chord structure. It works the same way as mastering a new word. Use it or lose it.
The Snowball Effect Of Using New Chord Voicings In Songs Regularly
As with many activities, once you get the ball rolling, the process of incorporating your newly learned jazz piano chords into the context of songs becomes more natural. The brain has a way of automatically returning to you what you feed it.
There comes a time when no thinking is involved. Upon seeing a melody and chord symbol, your fingers just make the formation and you know what it will sound like a split second in advance. Now, that’s mastery!
A Vocabulary Needs To Be Used, Not Stored On The Shelf
Reflecting on my high school experience learning Italian as a second language in 9th grade, it seems appropriate to bring up this matter of building a vocabulary. I passed the two-year program by memorizing vocabulary words, generally scoring 90% or better on those weekly quizzes.
At the conclusion of the two years, I couldn’t speak Italian.
The reason? Incorporating the words into phrases and sentences wasn’t a primary focus. It was not enforced as a requirement to pass the course. So there I was, a student who passed an Italian course who knew a few words. If I was ever to take a trip to Italy, I would have been lost.
Don’t let that happen to you with the jazz piano language. Once you learn a new chord voicing, use it… OVERUSE IT. Be able to “speak” it in the context of an actual playing situation.
Incorporating A Newly Learned Jazz Piano Chord Voicing Into A Solo Performance
Let’s consider how one might apply this concept to a solo performance…
[Sidebar: although playing jazz piano chord voicings while comping behind musicians and implementing them as a soloist have their own approaches and characteristics, it is my strong opinion that mastering two-hand voicings in a solo context is conducive to your becoming a more creative comper]
Okay… you have learned a chord voicing for a Major 7 chord:
Specifically, this is a Major 7 jazz piano chord voicing. We see that the root is C, so we have a Cmaj7 chord voicing. The 7th of the chord is at the top of the voicing.
The little game you are going to become immersed in is looking through your tunes where a maj7 chord is called for in the symbol while the melody note is the 7th of the chord. This way, your melody will be the top voice (note) in the chord voicing.
Okay, while browsing, you discover that the first melody note (after the pickup notes) of the first measure of Erroll Garner’s Misty is B, the 7th of the chord, which is Cmaj7. Great!
Here is how you can apply your chord voicing:
Now, play the voicing in context. How does it sound? Pretty nice, huh? Congratulations! You are on your way to mastering this particular jazz piano chord. Don’t quit. Look for more opportunities. The satisfaction you will gain from this approach is awesome.
There you have it. Learn a new jazz piano chord voicing, then implement it. Repeat. That’s the formula for achieving CONFIDENCE!
Transpose That Chord To Other Keys
Are you going to search for only musical segments call for a Cmaj7?
NO! You are looking for any situation where the chord is a maj7 and the melody note is the 7th of the chord. Doing so will lend itself to the opportunity for you to transpose your new voicing to different keys other than C.
Actually, the song Misty is usually seen in the key of Eb. In this case, the melody note you are harmonizing is D while the chord is Ebmaj7. Take it upon yourself to transpose the same voicing to accommodate the melody note.
Remember, your goal is to MASTER this jazz piano chord. That includes playing it in other keys, of course.
3 Strategies For Mastering Jazz Piano Chords
Learn and finger the chord voicing structure
Transpose the jazz piano chord to different keys
Use the chord voicing in the context of your favorite songs
A Magnificent Tool For Achieving Jazz Piano Chord Mastery
I love the art of learning and mastering jazz piano chords. My passion in this regard inspired me to create an online program for having fun using the chord mastery approach we just experienced.
I wanted to create a tool with which the learner would not only learn new jazz piano chords on the spot but would be encouraged and guided to use what was learned immediately.
It was also important to me to convey to the learner how a pro jazz or pop pianist really thinks as these chords are being played. We use excerpts of actual songs to reinforce what is being learned.
Yes, it was my aim to reveal to an aspiring player a pro’s approach to playing piano chords. I decided to call it ProProach. It is affordable, instantly accessible, and chock FULL of insights that can help a player to put his or her playing “in steroids.”
ProProach consists of 25 lessons, each including a textual tutorial (also pdf) and a motivational video demonstration (the mp4’s can be downloaded). So many people have reported that their confidence level with jazz piano chords has skyrocketed more and more as they repeat the lessons.
You’ll get access to all the lessons at once. I encourage you to enjoy one at a time as you use what you learn, as emphasized throughout the program.
A Terrific Companion To ProProach
There’s another tool worth mentioning on this same subject. This particular tool was inspired by ProProach and the positive feedback that program received. Each lesson in this eBook displays a jazz piano chord voicing on a keyboard diagram along with a musical segment in which the chord voicing can be applied.
This eBook is entitled Pro Piano Chord Bytes: Secrets To Chord Voicing Magic. This very unique tool is available on Amazon. In addition to what I have stated about it already, this manuscript can make a profound difference in the way anyone plays jazz piano chords.
You see, the commentary in each lesson actually inspires you to create your own jazz piano chord voicings based on the primary lesson. This tool, in conjunction with ProProach, will have you cookin’ with chords.
You will never view playing piano chords the same way again once you have engaged yourself in these two popular jazz piano chord tools.
Keep It Fun
This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s true that practicing drills has its benefits and this is not being discouraged. That said, given the choice to learn a jazz piano chord in 12 keys as a drill or in a musical context, my choice is usually for the latter.
Sure, you can transpose a chord voicing up and down the keyboard… in half-step increments, for example. Just keep it playful and musical. Play each voicing as you play the top note a few times like it is an actual melody. Or make up a melody by playing a few notes in addition to the top note of the voicing. Try anything.
Allow your creativity to take over. After all, that IS the ultimate goal.