A Great Jazz Piano Voicing To Use In Ballads
Although its use is certainly not limited to ballads by any means, it’s a terrific jazz piano voicing that can really beautify those favorite ballads of yours. I say this because it is has such a such a substantial sound that resounds prominently when played with melody notes of long duration. I sometimes refer to these as “resting points” because these notes are the target notes that give a phrase its feeling of resolution.
Let me give you an example:
Erroll Garner’s Misty (for which Johnny Burke later wrote the words) has always been a favorite ballad of mine. Let’s take a peek at the first measure. It has two pickup notes that lead to a melody note of a longer duration (3 beats). The chord is a Cmaj7:
How would you play a Cmaj7 chord with that B in the melody?
There are a number of ways to do it. A beginning player who is familiar with 7th chords might play the Cmaj7 like this:
Above we have the Cmaj7 chord illustrated in its basic, root position. Now, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with playing this chord in that manner. Actually it sounds good when played in the area an octave below the melody. If you haven’t played this before, I certainly encourage you to do so for a couple of reasons:
- You’ll want to gain familiarity with all of your 7th chords in all positions and this is one of them
- You are likely going to want to use this particular version of the Cmaj7 when playing ballads. Playing it this way when interspersed with tasteful piano chord voicings, such as the one we are about to explore, can really add some nice variety to your playing
Okay, as we take a look at that Cmaj7 chord structure above and relate it to the C Major scale (C D E F G A B C), we have the 1,3,5,7 of the scale, respectively.
Sidebar: When people refer to the “1 of the chord” or “3 of the chord” or “5th of the chord,” etc., they are actually referring to the degrees of a corresponding scale.
If we play a little game with those chord tones by rearranging them a bit, we can arrive at a jazz piano chord voicing that looks like this:
Here we have a wonderful stock voicing used by the pros time and time again. We refer to it as a “stock” voicing because it’s one that is known by every competent jazz pianist and is used quite often.
This is one of the more basic type of voicings due to the fact that it includes the very same amount of notes as the original example above and exactly the same chord tones. The only difference, in terms of playing it, is that we have moved two of the chord tones, the 1 and 5 of the chord, down one octave. But what a difference when it comes to how it sounds!
What we are playing here is known as an open chord voicing because we have taken notes from the chord and created space. In other words, looking at the first illustration above, that Cmaj7 chord has tones that are as close as they can possibly be to each other. Therefore, we refer to this as a closed position chord. But you’ll notice that, upon playing our new voicing, that those notes are not as close to each other as they could be. There are actually chord tones (that we are not playing) in between the notes we are playing.
Go ahead and play the basic position of Cmaj7 above and then play this voicing. Compare how they sound to you. Go back and forth between the two. Listen… listen… listen. Really learn to love listening to the distinctive sounds of the various positions and voicings of chords. This is key to becoming a tasteful player.
Now, let’s take another look at the segment of the melody for Misty shown above. Notice that the melody note that we want to harmonize and the top note of the chord voicing we arrived at are the same note. Please go to your piano or keyboard and play that melody while complimenting that B (for 3 beats) with that voicing. Listen!
Isn’t it nice and full? It sounds nice and rich. Would you agree? The first time I had heard someone play that jazz piano voicing, he was, in fact, playing Misty. I just had to run over to the piano and ask him what he was playing. Like most jazz pianists, he showed me without reservation. Wow! I had a new sound that I could play whenever I wanted to. I soon made it a point of incorporating this voicing in both tunes that I had already known as well as new ones.
It is my hope for you, friend, that you develop the same “child like” enthusiasm that I had (and still have) whenever a new chord sound is discovered.
Play that jazz piano chord voicing in more keys:
C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G
It would be great to learn that voicing in all those keys. At the very least, learn a few of them and used them in songs that you know. Then learn the others. Use what you learn. This is important!
By the way, the example above was excerpted from a popular jazz piano voicings program of mine entitled Pro Piano Chord Bytes. You will find it in Lesson #1, which is offered free as you will see once you follow that link. Upon getting involved with that program, you will receive a new lesson each week for 24 weeks. Each consists of examples both illustrated on the staff and on the keyboard (so even if you don’t read music yet, you can simply play what you see on the keyboard illustration). In addition, the added commentary will lead you to more and more chord voicing creativity if you will follow its suggestions, which I hope you will have fun doing.
Okay, let’s do a little something to this voicing that will give us another texture. Play the exact same chord voicing while leaving out the 5 of the chord. So, the result will be that you will be playing the C in the bass area of the piano keyboard with the left hand and the E and B above with right hand. Again, play and listen. Do you notice that the chord still sounds fantastic, only with a bit of a “thinner” quality? This is a perfect example of how making ever so slight changes to our voicings can result in different “colors!” I would like to show you a demonstration of this chord voicing being used in Misty, this time in the key or Eb. This is a short excerpt one of the lessons in ProProach. In that program, we actually learn how to incorporate what we learn into actual tunes, which is a very popular feature with members. Let’s give a look and listen:
Here is a fun, simple exercise that I would like you have some more fun with: If you have sheet music, pick a few songs that you like and browse through the music. As you do so, look for Major 7th chords. At the same time, see if you can locate melody notes that are actually the 7th of the chord. Go ahead and play the voicing above (both with and without the 5 of the chord) to compliment that melody note. Put it in context of the melody before and after. Although this chord voicing really “rings” nicely for notes of a longer duration, don’t limit yourself to using it in other areas of the melody. For now, wherever you have a Major 7th chord that coincides with a melody note that is the 7th, play it and put it in context! As you gain more and more experience, you won’t be playing a voicing like that everywhere you possibly could, of course, but you do want to be able to! Really get to know that voicing! Sure, you are already acquainted with it. But you know that you know it when you can use it “on demand.” This is what I want for you, friend. I want you to make a habit of really using what you learn, as I mentioned earlier. Your confidence is really going to escalate!
As you explore this voicing further and master it to the point of it being at your fingertips whenever you choose, remember…
PLAY WITH PASSION!