Piano Jazz Chords
Rootless Voicings

4 Steps to Learning How to Play Any Song on the Piano

1. Determining the melody - Melodies determine what chords will be played. If you can use your ear to figure out what notes are being played in the melody, you are 1/4 on your way to learning a song! More resources on learning how to determine melodies

2.Harmonizing the melody - Once you have figured out the melody (using some of my techniques on the resource page), it is time to harmonize it. This is simply choosing various chords to accompany the melody. There are several techniques and tricks to doing this. More resources on learning how to harmonize melodies

3. Altering Chords - This is the best part! Now that you have strategically figured out the melody to a song and have harmonized it, altering your chords to produce certain sounds is the next step. If you were playing gospel music, you would alter your chords differently than if you were playing classical or country music. More resources on altering chords

4. Listening - After you have determined the melody, harmonized the melody, and altered some of your chords, there are various techniques you can use to make sure that your song sounds right. More resources on listening techniques

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When learning piano jazz chords you will first need to know about chord extensions or "tensions" that add jazz flavor to the harmony and melodic elements of jazz. Once you understand them (7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths) you can begin to find interesting and cool sounding jazz voicings.

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This lesson assumes you are comfortable with the concepts of chord formulas as derived from the major scale and chord inversions. If you need help with those concepts you may want to review those lessons.

What is a rootless voicing?

In its simplest terms a rootless voicing is just a chord with out a root.

It is common practice for most pianists to omit the root from their voicings because they are usually playing with a bass player.

Another practical reason for for leaving out the root is that with piano jazz chords which often will add 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths, if we try an play all the possible notes of the chord we would run out of fingers at least in our left hand.

If you want to hear some piano jazz chords rootless voicing style you would do well to listen to some recordings by Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson who were responsible for developing this style.

In the image below we have removed the Roots from some commonly seen Chords (symbols) seen in Jazz Music and elsewhere.

Notice there are no C's anywhere in the chords (rootless) and that the Camj6 chord has the same notes as Amin7, the Cmaj7 could also be seen as a root position Emin7 and the Cmin7 is a root position Ebmaj7 chord.

I point this out so you will begin to see that many of the chords you may already know can take on a whole different fuction depending on what the Bass player is doing with the root of the chord.

There are two basic voicing positions for these notes, the so-called "A" and "B" voicings. Both voicings place the notes as close together as possible.

Below are the A and B voicings for Minor 7th, Major 7th and Doninant 7TH chords. Leaving out the Root allows us to add the 9ths 11ths and 13ths.

A and B Voicings for a Rootless Minor 7th Chord

On a minor chord with minor 7th:

beginning on the 3rd:       3rd - 5th - 7th - 9th
or beginning on the 7th:   7th - 9th - 3rd - 5th

A and B voicings for a Dominant 7th Chord

On a dominant 7th chord:

beginning on the 3rd:        3rd - 6th - 7th - 9th
or beginning on the 7th:    7th - 9th - 3rd - 6th

A and B  voicnigs for a Major 7th Chord

On a major 7th chord:

beginning on the 3rd:         3rd - 5th - 6th - 9th
                                 or: 3rd - 5th - 7th - 9th
or beginning on the 7th:     7th - 9th - 3rd - 5th

The structure of the A voicing for a dominant chord is 3-13-7-9 and for the B voicing 7-9-3-13.

Moving in a ii-V relationship from a Minor 7 chord to a Dominant 7 chord involves shifting just one note and switching from an A voicing to a B voicing (or vice versa). For example, to move from Gm7 to C7, one can play (remember, the root notes are played by the bass):

As you can see, to change from Gm7 to C7 only the F moves down to E.

Bill Evans and others did not stick strictly to these voicings, but added their own variations by changing the order of the notes and omitting or adding notes.

In the video you will see how these rootless voicings look and sound on the keyboard.

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If you have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future lessons feel free to Contact Me.

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