Hey Jazz Guy,
I’m sick of the same old 7th chord voicings.
Can you show me something different and new?
–Tired in Toronto
One of the best signs you are improving is
when you become frustrated with what you
know and start looking for something else.
Two voicing concepts that have a modern edge
and can send you exploring are spread voicings
and triad suspensions. Spread voicings
are any chord where the notes are separated
by more than one octave. In Ex. 1, we take
C and Dm and transform them into spread
voicings. Next, we do the same thing with
Cmaj7 and Dmin7 [Ex. 2]. The fingering gets
dodgy here, so we’ll eliminate the root note
to get a more modern sound and avoid any
stretching issues. The fun really begins in
Ex. 3, by substituting tensions: replacing the
3 with the 9, and the 5 with the 13, giving
a new take on a Cmaj7 chord. A little turnaround
progression, as in Ex. 4, can showcase
the full effect of these chords.
Triad suspensions simply use an old trick
in a new way. Recall from “Free Fallin’” the
classic Dsus4 and Dsus2 type chords in Ex. 5.
We will jazz translate these into three suspension
types: 2-3, 9-1, and 4-3 in Ex. 6. Next we
use triads from the upper structures of 7th
chords to play the suspensions in Ex. 7. The
upper structure for a Cmaj7 (C, E, G, B, D,
etc.) shows a G triad, so a suspension of G
will work. To help see the whole picture, the
chord symbols reflect the total sonority after
the suspension, and aren’t a literal interpretation
of the pitches in the notation. Finally,
in Ex. 8, the same turnaround is played with
the triad suspensions, sounding totally different
then with standard chords. Play this with
a bass player for the full effect. These techniques
take some time to master, so dig in and
jazz hard—it will be worth staying awake.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to email@example.com. Jake’s latest release is