Hey Jazz Guy,
I want to expand my use of jazz harmony and I was wondering how you would recommend going about learning different chord voicings and putting them into practice? —Simple in San Diego
There are many voicing types and systems for this, so there is no one right answer, but allow me to illuminate my guitaristic approach to this situation.
We all learned the idea of a power chord when we first picked up the guitar; root, 5th, root [Ex. 1]. Now we will work with what I call the “jazz power chord”: root, 3rd, 7th [Ex. 2]. This three-note voicing is all you need to clearly state the harmony of any jazz situation. Note that Ex. 2 is a closed inversion whereas Ex. 3 is an open inversion for these three notes. Take yourself through the different chord types in Ex. 4, maj7, min7, dom7 and 7sus4. Now you should be left with three more strings and at least one more finger, so here’s where the magic happens.
Keeping the jazz power chord intact, we will add tensions on the remaining strings. Ex. 5 shows how an Ebmaj7 jazz power chord can then be expanded into Ebmaj9 and Ebmaj7#11,9. In the next example [Ex. 6], we’ve used the open version of a G7 jazz power chord, and added the 13 and then the b9 and b13 to create a lush voicing. The open voicing is also interesting because you can add some notes in between, as in Ex. 7, and the Dm7 becomes a Dm11, with the 5 added on top. Finally, once you become familiar with the jazz power chord, you can omit and change notes. In Ex. 8, the root note of Cm7 disappears, and the 9 and 11 are added on top of the remaining 3 and 7. Shed this hard in all keys and your harmonic vocabulary will surely be simple no more.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is Patterns [Buckyball].