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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is Evolution [Buckyball].