From the category archives:

Jazz Piano

Learn Big, Rich Jazz Chords On Piano

by Erik Thiede on July 23, 2014

Jazz chords can sometimes be confusing at first glance. In this article, I am going to explain how jazz players usually interpret chords and pick tensions to create lush chords. Bear in mind, every musician has their own “tricks” that they use to form their jazz chords. However, there are some basic harmonic concepts that you need to understand and I’ll cover some of them in this article.

If you are looking for an instructional course on creating full jazz chords at the piano, I’d suggest the Jazz Piano Lessons membership.

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Let’s begin with a basic seventh chord for D-7. Example A is what a typical voicing of a D-7 chord might look like.

Example A

d 7 Learn Big, Rich Jazz Chords On Piano

O.K., that’s pretty simple, right? Now take a look at example B. Does this still look like a D-7 to you?

Example B

d 9 Learn Big, Rich Jazz Chords On Piano

Labeling Chords

You might look at this chord and think F Maj7 or D-9. We can rule out F Maj7 because the root is a D. However, why didn’t I label this chord D-9?

I did not label the chord as D-9 because it is common for jazz players to automatically add tensions to the chords that they are playing. Jazz players know which available tensions each of the jazz chords can utilize. Personally, I’d rather see jazz chords written as D-7 than D-9 or D-9 (add 11). I think that many (not all) pianists would agree with me because as jazz players, we are accustomed to working from a “shell”.

Basically, when I see D-7, I already know that the 9th and 11th are probably available to me. When looking at a lead sheet, especially in a low-light gig situation, I want the lead sheet to be as un-cluttered as possible.

The “Right” Tensions

You might be wondering, which tensions are the “right” tensions for a particular chord? Well, let’s go through the three basic jazz chords: Major, minor and Dominant 7th chords.

Major 7th available tensions are: 9, #11 or 6 (usually replaces the 7th)

Minor 7th available tensions: 9 and 11. 6 would replace the 7th.

Dominant 7th available tensions: b9, 9, #9, #11, b13 and 13.

Chord Type Available Tensions

Major: 9, # 11 or 6 (usually replaces the 7th)

Minor: 9 and 11. 6 would replace the 7th

Dominant: b9, 9, # 9, #11, b13 and 13

So, looking back at the D-7 chord in example B, you’ll notice that I am adding the 9th to the chord. This is just one of many different voicings that I cover in the Piano Chords bundle.

Dominant 7th Tensions

I want to draw your attention to the Dominant 7th available tensions. Once again, they are b9, 9, #9, #11, b13 and 13. Let’s go through the notes for a C7 chord.

C7 chord tones are: C-E-G-Bb

Available tensions are: Db-D-D#-F#-Ab-A

You’ll notice that the only two notes left that are not represented are F and B. F would be a sus4 and B would change the C7 to a C Maj7 chord.

I like to bring this up because remember, when you improvise, you can use any jazz chords tones or available tensions in your solo. So, on a Dominant 7th chord, there are really only two notes that you would try to avoid. This also means that when you play a Dominant 7th chord, you can add almost any note as a tension. Well, let me put it this way, you have a 10 out of 12 chance of hitting the “right” note!

The Million Dollar Question, “Why 13 and not 6?”

I have been asked this question for years! It is a difficult question to answer because it is like asking why does 2+2=4? However, I do have my explanation. Let’s take the C7 chord as an example again.

The chord tones (notes that are found in the chord and not tensions) are C-E-G-Bb for a C7 chord. The C is the root, E is the third, G is the fifth and Bb is the flatted 7th.

It is perfectly reasonable to think of D, F# and A as two, sharp four and six. However, we would call D the ninth, F# sharp eleven and A the thirteenth. You might be asking, “Why?”

Since jazz chords are predominantly formed by “stacking” thirds, we would consider the D-F# and A as being “upper structures” of the chord.

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How to Play Jazz Piano

by Erik Thiede on July 20, 2014

If you’ve always wanted to know how to play jazz piano, you’re about to get started. Jazz may be a complex musical genre, but you can play it if you master the basics first. Before you know it, you’ll have developed the skills you need to emulate jazz greats or compose your own music.

Jazz’s distinctive sound originated in the South. It’s important to understand its roots to get a feeling for how to play jazz piano. Born out of the songs of African American laborers, notably in New Orleans, Jazz owes its popularity to its unconventional rhythms, trademark chords, and its soulful style.

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While jazz music is recognizable, it is improvisational, which means changing certain aspects of a performance is encouraged. Depending on a musician’s emotions, skill level, playing style, etc., one version of a song can vary greatly from another. This allows for a good deal of creativity on your part.

How To Play Jazz Piano – The Chords

To get started, it’s a good idea for you to understand the chords used to play jazz. These particular chords go beyond the basic three note chords most budding musicians learn. The following lessons will be set in the key of C since that is an easier key to learn in than the others.

Let’s start with the sixth chord. You might see this chord

represented as C6 or Cadd6 on a chord chart. To play a C6 chord, starting with your right thumb, play the notes C-E-G-A. The A is your 6th because it is one step above the 5th note, G. Notice that we are keeping the G in the chord. In a Cadd6 chord, you would replace the G with the A. Try playing them both and listen to their subtle differences.

The next logical step is a seventh chord. When you play a C7 chord, you play the three notes C-E-G and add the C scale’s seventh note, lowered one half step. The seventh note is B, so you will add a B flat. Play the C-E-G-B flat combination and you will instantly recognize the sound.

A close relative of the seventh is the major seventh. This chord, indicated as Cmaj7 on a chord chart, has the seventh note of the scale added on to the end. In this case, it’s B. Play the C-E-G-B combination as a chord and compare it to the C7 chord.

After you have practiced playing the different chords, put them together in a progression. A progression is a series of chords. A common chord progression in jazz music is the 1-4-2-5. The numbers represent the first note of each chord as they relate to the key you are in. In the key of C, the first note of the scale (number 1) is the C. The fourth note is F, the second note is D, and the fifth note is G. So this chord progression would have the following chords, in order: C, F, D, G.

It’s not uncommon to play one or more of the chords in a minor key. For example, try playing the D as D minor, or a D minor 6th. Jazz is all about experimentation and expression, so have fun as you explore your chord options.

How To Play Jazz Piano – Adding the Bass

Now it’s time to add the bass. While you naturally have a few options, a common bass style is known as a walking bass. To perform this style, you basically play one note per beat of the measure, each note being one note from your chord. You “walk up” on the first chord and “walk down” on the second chord. Here’s a example: If your first chord is a C7, your bass could be the notes C-E-G-B flat. On the second chord, F, your bass notes might be A-F-C-A. You don’t have to play every note from the scale. The fourth note, played on the fourth beat, could be a note that transitions well into the next chord. For instance, if your third chord is D minor, your fourth note could be a C sharp.

You’ve only scratched the surface on learning how to play jazz piano, but what you’ve learned so far is enough to sound like you know what you’re doing! Practice and learn to improvise what you’ve learned. Then look for more lessons to take your skills further!

 How to Play Jazz Piano

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Learn To Play Jazz Piano and Abandon Past Traditions

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Playing Jazz Piano Sheet Music

February 2, 2014

Traditional Piano Is Beneficial Although it isn’t a strict requirement, learning traditional piano is beneficial for learning how to play jazz piano sheet music. This is largely due to the fact that jazz is “classical deviation.” The problem with learning jazz before learning traditional methods is that the beginner may learn to deviate, but might […]

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