Herbie Hancock Voicing = Awesome Huge Arpeggio on Guitar

The amount of notes and colors that you can add to chords on piano is always making guitar players jealous. But in this Herbie Hancock Guitar Lesson I am going to take the Herbie Hancock Voicing for a m11 chord and show how you can transform it into a great arpeggio with a huge range and a lot of nice colors. In the process you also get a Herbie Hancock Guitar Chord that you can use for maj7 chords or m11 chords and taking this further to create some other arpeggios and chord voicings for other chords.

Learning things from Piano or other instruments

This lesson is as much about applying material from piano than it is about this specific voicing.

Learning and using material from other instruments is a very important part of Jazz. Jazz is a genre that is not dominated by one type of instrument, and different instruments have a leading role throughout Jazz history, just look at the shift from Alto to Tenor with Parker to Coltrane. The guitar is a little late to the game even if it has gradually become one of the most influential instruments in Jazz since the 1970’s.

The Herbie Hancock m11 voicing

The Herbie Hancock voicing can be seen as a poly chord. If you play it on piano then the left hand is playing an Am triad (as a spread triad) and the right hand is playing a 2nd inversion G major triad.

This gives us these pitches:


Which is an Am7(9,11) chord.

The chord is shown in example 1 both as a complete 6 note chord and a more playable version that leaves out the root.

Construction of the Piano Voicing

The best way to understand this is to look at it as consisting of two parts (similar to left and right hand on the piano)

The lower part is this Am spread triad or open-voiced triad. 

And the upper part, a G major triad.

Turning the voicing into an arpeggio

While it is difficult to really play this chord on the guitar it is very possible to turn it into an arpeggio and use it as an interesting melody with a large range.

The easiest way to do that is probably to play it one note per string, as shown below in example 4.  I have added an extra D on top because I like the sound of it.

Putting the Herbie Hancock Arpeggio to use

Now that we have a great Am7 arpeggio it is easy to put it to use in a II V I in G major like this:

Creating more Arpeggios and Chords

The first thing to try todo to create some more variations of the arpeggio is probably to understand it as a part of a scale. This allows us to move it around as a diatonic structure and hopefully find some other great sound and playable arpeggios.

In doing so then it makes sense to start with the lower part. Here are the 3 string versions of the open-voiced triads. With this I think the low and the high G major are both a bit tricky, but it depends on how you sit and your guitar.

Diatonic Transposition #1 – Cmaj7(#11) chord

The first thing to try is to move up the arpeggio a diatonic 3rd. This is shown in Example 7.

This yields a Cmaj7(9#11): C G E F# B D

and an interesting Cmaj7(9#11) chord voicing (2nd half of the 1st bar)

Diatonic Transposition #2 – D7(#11) chord

Repeating this process and moving it up to D7. When you do that strictly in the scale you have a D7 with an 11, a G and that is not the nicest note to have on a D7. One way to fix this is to make it a #11. Changing the G into a G# gives us this arpeggio and another interesting new chord voicing (at least I didn’t know it)

Changing the Arpeggio and making it more playable

The lower part of the arpeggio is very difficult to play, so it makes sense to try to change that for another structure. Similar to the Kenny Barron voicing the lower part could be a quintal chord (also known as a stack of 5ths)

Implementing this change on the Cmaj7 and using an Esus4 triad as an upper-structure yields this arpeggio:

And a similar idea using the D quintal arpeggio and an F#dim(sus4) arpeggio creates this arpeggio:

Explore more and put it to use

I hope you can take this idea and use it in your own playing. Try to mess around with different arpeggio and chord ideas and let us know what you come up with either here or on the YouTube video!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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