Jazz Chord Essentials – Shell voicings

I thought I’d make this 3rd lesson on Jazz voicings about a simple reduced way of playing chords that then also lends it self very well to situations where you need to play the bass. Being simple and compact also makes it very easy to extend so a lot of things can be build from them. As I demonstrate in the video: full chords with extensions, bass lines. They are also useful for playing bossa novas and sambas as well as typical Freddie Green style 4 to the bar stuff.

Let’s first have a look at how shell voicings are constructed. A shell voicing is the bare necessities version of a jazz chord, so the chord is reduced to three notes. The most defining notes of a chord would be:

  • The Root (what chord is it)
  • The Third (is it major or minor)
  • The Seventh (major/minor/6th)

For voice-leading purposes I’ll make two different sorts of shell voicings. Both have the chord (3rd and 7th) on the 3rd and 4th string and the root is in one variation on the 5th string, in the other one it is on the 6th string. There are rules for voice-leading, but the essence is that if you don’t have to go to the closest note in the next chord when going from one chord to the next. Setting the chords up like this makes it easy to stay in one place with the chord and move the root a 4th or a 5th (which are the most common changes). You will also notice that I am calling the 7th chord m7(b5) even if it does not contain the flatted 5th, so I am naming them according to the key. I do that in the video too.

Jazz Chord Essentials - Shell voicings graphics  - ex 1
Jazz Chord Essentials - Shell voicings graphics  - ex 2

As usual the best way to learn it is to put it through a song as I do in the video, but here are a few examples on a turnaround in C.

Jazz Chord Essentials - Shell voicings graphics  - ex 3
Jazz Chord Essentials - Shell voicings graphics  - ex 4

One of the ways I use shell voicings is to use them as a basis and then add extensions or melody notes on top like this:

You might notice that especially the sets with the root on the 6th string tend to become drop3 voicings when you add extensions.  And if you watch the video you’ll see several applications of these kinds of chords in different styles.

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Here are the examples as a pdf: Jazz Chord Essentials – Shell voicings

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