Tag Archives: shell voicings guitar

Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:

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The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.

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Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:

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An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.

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But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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3 Ways To Make Simple Jazz Chords Sound Amazing

Few things in the world sound as great as Jazz Chords, but learning a few grips doesn’t mean that you get them to sound right, so in this video, I will show you some very simple Jazz chords, and then show you how you make them sound great in actual songs because I have a few easy tricks to do that which are effective when it comes to the important things: rhythm, phrasing and sound.

The First Jazz Chords To Learn

With this simple Jazz chord type, you can do everything that you need to do with Jazz chords when it comes to spelling out the harmony, rhythm voice-leading, bass movement, and chromaticism.

I am of course talking about Shell-voicings. These 3- note chords:

A shell-voicing has a root which is usually on the 5th or 6th string

and then the 3rd and 7th of the chord on 3rd and 4th string.

You have a version with the root on the 5th string and one with the root on the 6th string.

So for each of these, you can play a basic II V I in two positions.

and higher on the neck:

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As you probably noticed, this way of playing chords leaves out the 5th but that is something you can use, you’ll see that later.

Split Up The Chord!

What we as Jazz guitarists often forget is that you don’t have to play chords with all the notes at the same time.

Instead, you can use that shell-voicings naturally have two layers: Bass and chords.

You can play like this with a pick, but it is easier to get it to sound right if you play with your fingers.

This opens up for a lot of options in terms of rhythm, and later I’ll show you a great variation of this that goes even further, but first check out how great it sounds on Autumn Leaves:

More Bass Notes?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the video the shell-voicings leave out the 5th, but it is also an option to play the 5th instead of the root, and that can sound great, so for Dm7 you go from the basic version

And all that you do is just move a finger to another string.

This works great, especially for II Vs, even when I am only using one variation of them. Check out how it sounds on There Will Never Be Another You:

Playing the chords like this is a great way to start working towards walking bass lines, but I will get to that later. You probably noticed that I am only using this for the 5th string version, but you can do that for the 6th string bass note chords as well, it is just a bit more work so maybe you want to add those later:

Like this, you have a way to add rhythm to the chords, and voice-leading, and some bass movement is taken care of, and I’ll level that up the bass part in a bit. You can also add some great movement and surprising sounds with chromatic chords, which is surprisingly simple!

No-Theory Passing Chords

The chromatic part of Jazz is often hidden in a lot of music theory and with all sorts of explanations like secondary tritone substitutions, harmonized basslines, reharmonized dim chords, and stuff like that, but you don’t need to make it that complicated!

The point of the chromatic chords is just to create some tension that then resolves on the next chord,

and that just means that you can create a chromatic chord by moving a chord a half step up or down,

so for the first four bars of Sonny Rollins’ Pent Up House I could use this G#m7 to lead to Am7

and maybe Eb7 to resolve down to D7.

Of course, I am not really thinking about what chord it is as much as just shifting up or down a fret. Check out how great that sounds, also adding a bit of bass movement:

Let’s add a bit of walking bass as well.

Take A Walk!

You can build this coming from what I already covered using the 5th of the chord as an alternative bass note, so if we start with something like this using Autumn Leaves: 

Then you have two of the 4 notes you need per bar simply by using the root and the 5th. Now adding notes is just a matter of adding chord tones, scale notes, or leading notes, and here the emphasis is mostly on making it playable.

 A bonus is that often the chromatic leading notes in the bass also automatically  become great chromatic passing chords:

Adding Color and Extensions

As you can hear a lot is going on, but it is all pretty logical and follows the stuff I already covered. The type of things that I covered in this video, but I am not talking about how you also can add extensions and colors to the chords, turning them into melodies and even chord melody and chord solos. That is what I cover in this video following some solid advice from Joe Pass, so that is the next thing you want to check out.

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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Satin Doll – Easy Jazz Chords (and a little beyond)

The Ellington/Strayhorn tune Satin Doll is a standard that you need to have in your repertoire. It is also a great standard if you want to work on some easy jazz chords and playing II V progressions, since the progression is mostly made up of one bar II Vs.

In this lesson I am going to go over two sets of easy jazz chords that you can use to comp Satin Doll, namely two versions of shell-voicings. They work really well for Freddie Green rhythm guitar, but are also a great place to start and something that you can build a lot on. This is what I demonstrate with an example at the end of the video adding a lot more color and melodic material to the way I comp it.

The Song and the Form

When learning a song like Satin Doll it is extremely useful to also take the form into consideration. In this case Satin Doll is a 32 bar AABA form.

If you realize that it is an AABA then you also realize that you only need to know the A and the B parts by heart to know the entire progression.

A II V is one unit

Another thing that is very practical is to think of the II V progressions as one thing. Most of the progressions in Satin Doll are one bar II V progressions and by thinking of those as one progression you make it a lot easier to both play and remember.

Shell Voicings for Satin Doll

A Shell voicing is a chord voicing containing the root, 3rd and 7th of the chord.

In Jazz harmony this is enough to spell out the color and the function of the chord most of the time and is a great way to play the basic progression.

Shell voicings are also very useful as a starting point where you can add more melodic material on top in terms of other chord tones or extensions.

In example 1 I have written out the first A part played with shell voicings around fret 10:

First A – Shell Voicings

Notice that there are two different sets of II V voicings used: One with the m7 root on the 6th string and the other with the m7 root on the 5th string.

The Bridge in the same position

Now that we have an A-part covered then the next thing to sort out is the bridge:

The 2nd set of voicings

A good way to expand the options is to take a look at what the A-part might be with the other II V set. 

This is shown in example 3:

For practical reasons I have the same chords in use in the turnaround. After all music is not an exact science…

Adding Variation and Melody chords

The next step is to start expanding the voicings. The way I am going to do that is by taking a shell-voicing and add extensions on top of it.

For the Dm7 and G7 voicings in the 10th fret this would be:

For the other II V set we have these options

Putting the variations to use

To get used to improvising with this material it can be a good idea to first just improvise some melodies using a single II V as I do in the video.

After this you can also start making exercises such as this:

Here I am playing the chords on 1 and 3 and then adding an extra melody note in between. The goal is to add a strong melody on top of the chords.

Shell-voicings for Chord Melody

If you want to use this material in chord melody arrangements then you can check out this WebStore lesson on Chord Melody arranging:

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How To Play A Harmonized Bass Line On A Blues

A Harmonized Bass Line is a great way to create a groove moving comp that clearly reflects the harmony and has a lot of movement. In this video I am going to show you how I play a harmonized bass line on a Bb Blues, and also go over the shell voicings and spread triads that you need to create your own.

Playing Harmonized bass lines is often associated with Jim Hall, especially from his comping of Bill Evans, and it is a great way of comping to have in your vocabulary. It works especially well if you are comping in a duo setting since it is really full and also lays down a solid groove.

Building a chord vocabulary

Before I start breaking down the harmonized bassline example I think it makes sense to just do a few exercises to build a chord vocabulart.

When you play harmonized bass lines then most of the time it is going to be with 3 note voicings and most of those are either Shell voicings or open voiced triads.

Shell voicings with the chord on the D and G strings are found in two variations. One with the root on the 6th string and one with the root on the 5th string.

Since this is a Bb blues I have chosen to use the scale that goes with a Bb7, namely Eb major for these exercises.

This first example is with the root on the 6th string

And the same exercise with the root on the 5th string.

Spread Triads

Another common voicing is the open-voiced or spread triad. This way of playing triads adds larger intervals to the structure. In this case it makes them sit well in the voice-leading when they are mixed with shell-voicings.

Harmonized Bass Line on a Blues

In this part of the lesson I will analyze the Harmonized bass line example.

The first bar is a very simple and common way to walk up on a dominant. The first chord is a Bb7 shell-voicing which is followed by a series of 1st inversion spread triads. This takes us up to the IV chord Eb7.

The second bar is another standard solution. I play Eb7 on beats 1 and 3 and a leading chord for Eb7 on beat 2, in this case a D7. On beat 4 I have a B7 as a leading chord to the Bb7 in the next bar. This happens again in bar 5, 6 and 10.

Having a leading chord on beat 4 is very common and nice way to create a natural flow.

Bar 3 is a bassline that is in fact harmonizing the Bb major triad and adding a leading chord on beat 4. This also happens in bar 7.

Bar 4 is also a very common solution to a quic II V progression. The basic chords, Fm7 and Bb7 are found on beats 1 and 3. On beat 2 I use a B7 to lead to Bb7 and beat 4 is an E7 to lead to Eb7. This same solution is used in bar 8 and bar 12. The progression in bar 11 is not a II V but the approach with leading chords is the same.

The Cm7 bar is using a diatonic walk up, so the Cm7 is part of a II V I in Bb major and the bass line walks up the scale with Cm7, Dm7 and Ebmaj7 shell voicings. The E7 on beat 4 is there as a leading chord for F7.

How to get Harmonized Bass lines into your playing

Working with this approach you should check out some of the ways I move between chords. Maybe make some variations on the Bb blues and then try to construct your own harmonized bass lines on a song or standard that you already know well.

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Harmonized Bass Line on a Blues

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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

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/148539057″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Jazz Chord Essentials - Shell voicings graphics  - ex 2

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/148539039″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/148539160″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/148539069″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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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