The best way to learn something new is to build on things that you already know. That way it is much easier to really get into your playing and more likely that you get something out of it.
That is how this exercise works and it is a great way to learn some very useful and flexible jazz chords that you can do really amazing things with.
And of course, you can also explore some that sound great and are a little more tricky to play.
Basic Jazz Chords
Let’s start with these basic voicings for a II V I and then work out how to create a lot more chords, and more importantly, chords that you can add color and embellishments to.
If we turn them into rootless voicings by removing the bass note then you get
Notice that the Dm7 voicing is, in fact, an F major triad.
And you can play Dm7 on the same string set in 3 ways by playing the different inversions of the F major triad:
And if you look at the II V I then you can see that all that is changing is a single note, C moves to B. So you can create II Vs for all the Dm7 chords by finding the C and then changing it to B:
Already here there might be G7 chord voicings that you don’t use that often, and we are only just getting started! Let’s make them complete II V I’s by adding the Em triads that are used for Cmaj7:
Exercises To Discover New Things
Usually, when you think of exercises, and maybe even practice, then it is about drilling scales and arpeggios with a metronome. Of course, you need stuff like that as well, but it is very useful to also have exercises that help you discover new things. Here, you start with chords that you know and play, and then you develop more options from that, and you can do this with any voicing or chord progression, and as you will see then we can add a lot of beautiful colors to these chords. This is not about repeating material 100s of times, it is about discovering things that sound great and then using that.
Adding More Colors And Tricks
The first thing you can do is make the G7 a G7(b9), so that it has more tension and adds more energy to the progression. This is really just lowering the A a half step to Ab:
and then you can take that through the inversions as well.
Notice that I am also adding a variation to the Cmaj7 chords because I move the 5th up to the 13th for all of them. You could also try to move it down to the #11
But I’ll let you explore that by yourself. For me, it is very important to think of chords as things you can change, not static grips so that you have some freedom to create the sound that you want from some basic chord symbols.
The Advantage of Rootless Voicings and Chromatic Voice-leading
A very common thing to play on a tonic chord like the Cmaj7 is to from the maj7th down to the maj6th in half-steps like this:
When I am playing this then that is not that difficult to do with these 3-note voicings, but if I was playing with the root then that is a very different story.
So playing with the 3-note chords adds quite a lot of flexibility or options for what you can do when playing chords. Which, as you will see, is where all the fun stuff really starts to come up.
When I was in the first few years of my study at the conservatory, then most of the gigs that I did were these long 3-4 hour standard gigs comping singers. Depending on the singer then everything from 1/3 to 1/2 of the songs was ballads. This can get a bit boring, but it is the perfect place to also develop voicings and voice-leading like this. This also helped keep it interesting not only for me but also for the rhythm section while the soloist was still happy (so that I didn’t get fired)
Jazz Chord Heaven!
Let’s try to take that a bit further, so you can start to see all the things that are possible, just starting with those 3 basic Jazz chords.
You have the 7th to 6th thing and you can also work with the 11th on the minor chord. Try to pay attention to how the sound changes when the movement is in different parts of the chords.
What is happening here is often referred to as inner-voice movement, and it is a beautiful way to embellish chords and add some interesting twists and turns that keep the harmony flowing in a nice way.
You also want to notice that I don’t rely on a static fingering for the chords, but instead try to find a solution that helps me play what I want to play. That can be really useful to keep in mind so that you are not stuck with only being able to play a chord in one way.
You can of course also take ideas that start with another inversion like this one:
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