The most common alterations you’ll find on the ii-V-I progression will be over the Dominant (V7) chord. With only slight alterations to the rootless 4-note voicings previously posted, we can cover a number of common Altered Dominants, including V7(b9, 13), V7(9, b13), and V7(b9b13). Maybe in a later post I’ll address some improvisation options over these various alterations, but for the time being, start to experiment by substituting these alterations into your major ii-V-I’s. Check out both inversions of each alteration – the voicings sound a little different with the altered note on the top of the voicing or with the altered voice in the middle of the voicing. And you can use the Drop-2 technique to quickly and easily turn these into two-handed voicings.
Using the Drop 2 technique, it’s fairly straightforward to turn the 4-note rootless LH ii-V-I voicings posted earlier into two-handed, open voicings that are great for comping behind a soloist. Below is a PDF showing four-note, Drop 2 voicings through all 12 in two inversions. Though all the keys are shown in the PDF, it’s good practice to try to generate the voicings yourself, without having to look at the sheet for all the keys. Also, even though the voicings provided on the sheet are for ii-V-I’s whose key centers are related by descending whole steps (C, Bb, Ab, etc.), it is also good to practice different key center relationships, i.e. the circle of fourths, descending half steps, randomly, etc. And it is very important to start getting some practical application as soon as possible by applying the voicings to tune you are currently practicing.
I have intended for a while to add some more jazz piano resources to the site, so I thought I would start to remedy the lack of piano info. Below is an informative handout on how to create open voicings using the Drop-2 technique. Drop 2 is a powerful (and slick!) technique that allows you to take a closed (less than an octave) voicing and turn it into an open (8ve or more) voicing. It’s a great way to take voicings you already know and stretch them further, by turning a left hand only voicing into a two-handed voicing. For example, you can take the Rootless ii-V-I voicings posted earlier on the site and turn them into two-handed Drop-2 voicings. You can also alternate Major 6th and diminished chords to harmonize a major or minor scale, a la Barry Harris. Enjoy!
Below is a transcription of excerpts from the Barry Harris Masterclass YouTube video (viewable below). Mr. Harris uses some incredible Drop-2 voicings here and some beautiful contrary motion.
Here’s the video. Behold the skill of the great Barry Harris:
I took my favorite parts from that transcription and put them through all 12 keys. These are great exercises to develop new sounds in all keys and to workout some new Drop-2 voicings.
So if we follow the progression, the next logical step after 2-note and 3-note voicings is to progress to 4-note ii-V7-I voicings. I’m headed out the door soon so I don’t have much time to write but not much explanation is required. Just as with the 3-note voicings, the first document has Major ii-Vs with key centers descending by Major 2nds and the second document has Major ii-Vs with key centers moving by the circle of fourths. The voicings are built two ways – off the 3rd and off the 7th. And, again, even though they are rootless voicings, the root is in the bass clef for demonstration purposes and can be played with the left hand to help get accustomed to the sound of the chord. If you’re playing in a situation where there’s a bass player, you can drop out the root since it will already be covered. You’ll want to practice the voicings in the right hand and the left hand so you’ll have them at the ready for a variety of musical situations.
So, you’ve practiced the 2-note ii-V7-I voicings for so long that you can play them in your sleep, and you’re wondering what’s next. Although the 2-note voicings do sound great in some contexts (it’s a nice sparse voicing to use behind a bass solo, or just to play on all fours a-la Freddie Green, to give two examples), they are a little vanilla. You can add the smallest amount of spice by adding another note – either the 6th if the voicing is built off the 7th (stacked 7th, 3rd, 6th, ascending) or adding the 9th if the voicing is build off the third (built 3rd, 7th, 9th).
Just like with the 2-note voicings, even though they’re rootless, I have added the root in the bass clef so you can practice hearing the corresponding bass notes. And just like with the 2-note voicings, you’ll want to practice them in your left hand as well as your right so you have them at your disposal to cover any number of musical situations. I’ve added two documents – they each contain the same voicings but they progress differently. The first document (immediately below) has major ii-V7-I voicings that descend by a major 2nd and the second document has voicings that progress through the circle of fifths. You can practice these voicings in endless other combinations – progressing by major thirds (a-la Giant Steps), by minor thirds (a-la Central Park West) or just picking key centers at random to test your knowledge. Happy practicing!
I’ve been wanting to add some instructional beginning jazz piano posts and things have slowed down a bit so I’m getting a chance to add some materials. I suppose my intention is for these blurbs to act as a supplement to a good teacher and certainly not a complete method. Those interested in a good method book should check out Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Piano Book” – it’s pretty solid, but is certainly no substitute for a good teacher. Well, with no further ado-
The 2-5-1… the ii-V7-I… however you care to notate it, the progression is the basic building block of jazz, or at least of many classic jazz standards (notably, most of the “Great American Songbook”). I’m not going to get into a theory lesson on modes (Dorian, Mixolydian, Ionian, and their relative functions – maybe in another post) and am going to assume a basic knowledge of jazz theory.
So when you think about chord voicings for a ii-V7-I progression, there are two important things to keep in mind – the chord qualities, and your role as a pianist. For a beginning pianist, the majority of the time you will be playing in a small group or a big band with a bass player, so in these scenarios you can drop the root out of your voicings since the bass player will have it covered. In a Major ii-V7-I progression you’re dealing with three different chord qualities – Major 7th, Dominant 7th , and minor 7th. All three of these chord qualities share the same 5th and since this note doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the chord, this note can be sacrificed as well.
So what does this leave you with? The 3rd and 7th. Just two notes can define a chord in a simple, no-frills voicing and when you distill a 2-5-1 into two-note voicings, an interesting trend emerges – you can very clearly see/hear the half-step resolutions between the three chords. Check out how the 7th of the minor ii chord resolves down a half step to the 3rd of the Dominant V chord, and then how the 7th of the Dominant chord resolves down a half step to the 3rd of the Major I chord. Not only do these voicings function very well in practical applications, they also serve as a great exercise in training your ear to “hear” the way a 2-5-1 progression resolves.
You’ll notice that I call these “Rootless” 2-5-1 voicings but the music below has the root of each of these chords in the left hand. There are a multitude of ways in which you can practice this exercise and I’ll outline a few and their functions.
1) Practice the sheet as is, with left hand playing the bass notes – if you have these voicings available in your right hand, you can play bass in the left an accompany an instrumentalist/vocalist without a bass player
2) Leave the bass notes out and practice the treble clef part with your left hand – having these voicings available in your left hand allows you to accompany yourself when playing a solo or when playing with a trio. It will also allow you to build extensions off these voicings later.
Also, though it can be cumbersome, it is immensely helpful to read the names of the chords out loud as you play them. This helps to ensure that you are not just memorizing patterns but learning chord types and will allow for easier recall of the respective voicing when you see a chord symbol. This is also a great exercise for instrumentalists who have some familiarity with the piano.