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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds I want to investigate our left hand voicings with C minor 7 - well with minor sevenths in general - but we take C as our first example, our basic example. Now we already know that we’ve got third-based voicings. So if we add to C minor 7 the ninth and include that in our inversion then we have the first inversion and the third inversion, and with it the Dorian scale — the Dorian mode. Now I want to investigate fourth-based voicings. So let’s just go up in perfect fourths starting from C. So if we take C, — we get F, we get B flat — then that is a fourth-based voicing for C minor 7.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds If we move it all up a tone, so is that. If we stay on the scale and move our notes up we get that chord, which I want to look at separately. The next chord is … Up a tone … Up a tone … Up a tone in the scale, well moving it up in the scale, we get this chord which I want to look at separately. Now of those chords probably the most important is the one F, B flat, E flat. Why? Well for a start it’s got the 10th, or the minor 3rd in it, telling us it’s a minor chord. Then it’s got the B flat in it, telling us it’s a minor 7th.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds The it has the 4th in it — or the 11th if you want to think that high up. Now that’s a bit strange because if we go back to C major 7 then,

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds as we said, all the notes are in at different levels: some notes are more important than others. We saw the third was a very important note for telling us that it’s a major sound. You can finish, probably, a tune in C major 7 on any note except the fourth - except F. There’s the second, third, fifth, sixth - yes that works, the major seventh, and then obviously the octave. But the one note that doesn’t work is … Some authors, when they’re putting down the scales that go with particular chords in jazz, actually put brackets around F saying that you can’t hammer it, that you can’t end up (playing) phrases on it.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds It’s rather like the B natural that we had for the full blues scale: it has to be used with caution - used as a passing note to get to the C or to get to the B flat. Similarly, use that passing note to get to the E or to get to the G. So the fourth is usually what some people call an “avoid” note - it should only be used with caution.

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 seconds When we get to the minor, we’re not avoiding it, we’re actually putting it in the chord and the strange thing about using fourth note voicings in the minor is that it puts all the notes of the scale on a much similar footing - they’re more or less all equivalent. Of course, the thing is that they’re still C-based chords, so C still plays a dominant role, and with it you’re going to get the G that tells you it’s the 5th. But, more or less, every other note has the same status. In particular, you could, if you wanted to, end something quite successfully on the 4th.

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds This more or less open sound - I think of it as a kind of open sound - ambiguous sound - where you can hear all the tonalities on a much more equal footing. Because of that, the chords that you use in the left hand, when you’re using this fourth-based voicing, can slip around quite successfully. For example … So those are all the perfect fourth-based voicings and we do indeed - although, as I say, I have a preference for that particular voicing out of all of them because it has the third and the seventh in it - the others can all be used equally well. Which brings us to these two chords that I have left out.

Skip to 5 minutes and 18 seconds That’s this chord here … because it’s not a perfect fourth. If I were to go up the scale from E flat major I get to A flat as the fourth. A natural is therefor a sharpened fourth - it’s not a perfect fourth chord although there are fourths

Skip to 5 minutes and 36 seconds involved: that’s a perfect fourth because D is the fourth of the A major scale. Now we have met this before, as you know. This is our old friend F7 - thirteenth voicing. So here we come across the idea of having

Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds one chord that has two quite distinct functions: it can be a blues in F, or it can be something in C minor. Very often it’s used with a thickening note, like a G, or an even thicker sound which includes the fourth as well.

Skip to 6 minutes and 19 seconds But we’re only interested in the basic voicings at the moment - and that’s a basic voicing for C minor. Now you can use it with these other perfect fourth voicings, but is has a certain different colour. Whereas these are kind of like interchangeable, when you get to this one it has a different texture, a different piquancy - if I can use that word, because of that sharpened fourth.

Skip to 6 minutes and 50 seconds Similarly the other chord we left out was this, which again is not a perfect fourth because it has an E flat and an A in it which is a sharpened fourth. I’ve very rarely seen that chord used and I’ve very rarely used it myself. So, in some sense, it has a lesser status than this. This chord is quite important and it does crop up quite a lot when you are in C minor. Sometimes people signal it by calling it C minor 6, because it’s got the sixth in it.

Skip to 7 minutes and 27 seconds I mean it’s very similar to C69 - that’s how I am going to refer to it as C minor 69 - because it’s got the sixth and ninth in but, of course, we’ve got the minor third in. So it’s a C minor 69. And sometimes people signal it is as C minor 13; although, strictly speaking, you’d expect - if that’s the root - you would expect the thirteenth to be up here, but meaning a chord with a sixth in it at some level anyway, as opposed to that. We will play those chords for C minor but they do have a different kind of feel to them - flavour to them.

Skip to 8 minutes and 8 seconds They, in a sense, stop all the notes being quite so equal to each other in their status. They tend to make it more C-rooted somehow — at least to my ear.

Skip to 8 minutes and 22 seconds Then finally, before we try this with our playalong: how are these chords used? It was McCoy Tyner who really did, I suppose, bring fourth voicings into jazz most effectively. He had an album, trio album, I can’t remember it’s name now, I think it was called “Breaking Fourth” but he uses fourths in that. Of course, the fourth type sound was instrumental in John Coltrane’s classic quartet, giving that kind of mournful, soulful sound, because that is a kind of … more darker colour than, obviously, major sevenths.

Skip to 9 minutes and 15 seconds McCoy Tyner would often do this kind of vamping in the left hand which consists of playing the root and fifth, and then one of these fourth voicings - sometimes it would be like this … 1,2,1,2,3,4. Or he would slip the chord up like this … 1,2,1,2,3,4. You get this sound … And you can go further of course …

Skip to 9 minutes and 59 seconds That’s a bit low in the key of C but already by D, I think, you would probably use that lower formation. And, again, you can use what we are gong to call the minor 69 - that’s allowed - but I think it does give it a different flavour. Right, so let’s have a go at using these chords with a playalong.

Fourth based minor seventh chords and McCoy Tyner vamping

We look at fourth based minor seventh chords and, in particular, its use in McCoy Tyner vamping.

You can download the fourth-based voicings for Cm7 in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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Learn Jazz Piano: II. Improvising on Jazz Standards

Goldsmiths, University of London