This session is called Chord Theory and, as the title suggests, there’s a fair amount of theory in here and not so much practical application. But the good news is that this is probably the last heavily theoretical session. It’s much more to do with playing, coming up in the later sessions. The other good news is that a lot of it, at least, we’ve met before. So it’s a question of putting it together - putting it into some more coherent framework.
This course is concentrated on playing in voiced position - how you play jazz piano with a rhythm section or, if you’re playing on your own, with a playalong. Although I do say something about playing in root position, I don’t say a lot about it because there is a lot to say. Take the very first chord we are going to play C major7 - supposing the piece finishes in C major7 - then there’s just so many ways I can play C major7.
If it’s a final chord, then I might elaborate it with
in some particular performance, and if I did it in a different performance I’d probably use different clusters of notes at the end. So there’s more that one can say about playing in root position, which is why I’ve avoided it because I want to really, kind of, simplify things enough so that you can make clear progress. However, I will include the basic chord in root position and I will certainly say something about a chord in root position if it’s a voicing we are going to use or it’s, what I call, “Ray’s chord”, which I use a lot in introductions to tunes.
Let’s make a start. C major7 - of course, you say the same things for all the other keys as well, but just to focus ideas we’ll talk about C-rooted chords. C major 7 is the root, the major third, the fifth and the major seventh with the Ionian scale over the top. If you take inversion of this - first inversion, second inversion, third inversion - then that is one of the voicings that we use. I think of it, very often, as a Bill Evans voicing, because it has that minor second crunch in it, which is so characteristic of a lot of his playing. Then we have another one. The first one is built out of thirds.
We have another one which is built out of fourths - the 6/9 shape. That’s the root, that’s the third, that the sixth and that’s the ninth, and there’s fourths between those notes.
Again, why do we have 2 chords, typically? I mean 90 per cent of our playing in voiced position is going to make use of these chords. We have 2 because, first of all, depending on the key, you don’t want the chord to be too high or too low. If it’s too high, you force the right hand up too high - the right hand usually plays the tune and the improvisation. If it’s too low then it’s muddy and unusable. So it’s partly to do with the position on the piano - we want all our chords to be, roughly speaking, in this area.
Secondly, it’s to do with chord sequences - namely if we play a sequence of chords, generally speaking, we don’t want the hand jumping all over the place - the left hand jumping all over the place. We want the left hand (playing) voiced chords which are close to each other. There will be periods when we use a position which is higher up the piano and other times when we use positions which are lower down the piano but, generally speaking, we want chords - in chord sequences - voicings which are close to each other. I’m only going to give you in this the basic voicing and not the thickening.
You can, for example, thicken that easily by letting the third finger play the ninth. The ninth is just about the most important note in a voicing - it’s in most chords. Funnily enough, it isn’t in this chord, but we can add it by putting the ninth in there. We can actually use the thumb, at least in this key, to play the sixth as well if we want to, but that’s our basic chord. Similarly, if we want to thicken this we could add the fifth, and we could add the root or the octave - depending on how you look at it. We could add the fourth, but it doesn’t really work for a major seventh.
It sort of undermines the sound of the major seventh.
Rooted: here’s one version of the chord where we’re playing an open seventh in the left hand and a triad in the right hand. It’s got all the notes of the major seventh in. I think a better way to play it would be to include the C in the middle. Why? Because you know that when we play chords in root position we often use our voiced chords, but they’re shared between the 2 hands. If you include the C you’ll see that we’ve got our third inversion chord in there, but the top 2 notes are played by the right hand and the bottom 2 notes are played in the left hand.
Similarly, we could use the 6/9 and, indeed, we do if we play Ray’s chord a nicely balanced chord (and a third at the bottom) across the piano. OK, the major seventh.
The minor seventh: well to get to the minor seventh we flatten the third, we flatten the seventh - same with the scale
Dorian mode - B flat major rooted on C. Now if we include the ninth and take the first inversion then that’s one of the chords we use - one of the voicings we use for C minor7. Some people call it C minor9. I don’t really make that distiction, since most chords have a ninth in it. I prefer just the basic name C minor7, but with an implication that there’s a ninth in there. That’s the first inversion. If we keep going we get the second inversion and then we get the third inversion, and that’s the other voicing that we use. Again, we see that Bill Evan’s minor second crunch in the middle.
Those are third based chords. What about fourth based chords? Well we have this MCoy Tyner-type chord which is a fourth chord - a fourth between them. One of the things about the minor scale - the Dorian mode - is that the notes are much more on an equal footing.
If you take a major scale then notes have relative importance: the root’s clearly important, the major third’s important, the fifth - and so on. When you play a minor scale the notes tend to come much more on an equal footing and, because of that, we can move chords about within the scale quite happily. So if I take that chord and move it up on the scale I get that chord. That’s why I’ve written “etc.” because there’s the other fourth chords as well. Staying on the scale all those are allowable, although that tends to be probably the most frequently used.
Then, in terms of rooted chords, we start off with our major chord and we flatten the third and the seventh, we get that chord. If we wanted to include a voiced chord in the middle then we can include the ninth.
Looking at Ray’s chord - it hasn’t got a seventh in it, so we just flatten the third, but we could raise the sixth to the seventh if we wanted to. Then there’s one other chord which we know about
the “So What” chord. That’s D minor7. If we take it down a tone we get that chord the “So What” chord. The thing about the So What chord is that you can move it up and down parallel to itself and it sounds particularly good. This mechanism is called “parallelism”
moving a chord parallel to itself - the “So What” chord. Now we come to the third of our chords - the seventh. Some authors call it the dominant seventh. But if you play a blues there’s nothing dominant about it in this context. It is the key chord of jazz. So I prefer to call it the seventh - the jazz seventh - if you want to. It’s the major seventh where you flatten the seventh, but leave the third alone. If we take the first inversion using the ninth you get that chord, and we don’t use that, as you know, we drop out the fifth. Why? I don’t know - it’s a convention.
You could say that if you include the fifth it just sounds a bit too consonant. But anyway, that’s mostly how the ninth is played, if you call it the ninth. If we want to thicken it then we can put in the sixth. I must say I mostly, probably myself, use 4 note chords. I don’t always, but I mostly use a, sort of, consistent level of thickening, but there are other contexts where you want to use less or even more notes. As I said, you can add the fifth, you can add the octave - if you think of the chord rooted up there - but the basic chord is the ninth - it’s like that. That’s a third based chord.
Our fourth based chord is our friend the thirteenth: that’s the seventh, the third an octave higher - the tenth - and the sixth an octave higher - the thirteenth. It has fourths between them. Then the way I suggest you get them is you have a feel for the shape of the thirteenth and you put the little finger - the fifth finger - a tone below the root. So if you want F 13 you go a tone below to E flat and you play the thirteenth shape. If we take our standard major seventh in root position, then we just flatten the seventh. If we wanted to include the thirteenth, we could do that.
If we wanted Ray’s chord, we would take this chord - and maybe include the seventh, which we need to in order to do our which we’re going to talk about later - in a minute. Well, we’re going to talk about it now, because we are going to talk about the suspended fourth in the context of the seventh.
We could talk about the suspended fourth in the context of the minor seventh, but it’s not really a different issue, because if I take C minor7 and take the fourth - F - it’s not really - as I said all the notes tend to be rather on the same level - it’s not really a discordant note, which it is in the major seventh scale - it needs some sort of resolution. We’ll talk about major sus chords later on in this session. I’m mostly interested in the seventh and if I want to use the suspended fourth I just raise the third to the fourth. So that’s our standard ninth shape. Thicken it if you want to.
If we take our thirteenth shape, we raise the third to the fourth we get that chord, which sound a little bit thin, so we usually include the ninth in it and we can add other notes if we want to. The scale that goes with it is still the seventh scale - Mixolydian mode - but you’ll often see it presented with the E in parentheses, because you don’t want to hammer it. But actually when I’m playing on a sus
a sus chord, I certainly include the third, I just usually don’t end a phrase on it. In terms of our seventh chord we just raise the third to the fourth. In terms of Ray’s chord, we raise the third to the fourth
That’s definitely the voicing that I make a lot of use of - well it’s not really a voicing, it’s a rooted chord. Next is the major-minor seventh, which I sometimes get confused and call the minor-major seventh - sorry if I’ve done that. (No, the other way round: minor-major is correct) It’s a minor seventh but you majorise the seventh - you take the minor seventh and you majorise it. The scale that goes with it is the melodic minor ascending. So if we take our standard minor seventh chord, then all we do is naturalise the seventh. If we take our standard third inversion chord, then all we do is majorise the seventh.
If we take our standard minor chord, all we do is majorise the seventh. It sound a little bit unwieldy. Maybe we can put a ninth in to give it a little more concordancy.
Finally, in this first section, the seventh with a flattened ninth. So we take the ninth and we flatten it. We take out ninth shape and replace it with the flattened ninth. As you know that has the diminished (scale) that derives from the flattened ninth. That’s the scale that goes over it. You can root it on C if you want to. The thirteenth shape doesn’t have a ninth in it, but we can thicken it with a ninth and then if we do want the flattened ninth we flatten the ninth. Notice it’s got a diminished, sort of, bottom to it and a major seventh top to it. We’ll see another application of this a bit later. This is the (scale)
The seventh and the flattened ninth - that thirteenth voicing, as I’ll call it. Our basic chord - if we take our basic chord for the seventh and add a ninth in it - if we add a ninth and flatten it then we get that sound.