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Voiced sevenths

3.2 Voiced sevenths
So we’re going to learn principally to play in voiced position. So what is a voiced chord for the blues? I’m going to show you two.
Take our standard seventh chord: the root, the major third, the fifth and the minor seventh. This chord is built out of thirds. Let’s continue building it out of thirds. If we add a third above B flat we get the note D - the ninth. Let me play that ninth in the left hand, so I’ll move the chord up to here. It’s sort of like a first inversion, but where you use the ninth as well. Our first chord consists of this shape, but without the G. You can play the G, but it sound better generally not to have the G in it. You may say “Why? ”.
Remember what I said earlier: that jazz is an aural tradition. One hears the sound of a musician you like and you try copy it. Jazz piano, I guess modern jazz piano, one of the key figures would be Bud Powell and then a great populariser was Oscar Peterson, but really the person who codified jazz piano and, in particular, codified voicings I think would be Bill Evans. So Bill Evans would typically play C7 with this particular voicing and not with a G in it. It just too consonant somehow. So I am going to call that the ninth version of C7. I’m going to play it with the fingering 5,2,1.
You can use other fingerings, but we’re going to see later that we’re going to use these other remaining fingers for thickening. I may want to play a thicker version of C7 like this. But for the moment 5,2,1. So in a C blues we also need F7 - the third, the seventh, the ninth - and G7 - the third, the seventh, the ninth. That’s our first chord. It’s essentially built out of thirds, although one of the thirds is missing. What is it that really defines C7? You imagine that the root is given by the bass player, or implied by the bass player. The fifth, as we’ve said isn’t really needed, it’s there. What’s the thing that characterises the chord?
The answer is: it’s the major third and the minor seventh - the flattened seventh. In this chord, the ninth, we’ve got the third at the bottom and the seventh above it. What about if we do it the other way round? We get that. That’s not a chord that is used because, when you think about it, there’s a fourth between those two — the B flat and the E. The natural thing to do is to extend it to play a fourth here and this indeed is a frequently used shape for the blues. If we think of this as the root and this as the seventh, this the third an octave higher — which is the tenth,
then this is the thirteenth: 8,9,10,11,12,13. If you like it’s the sixth an octave higher, which is the thirteenth. This is our other chord and we will refer to it as the thirteenth shape for C7, sometimes C13. So that’s it in C. If we want it in F - if we have it up there it is too high - basically we are going to be playing chords in this area. We don’t want it too low, because you get a muddy sound. You don’t want it too high, because you get a thin sound and it will get in the way of the right hand.
So F7 therefore consists of the seventh, the tenth (or the third), the thirteenth (or the sixth — an octave higher) and G7 similarly. There’s our two chords, one built out of thirds and one built out of fourths. Why do we need two chords? Imagine we are playing a blues in C, our first chord, our voiced chord, is going to be this. According to our enhanced skeletal blues, the second chord is going to be for the second bar F7, which would be up here. But notice the jump we have to do to get from there to there. The better thing to do is to use the thirteenth voicing for F7, namely that voicing.
Because, you see, what’s happening is we’re keeping one note common to both chords, namely D, and all we are doing is moving the bottom two fingers down a semitone. Similarly, if I want a G7 then I use this G7, the thirteenth, and not the ninth, because it’s too far away. If I start off with this chord then I use that for F7 and that for G7 because they are all close to each other. Alternatively, I could start off with a thirteenth chord for C7 and then when I want to use F7 the chord which is closest to it is the ninth and the chord which is closest to that for G7 is the ninth.
Notice again if I go from G7 to C7 with this particular voicing I keep the thumb where it is and move the bottom two fingers down. Again when we’re playing the thirteenth I want you to use 5,2,1, because we might use these other fingers for thickening the chord later on. Let’s now use our voicings to play “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” in C. I’m just going to play one chord to the bar on the first beat of the bar. Now you’ve got to imagine the C because we are not going to be playing it. You’ve got to imagine the F and you’ve got to imagine the G because we are not going to be playing it.
Then using this position - the lower of the two positions - remember there’s the three chords and there’s the upper position. Then using the lower position this is how “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” sounds. One, two, three, four, …
That’s in the lower position. In the upper position, exactly the same thing but we have to be a little bit careful because our thumbs are going to cross each other, but it’s not too hard. Let’s put the right hand on top. Sorry the right hand on top. One, two, three, four, …
two, three four, …
To appreciate why those voicings work better than the rooted chords that we have been using before we really need a bass player. So the next thing we are going to talk about is using playalongs.

We look at how sevenths are played in the middle of the piano in “voiced” position in preparation for playing in a rhythm section context.

You can download the voiced sevenths in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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Learn Jazz Piano: Begin with the Blues

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