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Section 31.7 Jazz Chord Voicings

In this section we will define guide tones and learn about two types of jazz chord voicings.

Subsection 31.7.1 Guide Tones

Guide Tones are the 3rd and 7th of a chord. In any circle of fifths progressions (including ii–V–I and iii–vi–ii–V) the guide tones move by step.

Play through the entire circle of fifths with dominant 7th chords (C7–F7–B♭7, etc.) with the bass note in the left hand and the guide tones (3rd and 7th) in the right hand and observe how the 3rd and 7th are the same for bass notes a tritone from each other.

Also, you can play through the circle of fifths alternating between 7(13) chords and 7(♯9) chords—C7(13)–F7(♯9)–B♭7(13)–E♭7(♯9)—with the right hand descending chromatically. This can be repeated with all of the bass notes a tritone away (starting on F♯ in the left hand) and the qualities are exchanged for all the chords.

Subsection 31.7.2 Jazz Chord Voicings

In this section we will examine two categories of voicings.

  1. The first category (“spread” voicings) has 5-note chords with the root, 3rd, and 7th as the lowest notes with other chord members voiced above, often in the interval of a fourth or fifth. (The root will always be the lowest note, while the 3rd can be voiced above or below the 7th).

  2. The second category (“close” voicings) has 5-note chords with the bass note in the left hand and the other four notes in “close position” in the right hand, usually with the 7th or 3rd of the chord as the lowest note in the right hand.

Some chords (like sus chords) do not have a 3rd, and some do not have or a 7th (like C\(\left.\text{}^{6}\right.\) or C\(\begin{smallmatrix}6\\9\end{smallmatrix}\)). In those cases, voice the sus4 like you would the 3rd, and likewise voice the 6th as you would the 7th.

Sometimes you will need to omit the fifth to maintain five parts.