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Jazz chord progressions?


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Jazzwee: Man oh man, you're like that cool jazz teacher I never had... I feel like I'm stealing here. I'll tell you what, if for some odd reason you find yourself in Montreal, lemme know and I'll buy you a beer :D . (Hey, why not come by for our world renowned jazz festival :thu: )


You folks seem to post seemingly obvious points but they always open my eyes. That's what's so great about these classic standards, the theory is all spelled out in front of you, you just gotta see it.


Unfortunately I haven't had much time to practice lately because I'm preparing for my finals (non music related). :(


Keep the knowledge flowing folks, cause you're helping a lot of people here I'm sure (me included of course).

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OK. Continuing on with our little analysis of Autumn Leaves here. Let's look at the chord progression structure.


ii - V - I


vii - III7 - vi


As I said earlier, this is movement in fourths starting from the first chord. So this tune goes through the entire circle of fifths.


It can also be broken out differently here as follows. W have a 2-5-1 from the starting key of G. Then we modulate (change keys) from I to IV and then from IV to vii. So note this, in jazz compositions, moving to a new key in fourths is a very common move.


Now let's restate the some progression differently.


(G) - ii - V - I

© - IV

(E) - ii/vi - V/vi - i/vi


This is exactly the same as the original progression but it in this case we put the "/vi" to indicate a change of key. We are showing a key change for every row. First row is key of G, second row is key of C, third row is key of E. E is the "vi" in the G scale. What is the purpose of doing this?


It shows you now that Autumn Leaves is bracketed by two sets of 2-5-1's. There is a Major ii-V-I and a Minor ii-V-i. So now you know why Autumn Leaves is often described as a play of major and minor.


Also, note that G, C, E, G, C, E ... are a sixth apart and thus you can loop around the circle of 5ths endlessly. When composers do modulations, they often make it so that you can come full circle to the original key.


So two summarize, what I showed you above is (a) a technique for modulation -- moving in fourths, and (b) a tune made up of multiple ii-V-i's, (b) a play of Major and Minor 2-5-1's.


Very interesting isn't it? Are you still there Linwood? You actually started this so I need your moral support :wave:


And Bloodsample, do your school work. Don't stop to practice now. I'm just going to keep adding to this...

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Back to our analysis of Autumn Leaves.


(G) - ii - V - I (Major 2-5-1)

© - IV

(E) - ii/vi - V/vi - i/vi (Minor 2-5-1)




In the Key of G


Am7 - D7 - GM7


F#m7b5 - B7 - Em7


Look at this closely, note that every degree of the major scale is represented (i to vii degree). As noted earlier, this would have been the seven degrees of a major scale had it not been for the change of the Bm7 to B7 by the composer, which of course turned it into a stronger minor 2-5-1.


Analyzing tunes like this make it easy to remember since many jazz standard follow similar organization. Many jazz musicians say they just study the structure of the tune and thus enables them to learn many jazz standards effortlessly.


Unless analyzed carefully in this fashion, one might not understand the relationship of the chords. If you played the bass portion of this tune in ascending and then descending on each chord (like in Walking bass style), you will notice how easy this falls on the fingers as the fingers move in fourths going up and fifths going down. By the way, the tune goes up in fourths continuously, but remembering the Circle of Fifths, going a fourth in one direction is the same as going a fifth in the opposite direction.


Now back to the original progression. Let's introduce now the subject of substitutions. In this case, we already saw how the composer substituted the Bm7 (6th degree of the scale with a B7). So now we can just look at this as a series of two ii-V-i's, one major, and one minor.


Pretty easy to visualize. The first thing that jazz composers and musicians will attempt to substitute will be the Dominant 7 chords. In the progression you have the V and V/vi (or D7 and B7 respectively). Later on I'll tell you why you'd even want to do this substitution. Remember this simple rule, Dominant chords can be substituted by another Dominant a tritone away (or a b5 interval). You can visualize this on the keyboard or you can just do mental math that since there is a relationship of V-i (5-1) in a 2-5-1 series, that the V chord will be reduced in interval to a half step away from the i chord. This is a bii. Thus a ii-V-I chord progression, after a tritone substitution will look like ii-bii-I. Each interval only a half step away.


Confused? Easy to remember. The V chord after substution is always in between the ii and the I chord.


So if the original ii-V-I progression in C scale is:



The tritone equivalent is:



If you see a series of chords a half step apart like this, they are derived from a ii-V-I progression. Now even this could be modified further by some composer to change the effect of the progression to a less expected cadence but whenever I see a chord progression that is a half step apart, my eyes tell me it is a ii-V-I in stealth mode.


Going back to the application of this to Autumn Leaves, this would be the effect of the substitution.


(G) - ii - bii - I (Major 2-5-1)

© - IV

(E) - ii/vi - bii/vi - i/vi (Minor 2-5-1)




In the Key of G


Am7 - Ab7 - GM7 (Major 2-5-1 after substitution)


F#m7b5 - F7 - Em7 (Minor 2-5-1 after substitution)


Let me convert this back to the original single scale presentation so you can see what is happening.


ii - bii - I


vii - bvii - vi (Minor 2-5-1)


or reducing this to just bass notes



A Ab G


F# F E


Taking the C out of the picture you'll that it is completely chromatic from A going down to E. This is the distinct feature of this particular tune and you'll want to take advantage of heightening that effect when improvising, in my view. At least that's how I would attack it to highlight the strength of the tune.


Now the next question is why do we substitute here? Of course it is nice to see the chromatic structure just going down and every time you see a six note chromatic downward run, you will be reminded of 2 sets of 2-5-1's here.


If you play this though you will see the effect. This requires another more detailed explanation that I will skip for now but changing the dominant 7 chords to a tritone substitute will retain the same 3/7 chord tones of the original chord (although now in reverse order), but it also brings out the altered notes in the substituted chord. Thus, if you just stuck primarily to a Mixolydian sound (the G Scale on the original D7 for example), it will contrast nicely with the altered notes of the Ab7. You could choose the play the same mixolydian sound and have it sound a little jazzier (outside) against the Ab7 chord or you could play the recommended altered scale to match the Ab7 and thus be consonant with the Ab7 but have a distinctly different jazzy sound.


So going back to the original question about Jazz progressions, this series of little writeups I did just serve to illustrate why those not familiar with the genre do not notice the variance in the chord progressions.


So for example, let's pull out the minor substituted 2-5-1 from Autumn Leaves which is


F#m7b5 - F7 - Em7


Someone not familiar with jazz will look at this sequence and say this is nice to jam to. Sounds good. Is this a "modern jazz progression"? No, it is a very simple minor 2-5-1.


Look at it though. Many interesting sounds here. For example, one could improvise with a Locrian #2 on the first chord, C melodic Minor on the F7 or half diminished, and Aeolian mode on the Em7. Lots of jazzy sounds here.


BTW - please do not assume any special knowledge here. What I have explained here is Jazz 101. Every jazz musician knows this. I have just sifted through the explanation in my own little way and I'm the one with the patience to write!


If there are errors above, hopefully the more senior jazz musicians here will add their input.



Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Nice explanation of tritone substitution. I'm at the stage in my development where I am starting to throw them in whenever I see a ii-V7-i. However in the heat of the moment I find it difficult in some keys to quickly find the tritone of the V7 and after a bit of fumbling the tune has moved on. I've always thought of the tritone as a flat 5 interval up from the V7 (G up to Db for example), but I think your way of finding (the note between the i and the ii) will be a lot easier.


I've found a great "trick" reccently in the Levine book which has really helped my solos flow. I have realised that over an entire ii-V7-i I can play various patterns from the V pentatonic scale and it really sounds cool. Furthermore on the V7 chord I can shift the pattern up a semitone and get a real wild outside sound. I'm also working on shifting it by a tritone and getting another tension effect. It's really surprised me how rich a solo can be achieved just by using the 5 notes in a few pentatonic scales. Levine uses Giant Steps to illustrate how you can contruct a solo using only 3 pentatonics and that was a real eye opener.


thanks guys, keep the posts coming :)

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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As you can see from my explanation of a tritone sub, it becomes really easy to find, especially when you are just doing bass on the LH, like LH 10ths.


When you do a minor pentatonic off the V chord a half step up, as I mentioned before, you are hitting some of the notes of the vii mode melodic minor (Alt Mode).


Now here's an effect you can consider. Do a pentatonic in some multiple of minor 3rd intervals from the root. This is a diminished pattern which is symmetrical. Thus if you do it in these intervals you will return to your root chord, giving you the outside/inside feel.


If anything I like looking for alternate explanations to things I did not initially understand. So I'm glad you are getting something out of my interpretations.


Thanks for sharing as well Konaboy.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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  • 4 weeks later...
Originally posted by konaboy:

Furthermore on the V7 chord I can shift the pattern up a semitone and get a real wild outside sound. I'm also working on shifting it by a tritone and getting another tension effect. It's really surprised me how rich a solo can be achieved just by using the 5 notes in a few pentatonic scales. Levine uses Giant Steps to illustrate how you can contruct a solo using only 3 pentatonics and that was a real eye opener.

It's worth pointing out here that the V pentatonic scale shifted up/down a tritone (or, up a half step from the root -- eg, in key of C, w/ ii-V-I being Dm7-G7-Cmaj7, we're now talking about the C#/Db pentatonic) shares notes with the altered diminished/whole tone scale typically played over the V to give it that "jazzy, outside" feel.


The Db pentatonic (let's say it's a b5 not a #4):


Db Eb F Ab Bb


The G altered:


G Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F


See the shared notes? Using the Ab pentatonic over G7, you get similar effect but the 3rd of Ab is not in the altered scale. The rest of the tones are, though:


Ab Bb C Eb F


Pentatonics can be a good tool, but I generally find I don't gravitate toward that sound ... experiment with the altered scale and you may find, as I do, that it yields more "musical" results. I think this is because, with more note choices, one can accentuate the tensions and chord tones that flatter the actual chords more readily. With pentatonic, you can be missing the 3rd and accentuating the 4th, for example, where you may not want to.








Jazzwee mentioned sharp #2 locrian, which is also the altered scale, really. E locrian #2 is the same as F# altered diminished (and, G melodic minor):


F# G A Bb C D E


Make the F natural and you have F ionian (major), or E locrian (with the natural 2). Again, judicious use relies on hitting the right tones for the appropriate mode. There's plenty of written material on that subject, but I find my ears and listening to players I like works best for me. :) Always learning ...

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby


"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Glad to see you're back to this Bloodsample. And Geekgurl, thanks for being a major contributor. I appreciate the team effort here at this educational endeavor.


As a further exploration of the idea of Jazz chord progressions, look at this graphical display in the link below showing the changing keys in the tune Giant Steps. John Coltrane's approach here is to change keys in major thirds.




If you remember our dissection of Autumn Leaves, that tune modulated in fourths. So you can draw a comparison here of ways of changing keys and then coming back to the original key. Obviously the number of half steps in the key shift has to be something that is a multiple of 12 half steps to get back to the original key quickly.


Just for comparison you can see the changes to Giant Steps here. Keys are B, Eb, and G (4 half steps apart or major third).


Bmaj7 D7 | Gmaj7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7 | Ami7 D7 |

Gmaj7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7 F#7 | Bmaj7 | Fmi7 Bb7 |

Ebmaj7 | Ami7 D7 | Gmaj7 | C#mi7 F#7|

Bmaj7 | Fmi7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7 | C#mi7 F#7|


The symmetry of the key changes here has other implications for other things like in improvisation which will be interesting to discuss later.


Another thing to note is the way the key changes are done. It is done from Major chord to Major chord and does not use ii-V-I. Instead it uses

I of the prior chord, then immediately goes to V-I of the new key a major third apart.


In other words:



Thus Coltrane came up here with a way of changing keys that is (a) not 2-5-1 based, (b) not based on the usual modulation in fourths. This particular chord progression is actually found in some other tunes. It's a little different sound.


Example sequence snipped from above:

Bmaj7 (I) D7 (V of the III) Gmaj7 (I of the III).

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Hi all


nice to see this thread coming to the surface again. don't have much to say apart from thanks for the new posts. Interesting that Giant Steps was analysed since I've been working hard on this tune and studying the changes. In fact my amateur jazz quintent is now able to get through the tune and sound half decent - albeit at half tempo :)


Regarding playing outside on the V7, I've done loads of experimenting and now prefer the sound of the whole tone scale rather than the pentatonic raised a half tone which used to be my weapon of choice. It's quite easy to learn since there are only 2 whole tone scales, and simple to apply so you get some fairly quick rewards. Real nice tension and sounds very "Monk"-ish.


I bought "Metaphors for the musician" as was recommended to me. It's a great book with loads of ideas and inspiration and I also recommend it heartily.

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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Hi Konaboy,


Instead of fixing your eyes on the scale (whole tone or melodic minor, etc.), look at the melody you are making. The scale can just be used to set the boundaries of the melody. Saying you'll use the whole tone scale *could* be limiting.


It is actually not too easy to come up with a melody using many altered notes (except as passing tones) in a pure improv situation. A good exercise for this might be to sit down and create some new ideas on paper in advance. i.e. compose some melodies, in advance.


I'm doing that right now actually. It'll exercise your brain to find these combinations later and you can thus store it in your personal improv vocabulary. I've been watching Brad Mehldau all night and it is inspiring me to make these melodies like he does.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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To second jazzwee,

I think that the melodic concept is very applicable here. The theory give you melodic harmonic options that you may not have considered.

I would find simply using the whole-tone too limiting too.

I heard Dave Holland talk about conceiving music as tension and resolution. If I conceive a melody, one way I think about is in degress of tension and release. Then you can play appropiate less tense and more tense notes against a line/chord. These might turn out to be from the melodic minor scale, the diminished, the whole tone etc. but, in the improvising situation, can be perceived simply as melody/tension-release. In the solo on my weblink on Cissy Strut (probably horribly clumsily executed to you guys) I improvised a solo witha lot of dissonances against the C7 chord. Only later did I realise that I was using Db melodic minor extensively.

The advantage of learning and applying scales (and chords built thereon) such as the melodic minor, diminished, whole-tone etc. is to be able to play lines/chords within the exsiting musical language of jazz and react to a soloist/accompanists/melody statement with appropriate note choices - but then that's what your ears are for ;) .

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Sorry for sidetracking...But Phil W (Hi Phil!) reminds me of something important.


Talking about Tension and Release, watching Brad Mehldau play (on his website) illustrates a good use of it. Much of Mehldau's melodies are actually simple. But you can see how he physically holds a note, skipping a beat or half a beat, or several beats. He literally leaves you hanging (his body language demonstrates it even more than hearing it). Then, he'll build up this tension to a crescendo. He's like a screenplay writer. He uses the same formula over and over and it works.


I watch him sometimes hold the note at a semi-tense tone like a 7 (and repeat it). A 7th wants to go to 1 so strongly but he holds that for awhile.


The point is that it is not often necessary to use dissonance as a method of increasing tension. Rhythmic manipulation plays into this as well.


Back to the Tension and release as it applies to note selection, as I said much earlier in this extremely long thread now, according to several leading jazz educators, the best application of tension and release is to use a chord tone on the downbeat (beats 1 and 3 in 4/4) and then you can play with all other tones on the other beats. A strong chord tone is the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the chord.


Since it is pretty hard to figure this out on the fly (particularly when playing with dissonant sounds like the whole tone scale), it is a good idea to compose these kinds of lines ahead of time and then transposing them in all keys. Then you pull it out in your improvs as needed. Another thought to add to this is not to start a line on beat 1. Starting off beat is good for starting out with a little tension.


The danger with thinking scales is using it in a scalar manner. Playing a scale is not too cool. This can be the default behavior sometimes because a half diminished scale or whole tone scale are not easily susceptible to quick melodies.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Playing a scale is not too cool.Hence you don't want to sound like all the high school jazz soloists who just learned their scales from Jamie Aebersold. (Not to disrespect Mr Aebersold who I hold in high esteem!)

A strong chord tone is the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the chordhence the bebop scales or the use of enclosure or chromatic notes. As a bassplayer it's really hard to get out of the practice of playing scales starting on the root however. I think it's good to have an idea of where the line is going and the general melodic/rhythmic contour of a line too. You can play ideas from a scale (e.g. melodic minor - as in this topic) but throw in approach notes from outside the scale.


Rhythmic manipulation plays into this as well. Amen to that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just heard lullaby of birdland on the radio earlier today and it reminded me of how nice the melody is. So I found a lead sheet for it and started playing and quickly realized that my solo was weak to say the least.


Can you quickly tell me what scales I can play where and why?


I kind of got sick of autumn leaves and I think that the more tunes I tackle, the broader my knowledge will be.


Here it is:





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Hi Bloodsample, my recordings of Lullaby of Birdland don't match your changes or the changes I have in my Real Book. I have recordings by Duke Ellington and Errol Garner.


Here's a link with the changes that match what I have and match my recordings. If we have a little commonality with the changes this might be easier to do.




If try out the changes above, instead of me providing you with an answer first, perhaps you can start guessing first. Just wondering what your ears tell you. Might be a fun exercise for you.


I didn't analyze the changes at all. I just started playing with the recording.


So the first question you can ask is: What is the key(s) of the tune? If you already play this tune using the changes you already have, go ahead an analyze it if you can. This one seems tricky -- but really, it is not.




Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Bloodsample, you can take the chords from the link I sent and simplify it like yours if you want. But the soloing will be immensely easier for you if you use the chords I gave a link to (which is a half step lower), which will be apparent later.


As you probably already noticed, this tune modulates. But it is very complicated to analyze because it uses so many temporary modulations. So here, you need to look at the big picture.


It's not going to be simple to identify ii-V-I's in here. What is interesting though is that soloing on this won't really be hard at all.


I don't sit around and look at a tune and try to analyze it just to play it. Another one that's similar is 'Just Friends'. You'll turn blue in the face trying to find simplicity in the leadsheet (looking for scales to fit what chords).


This will lead us to alternate ways of figuring out what to play on these types of tunes.


Anyway, just start guessing and don't worry if you're not certain.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Hey, so I'm a newcomer to this thread, but Bloodsample I completely feel your pain. I like your first audio clip, and the second one has expired so I can't hear it. I think it showed creativity, and I like the sparse feel, especially since many relative beginners tend to be overly verbose.


I feel like I'm in a similar situation. I've gotten to a place where I can do simple voicings relatively effortlessly, and I can do some other stuff (adding some notes like 9ths, etc) some of the time, but I have no idea where to start picking up more advanced voicings. I find trying to pick up voincings from recordings to be an excercize in frustration -- a few notes are obvious but the others are harder to pick out. I was passably good at classical musical dictation in school even, but picking up dense jazz voicings is beyond me. Is that how other people have learned?


Mark Levine's books are really good, I should probably sit down with them and rigorously do everything he says to do (which I tend to skip over). I moved recently and I have limited access to a piano, so hopefully I'll get more practice in when I get a digital piano, probably this weekend.

PX-310 | amateur jazz and some classical
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Welcome edp. Just drop your jazz type questions on this thread and we'll try to respond.


I hope Bloodsample is still working on Lullaby because I haven't heard. I didn't want to give the answer to the question without giving him to chance to experiment first.


Bloodsample, when you're ready to discuss, I'll give you the analysis on my end.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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Can you quickly tell me what scales I can play where and why?
You know, as a thought experiment, you can probably figure a lot of this stuff out for yourself. Do you really think Oscar Peterson sits down and asks for 'what scales' he should play over the chords?


Take a simple chord such as Fm and ask yourself, where does this chord occur naturally? If this question is beyond you, you need to study with someone and get a basic theory text book.


Back to the Fm chord. Where does it occur naturally? Well, it's a ii chord in Eb major, a iii chord in Db major and a vi chord in Ab major, right?


Play a scale starting on an F in each one of those keys and see which one might work better than the others.


This isn't brain surgery and while books are great, it will probably mean more if you put some of your own effort into trying to figure out how things might actually work.


And ... if you just play scales, your solo will sound just like scales.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.


In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.


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For starters, does anyone have any good techniques for picking out piano voicings from recordings?


My intuition is that you just experiment with voicings until you are familiar with the sound, and that once you can hear and use the sound, you can identify it in recordings -- that is, trying to learn voicings from recordings may be misguided, but I'm curious what more advanced players think.


At least one pro I've spoken with does advise learning voicings from recordings to some extent, but I never got a full explanation of how to begin doing so, etc.

PX-310 | amateur jazz and some classical
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Originally posted by edp:

trying to learn voicings from recordings may be misguided

Why on earth would that be misguided? Every single name player I can think of learned off the records, and not through some system.


If you set reasonable goals for yourself (maybe for a beginning jazz player, it might be "how does Sonny Clark voice those dominant 7ths?") I think you have a good chance of hitting upon at least the important elements. You may not be able to get every note in a voicing, but that's fine, too, so long as you can get the core elements of the sound, no?

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Ok, it was just a question. I wasn't sure if people tended to learn voicings first, and then they could pick them out of recordings, or if they learned them from recordings first and then adopted them into their own playing.
PX-310 | amateur jazz and some classical
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It's all the same thing, though, isn't it? You hear voicings and chord qualities by listening to the records which you then try out in the practice room and experiment with until you come up with something that's comfortable to you and then you play those voicings you can hear with a band...


Unless there's some other system I didn't hear about.


It's *hard* hearing voicings, unless you practice. I copped a bunch of great stuff from guitarists, personally, which can be a little easier to break down, but there are so many transcription books out there to help you check your ears and train them that you'll probably have an easier time than a lot of cats.

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The voicings are discussed earlier in this thread edp.


But lets break it out by type. Here are the typical ones.


You have the cluster chord voicings. These have a tight grouping of 4 notes in the same octave. Very full sound.


You have block chords. These use two hands. Usually used for comping with a very strong sound.


You have open voicings. These are two note voicings like 3/7, 1/7, 1/10 and more.


These three types are pretty recognizable in recordings. What's important is to note when they are used. See how each player mixes these voicings in a comping situation, or as a LH comping while the RH is soloing. You will find there are many variations. But the point is that it is easy to hear.


There are other families of voicings that you'll find referenced in Mark Levine's books (So What voicings, Fourth Chords, etc.). They have very specific uses.


As far as do you learn it first vs. listening to it first, I think if you learn it first you'll have an easier time recognizing the sound.


Also note that your choice of voicings depend on how you're going to handle the bass (e.g. in Solo piano). In a solo situation, you'll have to figure on using voicings with a root, or do stride with the root plus the chord on the next beat.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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