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Solo Piano Voicings

Most Important Notes are the 3rd and 7th

These two notes (also called guide tones) define the quality of a chord.

Cmaj7: Major Third | Major Seventh. C EGB

C7: Major Third | Dominant (minor) Seventh. C E G Bb

Cmin7: Minor Third | Dominant (minor) Seventh C Eb G Bb

Cmin7(b5) Minor Third | Dominant (minor) Seventh C Eb Gb Bb

Cdim7 Minor Third | Diminished Seventh C Eb Gb A

Practice identifying thirds and sevenths of chords. Pick a random song in a fakebook and see if you can
quickly name the third and seventh of each chord.

General Rules for Constructing Solo Piano Voicings

Keep the melody note at the top of the voicing. You don't want to bury the melody in the middle
of a voicing or it will get lost.
Keep the tonic at the bottom of the voicing. The tonic is simply the note named in the chord. For
example: D in a D7, G in a Gmaj7, C in a C7(#9 b5).
The left hand will most often use Root and Seventh or Root and Fifth. Because we are lower
on the keyboard, we need to keep our intervals spaced out so as to avoid a muddy sound. You
will occasionally use Root and Third or Third and Seventh.
The chords are most often played on beat one, or on beats one and three.
Aim for four note voicings using root, third, fifth, seventh. Remember the third and seventh are
still the most important. Notes may be doubled to add color.
Adding Color to Your Voicings

Once you've mastered four-note voicings using the root, third, fifth, and seventh, it's time to explore adding
additional color tones. The color notes you add are determined by the chord quality. Let's focus on the three
main chord types. Above all, let your ear be your guide!

Major Seven (Cmaj7):

9 This is a safe note to add for many different voicings

#11 This comes from the lydian mode. A normal 11th (or 4th) would clash with the major seventh sound
as it's an avoid note. However, when we raise the usual note a half-step, we get a very rich #11 sound.

13 The 13th (or 6th) won't add very much color to a major seven chord because the function it provides is
the same as the normal major seventh. We often talk about how major seven chords (like Cmaj7) are
interchangable with sixth chords (like C6) because of their function.

Tip: To get an instant 13(#11) sound on a major chord, add a triad built from a whole step above the root.
So if we have a Cmaj7 chord (C E G B), we go a whole step above the root of the chord (which is a C).
Then we take that note (D) and build a major triad from there. Now in addition to C E G B, we are adding D
F# A to get a final chord of C13(#11).

Minor Seven (Cmin7):

9 Still a safe note to add.

11 This comes from the dorian mode and is a great note to add.

13 A good note to add in minor voicings.

Dominant Seven (C7):

Dominant chords provide the most opportunity for color. They are often used in transition and contain the
most dissonance in a chord progression.

#5 / b5 These usually replace the normal fifth.

9 Adds more color

#9 / b9 Alterting the nine can give you a ton of color and disonnace very quickly

11 This turns the chord into a sus chord. You'll see that written as C7sus. This is one of the least
disonnant alterations you can make.

#11 You'll notice that #11 and b5 are the same note. #11 is simply another way to think about it.

13 Adds more color (and is a standard addition to our four note rootless voicings.)

Tip: Usually many of these alterations are used together to create a dissonant sound to the liking of the
pianist. Often you'll see printed alterations in dominant chords caused by melody notes.

Most often you will change combinations of the 5th and 9th to get a sound you like.

Ragtime/Blues/Dixieland/Old Showtunes are less accepting of altered color notes as compared with more
modern tunes.