The 3 levels of learning jazz chord voicings

A lot of aspiring jazz pianists struggle with chord voicings. Every time they sit down to play, they have to think way too much about each chord. If you can relate to this, it’s not your fault. It’s just that most of the jazz books out there start with voicings that you’ll be ready for in a year, not now. And you’re not alone: during the 35 years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen that most students are defeating themselves by practicing the wrong voicings at the wrong time.

While it is good to practice any voicings that interest you, you’ll improve the fastest overall if you spend the majority of your practice time learning techniques that you’re able to currently use when you play tunes.

In this respect, the 3 levels of chord voicings are:
1. 7th chords in root position and inversions. When you know these thoroughly, go on to…

2. Rootless voicings with upper extensions and alterations. When you have a firm grasp of these, you can…

3. Freely improvise your own voicings.

You can start get on the right track now by learning a lot of tunes with voicings at the level that’s right for you. (They all sound great, so don’t worry about that.) And when it’s time to move on, move on!You’ll find that jazz piano is a lot more “do-able” if you approach it like this.

Good luck and “let the music flow!”

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2 thoughts on “The 3 levels of learning jazz chord voicings”

  1. Thanks clarifying this. This seems to be the most overwhelming aspect for me right now as a beginner (aspiring jazz pianist) player, which voicing should I really concentrate on while making my way learning jazz standards. As usual, thanks for your time and energy into your blog.

    • Hi Austin. I’m glad this post is resonating with you. I myself spent a year or two at the beginning playing tunes using 7th chords before moving on to 9ths and more advanced voicings. You can use the others at times if you wish, but usually it’s best to get a firm foundation with 7ths. In any case, don’t ever feel pressured to go too fast with learning advanced voicings. That will come when you’re ready and for now, you’ll enjoy learning jazz a lot more with 7ths since you can focus on playing in time and improvising without getting bogged down in theory. Have fun!


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