Jazz Power Chords (Voicings)

Hey Jazz Guy,

I want to expand my use of jazz harmony and I was wondering how you would recommend going about learning different chord voicings and putting them into practice?Simple in San Diego

Dear Simple,

There are many voicing types and systems for this, so there is no one right answer, but I hope you will allow me to illuminate my guitaristic approach to this situation.
We all learned the idea of a “Power Chord” when we first picked up the guitar; root, 5th, root [ex. 1]. Now we will work with what I call the “Jazz Power Chord”; root, 3rd, 7th [ex. 2]. This three-note voicing is all you need to clearly state the harmony of any jazz situation. Note that there is a closed inversion [ex 2] and an open inversion [ex 3] for these three notes. Take yourself through the different chord types in [ex 4], Maj7, Min7, Dom7 and 7Sus4. Now you should be left with three more strings and at least one more finger, so here’s where the magic happens. Keeping the jazz power chord intact, we will add tensions on the remaining strings. [Ex 5] Shows how and EbMaj7 jazz power chord can then be expanded into EbMaj9 and EbMaj7 #11, 9. In the next example [ex 6], we’ve used the open version of a G7 jazz power chord, and added the 13th and then the b9 and b13 to create a lush voicing. The open voicing is also interesting because you can add some notes in between, for [ex 7] the D-7 becomes a D-11, with the 5th added on top. Finally, once you become familiar with the jazz power chord, you can omit and change notes. In [ex 8] C-7 the root note disappears, and the 9th and 11th are added on top of the remaining 3rd and 7th. Shed this hard in all keys and your harmonic vocabulary will surely be simple no more.

Jazz Power Chord In Depth

So you’ve made it this far, and are still going, so I applaud you on your harmonic curiosity. The magic in this system, is it allows you to hear the entire structure of the chords and most importantly, the guide tones and root contrasted against the tensions. The downside of the guitar is that there are only six strings, so playing more than 6 notes is impossible and playing more than 5 is difficult. To really master this system, you have to learn to substitute.

First, ditch the root in favor of the 9th, or 6th if you can reach it. Then ditch the 5th in favor of 13 or alt 5th or 13th.

Keep the 3rd and 7th and you’ll have a rich voicing against the bass.

Guitar is beautiful. Look for patterns, shapes, triads, and pay attention to the color that each chord brings. One of the best books I’ve ever seen for harmony and voicings is Dave Liebman’s “Chromatic Approach”. Another is the “Jazz Theory Book” by Mark Levine, which is a great resource as well.

Check out the lesson on Drop 2s to continue this even further, and to approach harmony at a different angle.

Link to PDF Example: HJG – Jazz Power Chords

Video Link

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Categories: Chords, Harmony

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