Harpejji technique: Jazz Voicings 1

publié le 16 February 2020

This is the second in a series of articles about harpejji technique. The first one was about major scales and this one is about right hand jazz voicings.

When rehearsing for the Passeador project I explored some of the possibilities of the harpejji in jazz comping. One of the ingredients is right hand voicings. I will not go into a full course about voicings, but one of the very standard way of playing chords in jazz is alternating between chords of the form 3rd-5th-7th-9th and 7th-9th-3rd-5th.

It took me some time to find comfortable fingerings for such a chord progression, but here is what I came up with.

Fingerings

Here is the full 5th cycle in F major/D minor. Fingers that move are highlighted in red.

Harpejji Gm7 fingeringHarpejji C7 fingeringHarpejji Fmaj7 fingeringHarpejji Bbmaj7 fingering

Harpejji Em7b5 fingeringHarpejji A7 fingeringHarpejji Dm7 fingering

That might be a little bit too much to practice at first (it was for me!), so I'd suggest to practice:

  • First, the 3 first chords (Gm7-C7-Fmaj7) that form a F major (II-V-I) cadence.
  • Then, the 3 last chords (Em7b5-A7-Dm7) that form a D minor (II-V-I) cadence.
  • Lastly, connect the two bits with the Bbmaj7 chord.

Here is the whole cycle simply played with roots in the left hand:

When your right hand moves become automatic, try arpeggiating the notes, or adding a walking bass in the left hand, or play the whole chord progression latin-style, or...

And don't forget to practice starting from different notes! The fingerings will be the same, but the visual cues will change, so I think it's important to play in all keys so that you really remember the finger patterns, not the specific notes you play!

Where to play on the fretboard

The simple rule is: experiment, and keep what sounds good to you!

Regarding the octave: I like to select the notes so that the voicing is around C4 (aka "middle C"). This yields a nice, clear sound. This is kind of a "neutral" position. But the pristine sound of playing one octave higher or the thick (possibly muddy) sound one octave lower definitely have their uses in some situations.

Once the octave is selected, you still have a lot of choices, as the same notes appear in many different places of the fretboard. Playing on lower strings, higher frets has a darker sound than playing on higher strings, lower frets. Practice playing the chords in many different places of the fretboard and let your ears and body decide where to play in a given musical situation.

What's next?

With this set of voicings, you should be able to play most chords of many jazz songs. However, you will find that your right hand sometimes has to jump around too much... to correct this you will need a second set of voicings. In the voicings above, the lowest right hand note of the first chord is the 3rd; in the second chord it's the 7th; then 3rd, then 7th, etc. To be able to keep minimal movement in the right hand (this is called voice leading), you will need the voicings that start on a 7th, then 3rd, then 7th, ... That will be the subject of a later post!

And if you've got questions or comments about this article, I suggest you post them on the dedicated thread on the harpejji forum so that thoe whole harpejji community can benefit from the discussion.