Harpejji technique: Jazz Voicings 2

publié le 10 June 2020

This is the third in a series of articles about harpejji technique. The first one was about major scales and the second one was about right hand jazz voicings. This one is a direct follow-up to the latter, as it presents a alternate, complementary set of right hand voicings for jazz harmony.

To make the best out of the material here, I strongly suggest you first read and practice the first set of voicings.

Why a second set of voicings?

In my latest post, I presented a set of voicings that allow to play most chords of most jazz songs; given the isomorphic nature of the harpejji fretboard, one might think that it's enough to gig happily ever after.

Although it's theoretically possible to play songs with these voicings only, we still have two problems:

  1. Try to play an Am7 chord with the voicing you already know. Got it? C-E-G-B, perfect (and, yes, this is technically an Am9 chord; this kind of substitution is very frequent in jazz). Now try to follow the rule "Play the voicing around C4". Well, that's more difficult... Either you start on C3 and you are too low, or you start on C4 and you're not exactly around that note, are you? But wouldn't it be possible to play an Am7 chord somewhere in between?

  2. Play an A minor cadence (Bm7b5-E7-Am7) followed by a C major cadence (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7). You'll notice that the voice leading is good (meaning: your right hand doesn't jump around) inside the cadences, but between them your hand will have to jump a full 4th, which doesn't sound as smooth as the transitions between the other chords.

As it happens, these two problems can be solved with just a second set of voicings... so lets'go!


(Fingers that move are highlighted in red.)

Harpejji Cm7 fingeringHarpejji F7 fingeringHarpejji Bbmaj7 fingeringHarpejji Ebmaj7 fingering

Harpejji Am7b5 fingeringHarpejji D7 fingeringHarpejji Gm7 fingering

Again, I would suggest that you practice

  • First, the 3 first chords (Cm7-F7-Bbmaj7) that form a Bb major (II-V-I) cadence
  • Then, the 3 last chords (Am7b5-D7-Gm7) that form a G minor cadence
  • Lastly, connect the two parts with the Ebmaj7 chord.

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

As before, try starting from different notes - enjoy the isomorphic fretboard and experiment how these voicings sound all around it!

And now?

Selecting and practicing an adequate set of voicings is a lifelong journey (at least!). That said, these two sets constitute a solid foundation that should allow you to play many jazz standard with reasonable voicings and voice leading. So: open a real book and try and play random songs - many of them - until you feel that the finger motions become automatic.

As an example of how a systematic use of these voicings can sound in a real musical situation, here is a quick take of Black Orpheus played almost uniquely with the voicings I showed you (although I couldn't resist to throw in a couple of #9's in the introduction 😉). Thanks to Carole Battais who agreed to play the melodion in this video!

One last note: You'll probably notice that the most common chord that's missing from your minimal luggage is the diminished seventh chord (e.g. the C#°7 in bar 8 of Black Orpheus). However, this chord is usually a passing chord that allows to connect two other chords or cadences. As such, I find the "right" voicing to be much more context-dependent than the other types of chords - let your ears and fingers tell you what to do when you meet them!

As usual, 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 the whole harpejji community can benefit from the discussion. See you there!