Want to play great sounding jazz piano chords?
Great news! You DON’T have to first learn jazz theory to play fantastic sounding jazz chords. In fact, it can confuse and frustrate you if you dive first into the treacherous world of jazz theory.
There’s lots of videos, blog posts, and teaching online that will show you the basic root position ‘jazz’ piano chords, but these generally sound corny.
So how about we learn to play some great sounding, easy jazz chords, and we’ll catch the theory along the way as needed.
Root, Shell, Pretty: The Secret to Effective Jazz Piano Chords
Skip the corny root-position chords, and go straight to the slick sounding stuff. All the elements you need are right in the title: Root/Shell/Pretty.
We’ll build up all 5 of our chords the same way, with 3 notes in the left hand, and 2 notes in the right hand. We’ll learn them first in the key of C, then you can go on to all 12 keys in the same, simple way.
Chord 1: Major 7ths “Cma7”
Let’s build up from the bottom of our 2 handed chord voicings for Cma7:
This is the bottom note in your left hand, and it’s always the root of the chord, the note the chord (Cma7) is named (in this case C).
Chord 2: Minor 7th “Cm7”These are similar to Major 7ths, but with a minor 3rd and minor (or dominant) 7th. Again, we’ll build up from the bottom of our 2 handed chord voicings for C minor 7, usually written as Cm7: Root: The bottom note in your left hand, the root of the chord (in this case still C):
Pretty notes: Still gettin’ ‘pretty’, adding the 9th (D) and the 11th (F):
Chord 3: Dominant 7th “C7”This one is similar the major 7th, just make 7th minor (or dominant). Let’s build up! Root: Still C!!!!!!
Chord 4: C7#11 (dominant 7th with sharp 11)This one is similar the dominant 7th, but with a new ‘pretty’ note. Root: C (you got this!!)
Chord 5: C7#9 (dominant 7th with sharp 9)Our final jazz piano chord that sounds GREAT! This one has another new ‘pretty’ note on top Root: C (you got this!!)
Pretty notes: New pretty note time, adding some color and tension with just 1 alteration, the sharp 9 (#9).
Add the #9th (D#) and the 5th (G):
How to Practice
Take all 5 chords thru all 12 keys. I prefer to do this by moving chromatically, but it’s also effective moving thru the circle of 5ths. Take your time, make sure you get the feel for each of the shapes in each key. You’ll note that many feel different, even though the intervals stay the same.
You can also practice chord 4 and 5 together, as the beginning of a jazz chord progression. You’ll see this notated through all 12 keys at the end of the worksheet.
Root•Shell•Pretty 4 LIFE!
The magic of effective jazz piano is playing stuff that sounds great. These 5 simple jazz piano chords will start you down the path of effective jazz playing.
Be sure to remember:
- Left hand: root and shell
- Right Hand: 2 notes of your choosing, they just have to sound great (so go with the pretty ones!)