Jazz Keyboard Harmony Book
Piano Voicing Method for All Musicians by Phil DeGreg – Book/CD set Now a Book/CD set!! A practical and systematic method that teaches how to practice jazz piano voicings so that they become automatic and intuitive. The method progresses step by step from 2-voice to 7-voice chord structures with fourths and upper-structure triads. Each chapter presents essential harmonic progressions written and spelled out in all keys, along with fingerings to help non-keyboardists. Also provided are songs, written out for both hands, which utilize the techniques and voicings just learned. Includes comping rhythms, bass line techniques, and practice strategies. Excellent for both classroom and individual study. Strongly endorsed by Mark Levine, Bobby Shew, Denis Diblasio, and many others. The included Play-a-long CD lets you practice the piano exercises in the book with bass and drum accompaniment; you can also practice comping along with a saxophone soloist. A demonstration piano track on one channel, played with a stylistic comping feel, gives you an idea of how the piano voicing exercises should sound.
Click here for Free downloads of standard Midi practice files that coordinate with Appendix B of Jazz Keyboard Harmony.
Free Practice Materials
This page contains some of the free educational practice materials Phil gives away at the Summer Jazz Workshops and other teaching venues. Although they are mainly designed for study at the keyboard, much of the material could be practiced on any linear instrument. They require the Adobe Acrobat Reader. New materials will be added regularly.
Ever wonder what to practice? Here is Phil’s idea of a well-balanced organization of practice time, which he uses with his students. They involve five areas of study: Harmonic, Melodic, Scales, Transcription, and Tunes (repertoire).
I use my text (above) as a primary source of harmonic study, but here are a few additional handouts.
This is a hand out which displays the common formulae for 3-note voicings played by the left hand, or alternatively with the right hand, if you are providing your own bass notes with the left. Note that the lowest the 3rd or 7th should always fall between D below middle C and the D an octave up. It is a good idea to practice the voicings in all keys, both individually and in the context of II-V-I, which is presented here in the key of C.
The “chorale” technique is a piano harmonization approach that I teach which helps develop inner moving voice movement and full lush harmonies. It works well with standards, when the melody is not too busy and without many large leaps. You keep the left hand playing either a R-7 or R-3 (or R-10) shape; the right hand thumb picks up the remaining 3rd or 7th, and the melody with the rest of the fingers. This creates a 4-voice “Chorale” texture, where the melody operates completely independently of the three lower voices, which move as a unified block, changing with the harmony. You can then add other extensions to the chords on a chord by chord basis.
The exercise included here is a good preparation for these kinds of chord formations. Practice them in all keys.
Most players learn melodic phrases that have strong harmonic implication. Below are several pages with lots of phrases or “patterns” which can be learned in several or all keys. Find one that tickles your ears, and work out the fingering so it becomes easy to execute it; then start to transpose it. Remember, the practice of the phrase is not done until the time feels really good. Each page features phrases that pertain to a particular harmonic context.
A very common harmonic context for melodic phrases is II-V-I, meaning a minor seventh chord, resolving up a fourth to a dominant 7, resolving up a fourth to a major chord. A “short” II-V-I is a two bar cadence where the II and the V split one bar, and the I chord takes up one bar. A “long” II-V-I progression allows the II and the V to each last a bar, while the I chord lasts two bars. The patterns in the pages below feature lots of chromatic leading notes which make the phrase outline the harmony clearly.
These phrases are all pitched in the key of C. They imply a short II-V-I (Dmi7-G7-Cma7), or a phrase can be connected to another one where it leaves off, making a long II-V-I. Practice any of the phrases with any of the rhythmic variations listed at the end of the first page.
These are in the key of C, featuring a bar of II (Dm7) , a bar of V7 (G7), and
two bars of I (Cma7)
The variation of the cadence adjusted to a minor key features a half-diminished chord resolving up a fourth to a dominant 7th with a b9, resolving up a fourth to a minor chord. This cadence occurs in tunes with a fair amount of frequency.
Dominant Diminished and Whole Tone
These melodic phrases outline two different harmonic contexts: the G7 b9 chord resolving to a C minor using the dominant diminished scale sound; and the G9 #5 chord resolving to a C Major, using the whole tone scale sound.
Melodic phrases outlining common turnaround progressions in the key of C
Embellishment patterns on the major and minor triads.
My listing of the commonly used scales in jazz, along with the chordal extensions they highlight. I suggest learning them at first as you need them in tunes you are studying, and always with a left hand voicing that
Fingering of the commonly taught jazz scales can be highly personal, but this chart can give you a place to start. Just cross reference the scale mode with the key, and try the fingering listed at the bottom. Practice each scale at least two octaves in the right hand, and to put a left hand chord with it.
Scales become musical when you can manipulate shapes through a tune, hearing the changing the scale sound as the harmony changes. Here are various ways to practice a given scale, so you really get to know it. It is modeled on the C major, but these shapes can be practiced with any scale or mode.
These are eight note scales that are adaptations of three commonly played seven note scales: the mixolydian (dominant) , 5th mode of the harmonic minor (altered), and major scales. They can be applied wherever those scales would be appropriate. The inserted chromatic tone in each allows the chord tones of the scale to consistently fall on the beat over multiple octaves, which helps gives a line strong harmonic clarity. Practice them for speed and consistency, descending from the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th of the scale. This will increase fluidity of your lines, and help your ears to hear harmonic resolution in lines.
Suggested Right-hand Bebop Scale Fingerings
These fingerings are merely suggestions; you find what works best for you. I tend to favor groupings of four fingers, since the scales contain eight notes, requiring only one thumb crossing per octave.
Transcription means listening to music in detail and copying it by ear; some musicians learn solos by ear and memorize them directly, and some people write them down. But all jazz musicians go right to the source to learn the language.
Here is a transcription of one of my favorite solos by one of my favorite pianists, Bud Powell, from the recording Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell, J.J. Johnson—Prestige Original Jazz Classics. I learned to play lines by transcribing solos like this one, working them up to tempo with a metronome, and finding phrases that I liked which had strong harmonic implication. I then practiced those phrases in the other keys, which helped my ears and my ability to finger things on the fly.
Here is a list of some of the most important jazz pianists through the history of the music. Of course there are many others who are not listed, so I extend my apologies.
Jazz pianists should know repertoire by memory. At my university (University of Cincinnati, CCM), we insist that the students memorize lots of tunes. Tunes should include both “standards”, which are popular and show songs that jazz players like to play, and jazz compositions. The study of tunes should incorporate all the elements above (use of voicings, melodic phases, scale study, listening to recordings).
Here is an excellent list of tunes for study compiled by my friend Mark Levine, who included it in his wonderful text “The Jazz Piano Book” (Sher Music). It includes references to “The New Real Book” Volumes, also published by Sher Music, which are excellent fake books.
When choosing a tune to learn, pick one that you already recognize and can sing; you are already halfway to memorization. When learning a tune, start first with the melody, alone with no harmony, memorizing it phase by phrase, with a good and consistent fingering. Then learn the bass notes with the melody, just the roots of the chords. Finally add the chords, and coming up with good left hand voicings.
Piano Arranging Approaches
Here are three general approaches to arranging a tune at the piano. I use Ellington’s Satin Doll as an example.
Voicings Applied to Some Tunes
Here are two handed chord voicings realized for several commonly played jazz tunes and standards: Afternoon in Paris, Autumn Leaves, Blue Bossa, F Blues, Bb Blues, Groovin High, Maiden Voyage, Nutville, Perdido, Satin Doll, Song For My Father, Summertime, Take the A Train, Tune Up, Yardbird Suite. You can use the left hand part alone to add the melody or improvisation with the right hand.
Improvising Lines over the Chords of a Tune
Once you know a tune well, you can begin to improvise new lines on it. To me, the three basic approaches to improvisation are 1) embellishment of the melody, 2) the use of scales and scale shapes (see Scale Study above), and 3) the use of melodic phrases which create lines that target important notes in the harmony (see Melodic Vocabulary above). Before trying to learn improvise on a tune, be sure you have a strong left hand voicing in place and are comfortable with the form.
I borrowed this concept from Bert Ligon, a wonderful teacher and keyboard player. These are melodic phrases, adapted to both a major and minor tonality, which will train your ears to hear harmonic resolutions. Each phrase outlines II-V-I in both major and minor, as well as I chord harmony. They start from four different tones of the II chord. After learning them in all keys, you can apply them to a tune, which allows you address all the harmonies explicitly. Remember, this is just an exercise, not music, but if you play it musically (with phrasing and rhythmic embellishment), your ears will get to know the harmonic territory of a tune.
Application of the Improvisation Outlines
Here is a sample application of the improvisation outlines to the tune Summertime