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Music Notes Archive

Chord Substitution Part 3 - Rootless Voicings

George with Guitar

This month we will continue with another chord substitution concept, rootless voicings. In a rhythm section, you will often be playing with a bass player, and if so, it is not necessary to play the root of the chord in your voicings, as this is covered by the bass player. Jazz pianists are very familiar with this concept, and use rootless voicings in the left hand while playing melody and improvising. These will work with any chordal instrument, as well as being another way to approach your solo lines.

The basic concept here is to build the chord starting on the third. For a Cmaj7 for instance your voicing would be E, G, and B, which is an Em chord. For a Dm7 chord, the voicing would be F, A and C or an F chord. For a G7 chord, we would have B, D, and F or a Bdim triad. Notice the formula here for each chord type. For a major seventh chord, use a minor built on the third. On a minor seventh chord, use a major chord built on the third, and on a dominant seventh chord, use a diminished triad built on the third.

In a jazz context, this is often taken a step further. Instead of using a triad built on the third, use a four note chord built on the third. In the case of a Cmaj7 chord, you would use E, G, B, and D, an Em7 chord, implying a Cmaj9 chord. For a Dm7, you would use F, A, C, and E, which would be an Fmaj7 chord. The dominant seventh chord is usually treated a little differently. A common voicing would be the 3, 5, 13 and 9, which for G7 would be B, D, E, and A. Another voicing would use the 7, 9, 3 and 13, or F, A, B and E.

For altered chords, it is just a matter of taking the above voicings and altering what you need to match the chord. For say, Cmaj7#5, take the Em and sharp the G, giving us E, G# and B, or an E chord. The four note variation would be E, G#, B, and D or an E7 chord. Dm7-5 would use F, Ab and C or Fm, and the four note version would be F, Ab C and Eb, (the Eb is to conform with the minor scale), which is an Fm7 chord. Notice how major becomes minor and minor becomes major for the substitutes.

Dominant seventh chords would have many possibilities due to the many possible alterations, so we will take just a few as examples. Looking at G7-5 for example, our triad would be B, Db and F. Our four note voicing would be B, Db, E and A. If you have an altered 9, then you have to use the four note voicing. G7-9 for example, would use B, D, E, and Ab, or the second voicing could be used, giving us F, Ab, B, and E. You can also handle more complex chords like G7#5-9 for example. Use B, D#, E and Ab. From these examples, you should be able to figure out any combination of alterations.

Remember that all of the above ideas can be played as single notes and used in your solo lines. You can stick strictly to the chord with the three note ideas, or extend the chord with the four note sequences. This will allow you to spell the chord or to let the listener hear an extension of what is there to give added color to your ideas. The more ideas you can combine from these last three articles the better, and the more interest you can add to your chord progressions and solo lines.