10 January 2016


Today : another article from guest writer Chris Reilley (pianist)
Chris Reilley
Back in April this year Ivan published my contribution article on “Improvising in Traditional Jazz” in which I mentioned “The understanding of Chords is a whole different subject which is not being enlarged on here. Suffice it to say that not even the Chord symbols used are common throughout musical notation and some of the more complicated chords require the use of 7 notes."

In an effort to explain that statement and to make this easier to understand, I have listed most of the chords that I have seen used whilst playing Jazz, also showing the representative note intervals. These can be applied to any key, but I have shown the chord name only in the Key of C for this example:-

Note where an interval is shown as “b3” or “bb3” or “#5” that interval should be flattened (or double flattened in the case of ”bb”) or sharpened as shown. (Click on the chart to see it enlarged.)

Note the figures shown in red are the notes in a chord that are recommended to be dropped for musicians playing a 4 stringed instrument eg 4 string Guitar or 4 string.

Banjo, Ukulele etc.

As the reader can see the extended notes (11th and 13th) can also be flattened or sharpened as shown with the Flattened and Sharpened 9th Chord. As can be seen, there are numerous Chord Shapes which need to be learnt to grasp a full knowledge of those available – and they are not all of them, I'm afraid!

To simplify the chords some notes can be dropped. The 5th is usually the first to go, as it is generally considered not to add any special character or essential function to the chord. This, believe it or not, can include the root especially when playing with a full band where the bass player would have that covered.

Really, the most important notes of any chord are the 3rd and 7th. These are known as "guide tones". Some layouts of extended chords may include nothing more than the root, 3rd, 7th, plus the extension. But this is down to personal choice.

As I do not profess to be a 4 Stringed Instrumentalist, I have not included Chord Charts for those instruments, but for the benefit of Banjo Players this is dealt with very successfully by Andy Allinger on his Web Site:-

There are also similar sites for the Guitar and Ukulele players.

For the Piano or Keyboard Players the problem of 7 note chords is not difficult to deal with if the musician is playing the full chord with both hands. This is not so easy if the musician is a soloist, where they may need to play the Melody Line or improvise with the Right Hand, whilst the Left Hand is playing the chord. There are several different methods of achieving this end which have been used by the Ragtime Pianists and the “Vamping Pianists” (e.g. Fats Waller, James P. Johnston, etc.) who in most cases could easily span a 10th with their left hand (so were able to play the 9th extension of most chords anyway). When it came to the 11th and 13th Chords and all their varieties, they employed several different techniques, one of which was to “roll the chord” as a Glissando from Root to the extended note or to split chord over 2 beats playing the first 4 notes of the chord on the first beat and remaining 3 (or how many were left to play or however they decided to split it) on the second beat. Both of these methods obviously cannot be used if the Chord is to be played as single beat only (see “That's All” below). In those cases the musician would have to play a “cut down” version (similar to the 4 stringed Instruments mentioned above) of the chord in their left hand, whilst playing the melody (or improvisation) in their Right Hand. 

For those playing in a Band, the problem is slightly different because very often the original music will contain the 9th., 11th., or 13th. notes in the melody line, which is the salient bit of the Lead Instruments part. In this case if both Piano (Keyboard) and (say) Trumpet were to play the same note at the same time this would be unnecessary or “messy”. So, (for my choice only) I choose to play the Chord in its 7th form and let the lead Instrument play the extended note(s) which can also be part of their improvisation, with possibly the other front line instrumentalist playing the 9th. and 11th as part of their harmony in the case of a 13th being played by the Lead. Anyway the extended notes in the Music are usually a very important and individual part of the Melody, so it may be wisest to leave it to the Lead instrument to accentuate that note.

Following on from the above I choose to show (below) a couple of examples (amongst many available) of where extended chords have been included in tunes together with example of the use of chords in rapid succession. For the beginner this can be a difficult task, but with practice is achievable. However again in a Band Line up, the rhythm instrumentalists have got to be really on the ball if they decide that they are all going to play the same multi chord parts in a bar together, without losing time and being exactly in sync. For simplicity it might be decided for 2 or more chording Instruments (say Banjo and Piano) to play the chords only on both the first and last beats of a single Bar where 4 chords are shown in the music. In these examples the Band/Musicians may also choose to play these in different key.

The Last 4 Bars of the Song “Sugar” in G Major (click on to see enlarged):

Below the last 8 Bars the song “That's All” in C Major
I understand that the character “Bp” indicates a Double B flat (or the chord of “A Major”) and the chord shown as “F#Ø” is F Sharp, Half Diminished (otherwise known as F# Minor Seventh, Flattened Fifth). Some practice will be required to play the bars with 3 or 4 chords in each.

Chris Reilley