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Let's discover, learn, and play Polychord Voicings. The word polychord can sound intimidating when we first hear the term, but it is actually a simple way to approach learning altered dominant sounds. When looking at a standard jazz lead sheet for a song, it is more than likely to contain some "fancy chords" like C7#11, or C7b9#5. Of course when seeing these "fancy chords," one typically asks the obvious question, "How in the world do I play that chord?". Today, we are going to explore various Polychord Voicings to demystify the playing of "fancy chords," so let's get to it and discover, learn, and play Polychord Voicings.
Time to discover Polychord Voicings. The stacking of one chord on top of another chord to produce a specific sound is a standard technique used by professional jazz pianists. So, for example, if you play C Dominant 7 in your left hand while at the same time you play the D Major Triad in your right hand you have a Polychord Voicing; you would be playing a C7#11 sound. Polychord Voicings are used primarily to handle the altered dominant sounds that are so frequently used in jazz and society standards. You have probably come across many of these chords in the music you play - b9#5, #9b5, b9b5, #9#5, #11, b9, b13. Let's take a look at some Polychord Voicings used by jazz pianists to handle these ordinary (and "fancy") chords.
Time to learn Polychord Voicings. Take a look at the music below that illustrates the most common Polychord Voicings used in standard jazz repertoire. Here are the formulas for each of the Polychord Voicings illustrated:
Spend time studying the formulas and how they are notated in the illustration. When comfortable, try applying the formulas to the other 11 dominant chords. Time to hear how these Polychord Voicings sound, time to play!
Time to play Polychord Voicings. In my video below I demonstrate how to play the Polychord Voicings by placing them into a musical context. In the video I play at a tempo of 85; however, I can not stress enough how important it is to play a tempo that allows you to perform each of the Polychord Voicings comfortably. After you have a command of the shapes and sounds of these Polychord Voicings, you can begin to challenge yourself with faster tempos.
Once you play the Polychord Voicings for "C7", put a plan in place to play the Polychord Voicings for the remaining eleven dominant chords. I strongly recommend using an app like iRealPro or software like Band In a Box to help you play Polychord Voicings and all jazz piano skills you set out to discover, learn, and play.
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I look forward to helping you discover, learn, and play jazz!
I am a professional jazz pianist and music educator residing in Dallas. I founded The Dallas School of Music and currently serve as President. Likewise, I am the creator and developer of JazzPianoSkills.com.
Location (Dallas, TX)