Lyman Lipke here, once again, with an article pertaining to jazz. Is it time to learn the scales and the notes and how to shred? Not quite yet. Apologies for dangling the soloing carrot in front of you, but trust me, as someone who learned the scales and the notes before learning how to play the chords and connect them, you’ll be far more valuable (and employable) as a jazz guitarist.
I’d like to talk a little bit about drop voicings, constructing a minor 7 chord, and the utility of the minor 7 chord. First off, do you know how to build a minor 7 chord? If not, there are a few easy ways to think about it.
If you know how to construct a minor triad, there are a couple of quick ways to add the 7th degree. The 7th can be found by moving up a minor 3rd (3 frets) from the 5th, or moving down a whole step (2 frets) from the root. The formula to construct a minor 7 chord from any root is 1, b3, 5 and b7. If you want to build the chord from a scale, take any minor scale from the first degree, and skip every other note until you have 4 notes in total.
Now let’s get into the concept of drop voicings. Today, we’re working with 4 note chords. Let’s take a root position minor 7 chord, 1, b3, 5 and b7. All of these tones are as close together as possible, so we call this a closed position chord. Now, we will assign each note a “voice”. b7 will be voice 1, 5 will be voice 2, b3 will be voice 3 and 1 will be voice 4. The concept of drop voicings comes from taking one or more of the voices and moving them down an octave. Dropping voice 2 down one octave gives us a chord constructed from 5, 1, b3 and b7. This is what we call a “drop 2” voicing, and this is what we’ll be looking at today.
If all of that’s confusing, that’s okay! Some players prefer to get the knowledge out of the way before putting it into practice. I’d argue that most players [anecdotal, citation needed] need to actually play the thing before you can even start to understand.
We can actually assign some note names to our minor 7 chord. For simplicity, we’ll only be looking at two different minor 7 chords. Gm7 (G Bb D F) and Am7 (A C E G). Here’s the tab and notation.
Now, we’ve got four different ways of playing a minor 7 drop 2 voicing. This has to do with inversions. Inversions, are relatively simple when dealing with closed position triads. You have 3 different inversions closed position chords for G minor (spelled GBbD [root position], BbDG [1st inversion] and DGBb [2nd inversion]). Things get a bit trickier when we add a fourth tone and a drop voicing in the mix. I have two ways of thinking of drop voicing inversions. The first way would be to spell each chord out in closed position (G Bb D F, Bb D F G, D F G Bb and F G Bb D) and drop each 2nd voice (giving us D G Bb F, F Bb D G, G D F Bb and Bb F G D). The other way I think of drop voicing inversions is to start from any one inversion (let’s choose D G Bb F) and moving each pitch to the next available pitch on the same string (D->F G->Bb Bb-> F->G).
Again, confusing, I know. If you’re anything like I was when I was learning about this stuff, you’re about ready to put your guitar in a case and forget about it. I mean, why would you need to learn four shapes to play one chord four different ways? If you’ve stayed with me this long, I’ve got a little treat for powering through. This shape four different ways isn’t just for one single chord. It’s for three!
If we take the four notes from Gm7, and put different bass notes underneath, we’ve got a chord that can function three different ways. G Bb D F with a G underneath is a Gm7. That one is obvious, G is 1, Bb is b3, D is 5 and F is b7. But if we were to put an Bb at the bottom, G becomes 6, Bb is 1, D is 3 and F is 5. That’s a Bb6 chord, or a chord that works just fine over a Bb chord. If we put an Eb below, we have G as 3, Bb as 5, D as 7 and F as 9. That’s Ebmaj9 without the root. Learning one chord four ways suddenly becomes three chords four ways, giving us a total of 12 different options for our four shapes. So, if we take our minor 7 voicings, if the root is a minor 3rd up or below, that same shape can now function as a major chord. This will be very useful for later.
The fact that we have different ways to to approach these chords when we see them on a leadsheet gives us more options to play behind a soloist in a melodic way. One of the great parts about jazz, is that we have all these tunes with a framework attached to them. We’re given a blueprint of what the harmony is, but not an exact recipe. We can follow the soloist, move with or contrary to the direction they’re taking their melody. We can also give the soloist ideas, nudge them in directions they wouldn’t normally go in, because we have these options. If a soloist (in jazz) wanted to play over the same chord voicings, played the same way, they would play over a backing track.
Soloing in jazz isn’t a lecture, it’s a conversation. Comping effectively is like active listening and interjecting when appropriate while you’re conversing. If you’re not a good listener, or you speak at inappropriate times, then why should anyone really listen to you when it’s your turn to speak?
That’s it for now, if a lot of this stuff didn’t make sense, that’s absolutely ok. If you stick with it, these concepts will start to make more and more sense as you get more comfortable with these shapes. Learn these, get them under your fingers and next time, we’ll talk about dominant chords that play nicely with these minor chords, so we can connect these major and minor chords together and start learning some tunes. Happy practicing.