Color Your World

May 1, 2010

It doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of music theory to add new depth to your chord voicings. My mentor, the great jazz pianist Kenny Barron, would often respond to questions about his commanding chord palette by saying, “It’s all about knowing what colors are available, and knowing how to use them.” That simple concept, of thinking about chord extensions in a visual way, made a lasting impact on me and my music. Here are a few simple “colors,” and accompanying sample voicings, that will go a long way towards deepening your voicing chops.

Many times, the addition of a single note can be the difference between a forgettable voicing and one that packs a potent punch. What a difference a note makes!



Ex. 1. Sometimes the simplest voicings can be the most effective. This first voicing is a close position C major chord. I’m doubling the root, and adding a third and fifth. Especially when I’m writing pop songs, I like the deceptively simple sound that an open voicing like this can impart. It leads the listener in, and provides a good foundation to build on.   CLICK FOR AUDIO


 /uploadedImages/keyboardmag/articles/KB0510_Chord_Ex-2_chart.jpg  KB0510_Chord_Ex-2_Diagram

Ex. 2. Here’s another C major chord, but this one includes the second instead of the third — often this is called an “add2” chord. The addition of the second (or ninth) using the interval of a major second, (between the C and D), imparts a dream-like, suspended quality.  CLICK FOR AUDIO



Ex. 3. This simple Bb major chord is voiced similarly to the C in Example 1, except here, we’re doubling the fifth instead of the root. It’s lean, mean, and muscular-sounding.  CLICK FOR AUDIO


 /uploadedImages/keyboardmag/articles/KB0510_Chord_Ex-4_chart.jpg  KB0510_Chord_Ex-4_Diagram

Ex. 4. Here we have a Bb major chord again, but by moving just two notes, we create a sound that seems to hang in mid-air. This is the Bb6/9 chord. Notice again how the inclusion of the interval of the major second (between the C and D), totally changes the character. Also, the use here of the sixth (G), instead of the fifth (F), further colors the sound.  CLICK FOR AUDIO



Ex. 5. Here’s a standard, root-position Amin7 chord, voiced simply with the root, seventh, minor third, and fifth. This voicing is compact, and effective for it’s stark and plaintive sound.  CLICK FOR AUDIO



Ex. 6. Now we’ve taken our Amin7 chord, added the raised fifth (F) to the left hand, and replaced the natural fifth in the right hand (E) with the fourth or eleventh (D). You could call the result Amin11(add #5). It’s a dense sound, due mainly to the inclusion of two sets of major second intervals: between both the F and G, and the C and D. It’s a complex, colorful voicing, and one of my favorites.  CLICK FOR AUDIO


 0JonRegen Editor at Large Jon Regen has made a name for himself in a multitude of musical settings, from straight-ahead jazz to pop singer/songwriter fare. His album Let It Go features Andy Summers of the Police and Martha Wainwright. Regen is currently recording its follow-up, and tours Europe this summer. Visit him at

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