Tag Archives: jazz piano chords

Jazz piano chords usually contain extensions and alterations. The 3 extensions are 9, 11 and 13.

Learning to play jazz

Learning to play jazz

Play jazz: practice and theory

Have you ever been asked the question “What do you do?” When I used to reply “I’m a singing coach” the usual annoying response was “Do you know anyone famous?” Now that I teach jazz piano, an equally infuriating reaction is “How can you teach improvisation? I thought you just make stuff up.” However I have to admit that they do have a point. I can’t imagine that fifty years ago jazz players had the same access to teachers, courses or even books on the practical aspects of playing jazz. So how did they learn? Perhaps they did just ‘make stuff up’ but they would have also learned by listening to other musicians. More importantly, their musical progress would have evolved through the act of playing alongside fellow musicians.

Nowadays, there is far more access to jazz education, with full-time degree courses, jazz teachers, online tutorials, and books by the cartload. But however much we fill our heads with jazz theory, there is still no substitute for the two activities that jazz musicians have always engaged in: listening and playing together. Understanding tritone substitution and gaining the ability to play
II-V-I’s in every key will is will get you so far, but until you get out there and play with other musicians your progress will eventually hit a brick wall. This also applies to only ever playing along to backing tracks. These tracks will help you with timing and acquainting yourself with a piece, but they are no substitute for the real thing.

Even if you have a personal teacher playing alongside you, there is still a difference between this relatively safe activity and playing in a room with a group of fellow musicians. Taking this to the next level has to be performing live. Even if you are just playing to the barman one can only benefit from this shift up in gear: this is now a gig rather than a practice section or rehearsal. There is no longer the option to stop half way through if something goes wrong but there’s also the added buzz that only comes from performing rather than rehearsing.

So, assuming that you are now playing with other musicians and doing the odd gig, is there really any need to learn theory? Let’s break this down.

Reading the dots

I’m not one of the lucky ones that can carry dozens of tunes around in my head. However, I played classical music in my younger days and can therefore read music. But is it an essential requirement? For me, I know that this skill has enabled me to work as a pro musician for 40 years but, generally speaking, I’d say that you can get by just by reading the treble clef, in other words, the top line or melody of a tune.

Recognising the chord symbols

This has to be an essential requirement, for the simple reason that a lead sheet comprises of the top line (melody) plus chord symbols. Some single line players (sax etc) have been known to get away without knowing their chords, but for us piano players it’s our bread and butter. You must work towards recognising chord symbols for all major, minor and dominant seven chords in every key. There is no escape from this requirement.

Reading the map

Just seeing each chord individually is not enough. You may have your favourite voicings and know scales that work over each chord, but playing a solo by referring to each chord individually will sound unmusical and disjointed. All songs have a map: chords fall into groups and these groups of chords usually belong to a key centre.

Key centres

Most tunes begin in one key but then move through a number of related keys before eventually returning to the original key (the key signature). The chord chart doesn’t inform you explicitly of these key changes. It is for you to decipher them. The big clue is to be found in the dominant 7 chord, which usually ‘points’ towards its tonic, in other words, the key centre. So, for example, if you see the chord A7, it ‘wants’ to resolve to D major or D minor. Once you have identified a group of chords that all belong to one key centre, you can then play through this passage in a way that makes musical sense. The most common sequence in jazz is II –V – I.

Scales and modes

Choose any chord, no matter how complex, and there’s bound to be a scale or mode that can be played over it. The danger here is that just running up and down these scales and modes will produce bad jazz. But, that said, you need to gain some knowledge of these scales and how they relate to chords.

Chord tones

There are certain notes within a chord that identify that chord and need to be targeted. Top of the list is the 3. This is the note that tells us whether a chord is major or minor. Nest in importance comes the 7. The difference, for example, between C7 and C major 7 is whether the note ‘B’ is natural or flattened. These 3s and 7s need to be highlighted in order to illuminate the harmonic line of your solo.


It can always be said that all the above can be learned by just having a good ear. But in the end it’s finding your own balance between studying the theory and just playing the music.






How to solo

How to solo

How to Solo

My learn jazz piano video course is now around half way through the series ‘How to solo.’  There now follows a summary of these lessons so far with a link to each lesson.

Lesson 21:  Connecting hands
In this lesson I take you through techniques to incorporate your left hand. These include the following:

Walking bass lines
Shearing block chords
Drop 2 and left hand voicings

Click here for link to lesson 21


Lesson 22: Choosing the right scale
This lesson guides you through the best scales and modes to use over your chords and focuses on the following topics:

Using the Lydian mode over major chords
Choosing Dorian or Aolian over minor chords
The use of Lydian Dominant, altered scale etc over 7th chords
Choosing Locrian or Locrian 2 over diminished chords

Click here for lesson 22


Lesson 23: putting scales to work
This lesson guides you through many soloing options

Bebop scales
Effective use of passing notes
How to encircle notes
Soloing over Satin Doll

Click here for lesson 23



Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube

 Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube

Click here for my new  Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube

This Learn Jazz Piano video on YouTube is a short recap about the relationship between a major scale and its seven chords.

Here are the 7th chords that belong to F major.

 Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube
7 related chords in F major

To purchase my Learn Jazz Piano videos click here.

Here’s a summary of the lesson content:

Lesson 1 – From scales to chords

  • Soloing over the Pentatonic scale
  • Mastering intervals
  • The V – I concept
  • One formula to construct all major scales
  • 7 chords, one family
 Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube
7 chords, 1 scale

Lesson 2 – Building a chord sequence

  • Chord sequences
  • The relative minor and its scales
  • The family row of minor triads
  • Soloing in a minor key

Lesson 3 –  Mastering every key

  • The circle of 5ths
  • How to play in any key
  • Preview of the II-V-I sequence
  • Introduction to the turnaround

Lesson 4 – Swing time

  • Learning to swing
  • The construction of 7th chords
  • How to interpret chord symbols
  • Shells – how not to upset the bass player

Lesson 5 – Walking 3s

  • Turnarounds part 2: I – VI – II -V
  • Walking 3s and 7s: the seeds of vertical improvisation.
  • How to use passing notes.
  • Voice leading

Lesson 6 – Extensions

  • Extensions: how to use 9ths, 11ths and 13th.
  • Know which extensions work with which chord.
  • Voicing a chord using extensions.
  • Introduction to Modes.

Lesson 7 – The II-V-I sequence

  • Master the II – V – I sequence in all keys
  • Seven soloing techniques over II – V – I
  • Alterations: know your sharp 11 from your flat 13
  •  Flat 9s and the diminished chord

Lesson 8 – How to comp

  • Comp like a pro
  • Find the best chord voicings
  • Use the right extensions
  • Build up to a five-note comp
  • Explore rhythmic variations

Lesson 9 – Modes

  • Know your Mixodydian from your Dorian
  • Grasp the connection between modes and chords
  • The art of modal soloing and comping
  • How to play ‘So What’

Lesson 10 – Autumn Leaves part 1

  • Playing your first standard
  • Learning the melody
  • The comp
  • The shells
  • The solo

Lesson 11 – Autumn Leaves part 2

  • Taking Autumn Leaves to the next level
  • How to fill out the melody
  • Comping with alterations
  • Soloing with vertical improvisation

Lesson 12 – The Blues part 1

Play with confidence over the blues.

  • How to solo creatively
  • The minor blues
  • Blues in 12/8
    Plus lots of tips, tricks and licks!

Lesson 13 – The Blues part 2

  • Taking the blues beyond the basics.
  • Chord changes that turn blues into jazz.
  • Lydian dominant & diminished scales.
  • Rootess left-hand voicings.

Lesson 14 – Bebop blues

  • Left hand 4-note rootless voicings
  • Constructing the Bebop sequence.
  • How to solo over a Bebop blues
  • Comping over a Bebop blues

Lesson 15 – Rootless voicing

  • Constructing left hand rootless voicings.
  • Applying  rootless voicings to II-V-I and turnarounds.
  • Adding the alterations: b9, b13 etc.

Lesson 16 – Tritone substitution

  • Diminished theory
  • Soloing over diminshed chords
  • Using diminished scales over dominant 7ths
  • Mastering tritone substitution

Lesson 17 – Putting it together

  • Now put your knowledge to work!
  • Combine learned techniques to play a jazz standard.
  • Rootless voicings + tritone substitution
  • Altered and diminished scales

Lesson 18 – Decoding a standard

  • Analysis of ‘All The Things You Are.’
  • How tunes are structured.
  • Identifying key centres
  • Connecting melody and chords
  • How to learn tunes

Lesson 19 – Reharmonising a standard

  • Chord substitution
  • How to reharmonise a tune
  • All The Thing You Are: advanced
  • Take The A Train reharmonised

Lesson 20 – Rhythm Changes

  • Next to a 12-bar blues, Rhythm Changes
    is the most important chord sequence in jazz.
    Master all its forms in this vital video lesson.


For my Learn Jazz Piano eBooks click here.

 Learn Jazz piano video on YouTube
My eBooks

The 2nd golden rule: learning to play jazz piano.

The 2nd golden rule: learning to play jazz piano.

learning to play Jazz Piano with Paul Abrahams

Golden rule number 2 when learning to play jazz piano:

Know all your 7th chords.

When studying jazz piano you must ensure that all 7th chords are under your fingers.

These are 4-note chords that have intervals of either a minor 3rd or a major 3rd.

A minor 3rd has a gap of 3 half steps (semitones).

A major 3rd had a gap of 4 half steps (tones).

There are four types of 7th chords:

  1. Major 7
  2. Dominant 7
  3. Minor 7
  4. Minor 7, flat 5, also known as half diminished.
  5. Diminished.


Major 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = major 3rd

Example: F major 7 = F + A + C + E

Dominant 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: F7 = F + A + C + Eb

Minor 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: F min7 = F + Ab + C + Eb

Minor 7, b5

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = major 3rd

Example: Fmin7b5 = F + Ab + B + Eb


  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: Fdim7 = F + Ab + B + D

Apart from the diminished, all these chords are contained within a major scale and can be constructed over each note of the scale. I call this ‘the family row.’

Here are these chords over the scale of F major.

learning to play jazz piano
7 chords, 1 scale


  • There are two major 7 chords. They occur over notes I and IV.
  • There are three minor 7 chords. They occur over notes II, III and VI.
  • There is one minor 7, b5 chord (half diminished). It occurs over note VII.

Learn and recognise these chords in all keys!

Now see what happens when we construct 7th chords over a harmonic minor scale. More complex chords come into being.

Here are these chords over each step of the scale of D harmonic minor.

 learning to play jazz piano

Compare the major and minor family rows and notice the following:

  1.  In both the major and minor rows, V is a dominant 7 chord.
  2.  In both the major and minor rows, II is a minor 7, but contains b5 in the minor row.

These points will become increasingly important when we examine chord structures.

To learn more about converting major scales into chords watch video lesson 1.

To learn more about minor scales and chords watch video lesson 2.

To learn more about the construction of 7th chords watch video lesson 4.

All these topics are covered in eBook 1 of Learn Jazz Piano.


Reharmonising a jazz standard

Reharmonising a jazz standard

Lesson 19 of Learn Jazz Piano online is called ‘Reharmonising a jazz standard’ and will be ready in a week or so.

In lesson 18, I dissected Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, analysing its structure and breaking it down into key centres. I also stuck to Kern’s original harmony. But in this upcoming lesson we’ll be taking things further by replacing the simple chords with a sequence more appropriate to jazz.
I’ll show you some simple techniques that you can apply to any jazz standard. In fact, in lesson 19 I’ll be giving the same treatment to Billy Strayhorn’s Take The A Train.

The creation of a new, sophisticated chord structure will allow your solos to take on a far more creative journey.

Here are some reharmonisations in the A section of Take The A Train

rehamonising a standard
Take The A Train with substitute chords

As always, the 30-minute video will come with 4 downloadable backing tracks, sheet music and a quiz. ‘Reharmonising a  jazz standard’ should be ready in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, I suggest you catch up by purchasing lesson 18.

Get lesson 18 here!

Jazz piano lesson 16: Tritone Substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16: Tritone Substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16 now available: tritone substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16 of my online video course, Learn Jazz Piano, is all about tritone substitution.
I start by showing you how diminished scales weave through dominant 7th chords and how you can solo over 8 chords using just 1 diminished scale.This leads us to tritone substitution: replacing one 7th chord with another.
The tritone, also known as the devil’s interval, is the key to unlocking a new and more advanced way of soloing.
tritone substitution
Original chord & tritone

Lesson 15: how to voice rootless chords

Lesson 15: how to voice rootless chords

Learn how to voice rootless chords in your left hand

Lesson 15 of my online video course ‘Learn Jazz Piano Online’ is now available. The lesson teaches you how to voice rootless chords in your left hand. This is a more modern approach that Bill Evans used when playing in his trio. It not only leaves more room for the bass player; these voicings will also inspire your right hand to play far more interesting solos.

Here are some rootless voicings in a II-V-I sequence in Bb.

how to voice rootless chords
Rootless voicings

Besides the 30 minute video, I provide you with 4 downloadable backing tracks, sheet music and a quiz. Here’s the link.