Playing Rootless Voicings On The Piano

Rootless Voicings: A Jazz Pianist’s Necessity

Rootless VoicingsWhat are rootless voicings? It’s actually easy to understand when you know what a root is. You might be thinking of the bottom of a tree when you think of that word. Well, the concept is the same. As the root of a tree is at the bottom, the root of a chord is also at the bottom. When we refer to the “bottom” of a chord, we mean the lowest note being played (or the note furthest to the left on the piano being played) when that chord is played in its most basic position. The root is also the letter name of the chord.


Here is an example:

A Cmaj7 chord, in its most basic position, looks like this:


As you can see, the C is at the bottom of the chord. Since the name of the chord is “C” major seventh, we automatically know that the root of the chord is C.

What happens if we eliminate the root? would we still have a Cmaj7 chord?  Actually, this is something that commonly occurs among jazz musicians in a group scenario. Since the bass player’s role is to establish the root motion of a chord progression, he or she will be playing the root. This means that the pianist is not required to. To take it further, it’s often more desirable to not play the root as the pianist in this setting for a few reasons:

1) The integrity of each of the roles of the bassist and the pianist is maintained by their each having a different function – the bassist plays the root and the pianist plays other chord tones.

2) Not having the play the root, the pianist enjoys the freedom of being able to play more creatively by utilizing those fingers to play more interesting chord tones and extensions like 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc.

3) If the pianist was to play the root of the chord along with the bass player and there was even the slightest intonation difference between the two instruments, that would not be pleasant to the ear. Thus, this problem
is eliminated when the pianist leaves the root to the bassist.

In ProProach, we approach voicings in different ways. As you proceed through the program, you will have more of a handle on playing voicings with and without those roots. Naturally, if you are playing as a soloist, you will
often want to use the chord root, since you don’t have a bass player with you.

So, in that example above, you could simply play the E, G, and B while the .bass player takes care of playing that root. The result would sound just great.

Sure, you might be saying, “But isn’t it true that playing just the E, G, and B results in an E minor chord?”

It could. However, when the root C is added (whether the bassist or the pianist is playing it), that changes the chord to Cmaj7.

You eventually discover, too (for reasons beyond the scope of this particular message), that even a soloing pianist will sometimes resort to playing rootless voicings. So, if you are looking to enhance your piano styling skills, you will
most definitely want to familiarize yourself with rootless voicings. As a musical artist, it’s a most important way of expanding that “palette of colors” you’ll be “painting” with.