Simple Yet Effective Rootless Voicings For The II-V-I Chord Progression
These rootless voicings for the II-V-I chord progression will work well whether you are in a solo cocktail piano situation or you’re playing with a bassist. When playing solo, their effectiveness may be enhanced by complimenting with the root in the bass area (however, there will be times when you opt not to).
Since the II-V-I is the most popularly used chord progression in jazz music, getting a handle on different ways to voice it will most certainly be conducive your having confidence playing through those favorite standards. We will be taking a look at one here. By the way, a majority of all the video sessions available in our store (all available via instant access) deal with the topic of chord voicings for piano in one fashion or another.
The II-V-I chord progression in the key of C Major is:
Dmin7 – G7 – Cmaj7
These chords in their basic root position are spelled out like this:
Dmin7 = D F A C
G7 = G B D F
Cmaj7 = C E G B
Again, we are going to turn these into rootless voicings. Two members of each chord that we will, of course, be maintaining are the 3 and 7.
For the Dmin7, we will add the 9, which is E. Since the 5th of a chord is often dispensable (we discuss this in ProProach), we will leave out the A. This leaves us with a 3-7-9 voicing:
Dmin9 = F C E
For the G7, will will also leave out the 5th. For flavor and add the 13 (E) for flavor:
G13 = F B E
Notice that the E is in common with both of these voicings which makes for smooth voice leading. It serves as the 9 in Dmin9 and the 13 in G13
For the Cmaj7, will leave the 5th out as well and add the 9:
Cmaj9 = E B D
Also notice that the B is shared between the latter two voicings, another example of smooth voice leading.
Remembering that the voicings’ lowest member is starting in the area just below middle C, here are the three rootless voicings:
F C E ==> F B E == > E B D
Just listen to how smoothly these voicings work together.
Play them, taking turns with both hands. Allow yourself to hear them over the roots in the bass (when playing the voicings with the left hand, cross your right hand over to play them)
A nice alternate way to the a voicing for the Cmaj7 is to actually replace the 7 with the 6, the result being:
C 6/9 = E A D
You are also highly encouraged to transpose these rootless voicings to other keys. The more keys you feel comfortable playing them in, the more confidence you will have as a player. Truly, it’s well worth your exploration.
It may be worth mentioning that a jazz player, when faced with basic chord symbols (like Dmin7, G7, Cmaj7, etc.), will enjoy the liberty of playing voicings which, ultimately, result in playing 9th chords, 13th chords, etc. This is great news if you are a developing player, as it offers you the opportunity to go back to some of those favorite standard tunes of yours and see how you might make some tasty modifications to those basic chord symbols!
Special Note: keep in mind that, although we have acknowledged these voicings within the II-V-I sequence, we have three different voicings of different qualities here (Minor 7, Dominant 7, and Major 7), which can be used in many places of your music even when they are not within the context of this progression!
The following video lasts for just a few seconds. It is a very tiny excerpt from my Paper Moon video session. Play it a few times and see if you can notice where the three voicings above are being played (a new window or tab will open):
The wonderful world of piano chord voicings is one in which, once you enter, you’ll never want to leave. It’s an incredible journey that leads to many, satisfying rewards.