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Thread: Tips on chords in Jazz

  1. #1

    Default Tips on chords in Jazz

    I come from a jazz background and recently picked up the mandolin so I'm trying to play jazz on it naturally. I've been working through this:

    http://www.petimarpress.com/pdf%20fi...20Mandolin.pdf

    Which is a great resource, but I find most of the chords sound terrible on mandolin. Confused as to what I was doing wrong I thought I'd go find an example of someone doing it right and came across this video of Don Stiernberg

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R52BvaCKfFk

    And I have to say, I feel like his chordal stuff doesn't sound very good (obviously much better than what I'm doing technically). But I just can't get my ear around the types of jazz chordal voicings that are doable on the mandolin even when played by one of the greats on the instrument. Any suggestions of alternate approaches(maybe more 2 or 3 note voicings?) or other people to check out? The subtle dissonance between the string courses that make major triads have more character and sound bigger just seem to get in the way with 7th, 9th chords etc.

    Edit: I like what he's doing here a lot more, maybe I just stumbled on a weird take
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_sMq-2mO_A
    Last edited by drbhrb; May-31-2017 at 7:44pm.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    No expert here, but I tend to stay away from the fancy extensions. I leave them to the guitar player and just use three-note inversions--except maybe on the five chord to add a little tension.

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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    Dear drbhrb,

    Please be more specific about which chord sounds you don't like. I don't mean to defend my bad sounding chords, and I would like to help. A quick review of the samples above shows that on rhythm playing I am using mostly 3 note voicings, and generally those are similar to what Pete shows, as far as basic functional shapes-he usually has a fourth note, but our voicings seem to be going after the same things. One thing that you might hear on the rhythm side of things is I will frequently on m7 chords play just a minor chord, no 7. So that bit of functionality is lost,that one might sound too plain. Not sure why I fell into that, maybe seemed easier to move to corresponding dominants. Here lately I'll play m9's more often, and move to a 13 or b13 on the dominant...
    It may be the chord melody voicings as on Night and Day that are more objectionable. Those are often 4 note shapes, melody the highest note whether 3 or 4 notes in the voicing. That very first one, Dm7b5 with G on top, doesn't strike me all that well either now that you mention it. I do know that first change is debatable anyway--some cats use Abmaj7.
    So if you can tell me more about which things don't sound good--rhythm? lead? All of it?...hopefully we can scratch around and find better voicings for all of us. I'm grateful to you for opening the dialogue, always looking for and open to new grips and routes..
    I got on a gig recently behind a singer and often I'm the only chord instrument. It's been scary, i've always been self-conscious about playing chords behind instruments(voice, horns, guitar, piano) that make richer, lower, fuller sounds...it's always struck me as hearing the right hand range of a piano comping for the left hand range, kinda backwards. Well oddly enough I've wound up playing LESS behind this singer. I thought I would need to play more, add interest or fullness, but it turns out less is what's working. So rarely all four notes, and sometimes only two, keeping the movements close, not hopping around too much. Sometimes only the most pertinent notes, the ones that illustrate the functions.
    As far as other players to dig: Paul Glasse. John Reischman. Mike Marshall. Jason Anick. Chris Biesterfield.Aaron Weinstein. Tim Connell.Johnny Gimble. Jethro Burns.Jacob do Bandolim. DuDu Maia. Hamilton de Holanda.Danilo Brito. David Grisman. Tiny Moore.Matt Flinner.Andy Statman.Tim O'Brien. Even when these cats are not playing rhythm or chord melody or jazz, each has his own unique concept about chord voicings and harmony. There are others too which I will add in further posts.
    Oh hey drbhrb tell me too what instrument you played before mandolin. That might help in terms of what you were hearing on other instruments that you aren't hearing on the mandolin..
    Thanks again I look forward to batting around the ideas.

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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    The Green Dolphin Street video sounds great because Don is staying in one place for that "cool" effect.

    In general, jazz chording will sound right if there is very little movement, little or no moving up and down the fingerboard. For example, "Route 66" in G would be well served by using 4-3-5-x for the G7. Even without a bass, if you are singing the root is in the vocal. Also, the next chord, C9, would be in the same place, 3-2-5-x, moving the short distance back to G7 at 4-3-5-x. The D7 then is 5-4-5-x, then C9 at 3-2-5-x, and back to G7 4-3-5-x. To stay nearby for that cool, relaxed feeling, you can swap the C9 from 3-2-5-x to C7 0-2-1-x and go in between with 0-2-5-x before G7, which could switch between 4-3-5-x and 7-3-2-x. The D7 can switch between 5-4-5-x and 4-3-0-x, follow with C7 0-2-1-x and C9 3-2-9 and back to G7 4-3-5-x.

    So:

    4-3-5-x (G)
    3-2-5-x (C)
    4-3-5-x (G)
    3-2-5-x (C)
    4-3-5-x (G)
    5-3-5-x (D)
    3-2-5-x (C)
    4-3-5-x (G)

    This has a steady focus on the 7ths and 9ths, letting the root go sometimes. It feels cooler because you don't jump around. This is a handy go-to for a I-IV-V pattern. The constant 5th-fret D on the A string is the hinge.

    Another I-IV-V, in A minor, would be:

    2-5-3-x (Am7)
    2-4-3-x (D7) on which you do what Don calls the pinky dance and switch to 2-4-5 and 2-4-6. and
    7-6-2-x (E7) where the index finger can move one fret up for the augmented at 7-6-3-x and back to 7-6-2-x returning to
    2-4-3-x (D7) where you could do another little move of 2-4-2-x and 2-4-0-x to
    2-5-3-x (Am7)

    I would say the color and tension notes (in Don's terminology) are usually more important to get the jazz feel, rather than the 3rds and 5ths.

    One of my favorites is the 3rd- and 5th-less 7th chord (good for blues): 2-5-0-x for A, or 5-8-3-x for C. On a 4-course mando 7-2-2-x is a useful E7 for blues. (Way more choices with a C course.) You can of course bring in the 3rd at 7-5-2-x (Em) or add the open E. But look for what is called voice leading. That is, find a line, a bass line or melody line that you can show with the chords.

    To my ears, jazz wants very small or no movement (no moving a fixed pattern up the neck and back). Most music likes attention to how the accompaniment moves, or doesn't. Power chords move, but most backup stays near where it starts.

    If you're interested:
    I have noticed that Bach's principles of choral writing, or voice leading--contrary motion (bass moving opposite the melody), pedal tone (unmoving bass), and parallel motion (power chords)--are found in all popular music, and have the same result as in Bach's time. If a melody moves upward as the bass goes down, the feeling is opening up, getting large. The opposite feels like getting smaller, as the melody and bass come close to each other. This could also produce a more focused effect, as the two converge.

    A common jazz move is when the bass (or piano, or both) hold on a bass note, usually the dominant (V) while the solo blows over the normal changes. Holding the tonic (the key) is a stronger statement, usually done at the end. Power chords are dramatic because everything moves together, bass and harmony doing the same thing. This is parallel motion, and was rather unseemly in Bach's time.

    Often in jazz the only movement is the interior notes. My voicings (on CGDA) for Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" are:

    4-7-5-x (Em7)
    4-6-5-x (A7)
    5-8-5-x (Fm7)
    5-7-5-x (Bb6)
    3-7-5-x (Ebmaj7)

    Note how there is almost no movement.

    For me, it works best to note the melody and the bass root as a starting position. I might skip the bass but I know where it is. The two define my chord, and and I choose the interior note (or two) that sounds right.
    Last edited by Tom Wright; May-31-2017 at 11:07pm.
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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    When playing with a band, it is easy to play inversions and leave out the root. I also tend to play very vanilla chords in a band situation. The register of the mandolin is where many instrumentalist might go to help their solo stand out above the rhythm, and having too much going on while comping on the mandolin sometimes gets in the way. I'll often play 3 note or even 2 note double stop 3&5 combo on the low strings while someone is taking a break.

    When playing solo, I think there is more room for adding more color, but I'm not as good at that yet, however that is a great time to really have the voice leading. I think that mandolin is great at voice leading, note by note to the next chord, as Tom stated so well, by moving a single note. The symmetry of the strings, all in 5ths, I think really helps in this regard.

    You should hear Don and his trio and see how his mandolin sounds in that context.



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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    Something I'd like to share that I learned from Don Stiernberg--when discussing music (and this can be said for art of any kind), generalized adjectives like, "good", "great", "terrible", "awful" aren't very effective in getting to the heart of the matter. The more effective question to ask our ear is WHY? WHY, to our ear, does something sound pleasing or not so pleasing. The more specifically we answer that question, that more we have a chance of playing what we mean to/want to. After all, it's difficult to sound the way we want unless we have a really clear notion of what we're aiming for.

    To the question of specific voicings--if we're talking about accompaniment (rather than implanting chords within an improvised solo or chord-melody)--the kind of voices that Don is using in the videos on this thread, are the kind of voicings that I believe to be the bedrock of traditional jazz accompaniment. They are the same kind of voicings that guitarists like Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden use.

    Now, everything regarding accompaniment is contingent upon the specific situation in which one is playing. Personally, when playing chordal accompaniment, I use the E string sparingly, keeping things mostly to three notes on the A,D and G strings and often think of the G string as an independently moving voice, which can add a lot of interesting variety to the voicings. Also, depending on the musical situation, I might try to create a melody within the chordal accompaniment that compliments what the soloist is doing. Although, sometime "one note chords" in the style of Freddie Green is what makes most sense.

    But sometimes, it's really effective to play 4 note voicings--even when the top note of the voicing is above the range of the soloist. If done as a chordal riff, it can approximate backgrounds that might be played by a trumpet section of a big band.

    There are infinite possibilities.

    But the more specific we can be when deciphering what we like, don't like, and most importantly...WHY...the more we will be on our way to creating a personal style of chordal accompaniment that will be so satisfying, it will add years to our lives and solve the middle east peace crisis, world hunger and global warming.

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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    Yay Aaron! When playing rhythm with other instruments, the mandolin adds a sparkle or hint of spice that shouldn't draw attention away from the vocalist or the solo instruments. I find myself gravitating also to the lowest 3 string voicing and try to move inversions of chords around so that I'm not a static voice, but also not an overwhelming voice. Also try to fit the rhythm into the mood and style of the song. In swing/jazz there's very little "chopping". There has to be listening that goes on during group play - your spice has to fit the dish, not overpower it. Too much pepper is unpalatable, too little and it can be bland and boring.

    And then when it's our turn, we can play a solo! Chord melody, double stops, single notes - makes those instruments that only play one note at a time jealous.

    And they do call it playing music for a reason...

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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    Dear drbhrb,

    Please be more specific about which chord sounds you don't like. I don't mean to defend my bad sounding chords, and I would like to help. A quick review of the samples above shows that on rhythm playing I am using mostly 3 note voicings, and generally those are similar to what Pete shows, as far as basic functional shapes-he usually has a fourth note, but our voicings seem to be going after the same things. One thing that you might hear on the rhythm side of things is I will frequently on m7 chords play just a minor chord, no 7. So that bit of functionality is lost,that one might sound too plain. Not sure why I fell into that, maybe seemed easier to move to corresponding dominants. Here lately I'll play m9's more often, and move to a 13 or b13 on the dominant...
    It may be the chord melody voicings as on Night and Day that are more objectionable. Those are often 4 note shapes, melody the highest note whether 3 or 4 notes in the voicing. That very first one, Dm7b5 with G on top, doesn't strike me all that well either now that you mention it. I do know that first change is debatable anyway--some cats use Abmaj7.
    So if you can tell me more about which things don't sound good--rhythm? lead? All of it?...hopefully we can scratch around and find better voicings for all of us. I'm grateful to you for opening the dialogue, always looking for and open to new grips and routes..
    I got on a gig recently behind a singer and often I'm the only chord instrument. It's been scary, i've always been self-conscious about playing chords behind instruments(voice, horns, guitar, piano) that make richer, lower, fuller sounds...it's always struck me as hearing the right hand range of a piano comping for the left hand range, kinda backwards. Well oddly enough I've wound up playing LESS behind this singer. I thought I would need to play more, add interest or fullness, but it turns out less is what's working. So rarely all four notes, and sometimes only two, keeping the movements close, not hopping around too much. Sometimes only the most pertinent notes, the ones that illustrate the functions.
    As far as other players to dig: Paul Glasse. John Reischman. Mike Marshall. Jason Anick. Chris Biesterfield.Aaron Weinstein. Tim Connell.Johnny Gimble. Jethro Burns.Jacob do Bandolim. DuDu Maia. Hamilton de Holanda.Danilo Brito. David Grisman. Tiny Moore.Matt Flinner.Andy Statman.Tim O'Brien. Even when these cats are not playing rhythm or chord melody or jazz, each has his own unique concept about chord voicings and harmony. There are others too which I will add in further posts.
    Oh hey drbhrb tell me too what instrument you played before mandolin. That might help in terms of what you were hearing on other instruments that you aren't hearing on the mandolin..
    Thanks again I look forward to batting around the ideas.
    Wow thank you very much for replying. I've listened to a lot of your music in the past week and definitely came to the conclusion that it was mostly a combination of a non-studio recording setup being listened through laptop speakers. Enjoying your music very much. I am a guitar player professionally and also play electric bass and drums somewhat less so.

    Listening to your albums I enjoy what you're doing very much and have learned a lot from them already. That being said I am still struggling with some types of voicings coming from a mandolin. Some of this I think is wrapping my ear around the range of the instrument and some of it may just be needing to find which voicings I like.

    One issue for me is the with the range of the mandolin being so high it can sound somewhat disconnected from the root motion the bass player is playing. This is particularly pronounced with rootless voicings.

    The other thing that I mentioned in my other post is just the nature of doubled coursed strings. They make melodies stand out wonderfully and give body with triadic harmony. I do think that in some more adventurous extension laden chords they tend to add too much crunch. For me I think this means being very precise with tuning/intonation and being judicious in my choice of chord tones to put in.

    Even on guitar over the years I've moved from 4 or 5 note voicings, drop 2, drop 3, etc to mostly 2-3 note vocings just picking out the chord tones I want and connecting with melodic phrases while comping. So perhaps this is partly just my nature as a player.

    I appreciate you weighing in and sorry if I didn't phrase my question well. I used you as an example as you're one of the most prolific jazz mandolin players I've come across and figured people would be familiar - pretty cool you're on this board!

    Everyone else thank you for your suggestions. I am going through them as well and will respond when I have a chance. What a great community.

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    Default Re: Tips on chords in Jazz

    I'm not a jazz mandolinist but am interested in looking into it for musical ideas and an exploration of the instrument. What an interesting discussion. I think I get where you're coming from drbhrb. 4-note voicings that incorporate "high" extensions (9ths and above) on top of the chords or dissonant notes within them do 'stick out' on the mandolin and I think that's just down to the nature of the instrument. It's also the nature of jazz where a 'smooth' feel is often appropriate unlike in bluegrass where it's more open or choppy.

    However, I watched that version of Night and Day in your first post. And, despite standing by my technical viewpoint above, I find the usage of these voicings in this video shows where there's a place for them and how they can be used suitably. I think David Benedict's accompaniment approach on the first run through is very relaxed and dynamically spot on. But that's the subjectivity of it all, eh? What's appropriate or pleasing to my ear isn't going to be the same across the board. And, as I mentioned initially, I'm not versed in jazz so perhaps my opinion isn't all that useful.

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