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Thread: Rootless chords

  1. #1
    Mandolinist out of Atl
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    Mar 2012
    Atlanta, GA
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    Default Rootless chords

    I would like to learn more about chord voicings that exclude the root. I also would like to better understand when and where to employ them in my comping style.

    Here is one example of a G7 voicing without the root I use in the song All Blues by Miles Davis.

    4 - 3 - 5 - x

    This chord consists of the 3rd, flattened 7th, and 5th, and can be moved up and down the fret board to transpose keys.

    It seems without playing the root there is more room for chord extensions and alterations? Dominant 7 chords in particular can be played without the root.

    What other chords lend themselves to being voiced this way. What altered chords can only be played without the root on mandolin?

    Let's compile other chord voicings, examples of usages, and techniques for utilizing these chords within our playing.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    I think the key to playing a chord in which you omit one voice is to always include the 3rd and 7th (guide tones)--these are the essential bones of the chord skeleton. In your example you added a 5th, but very comfortable and convenient dominant chord shapes on three strings also use the root instead of the 5th. Of course, if you do need an altered dominant chord, don't use the natural 5th.

    In a dominant chord the 3rd and 7th are a tritone apart which is a diagonal on adjacent strings on the mandolin--up a string, down a fret is a half step less than a 5th, or a tritone (three whole steps, half the chromatic scale). All the convenient dominant chord shapes have this diagonal pair. To complete them, put the root or the 5th on the string either above or below this pair.

    Also note that the diagonal pair is actually a diagonal line. As you move along it, for any given dominant chord the 3rd alternates with the 7th. A quick and dirty dominant chop chord is to leave index finger in position and then play down along the diagonal, forming the 3rd-7th-3rd (for G, from 7 - 5 - 2 - 3 to 4 - 3 - 2 - x, which has no root nor 5th).

    Finally, any given diagonal pair is also the tritone for another dominant chord--with the 3rd and 7th swapped. This happens to have a root which is the flat 5th of the original dominant chord (or opposite it on the Cycle 4/5)--the basis for the tritone substitution. So your 4 - 3 (3rd - b7th) tritone pair for G7 is also the b7 - 3rd of Db7 which you could complete as 4 - 3 - 4 - x: b7 - 3 - R.

    You can read about this stuff or discover it on your own, whichever way it is great to have tools to express harmony and colors anywhere on the neck you choose.

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  5. #3
    Registered User Martin Ohrt's Avatar
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    Apr 2016
    Germany: Ruhr Area

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    Quote Originally Posted by JRcohan View Post
    What other chords lend themselves to being voiced this way.
    The 4-3-4 MandoAblyss mentiones can, of course, be moved up and down the neck - so, I firstly came across this shape as a C7 (3-2-3). I did not recognise the tritone-connection MandoAblyss describes, so thank you for pointing that out!
    For more of this stuff, check out, where several three-note-shapes are presented.
    Mandolins: 1920s (?) Meinel & Herold Bowlback, 2006 Furch "Redwood MA-1" A5

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    As mentioned, you can just leave out the root or fifth or both from many chords and still suggest the chord. It can free up fingers for playing melody notes, when you are soloing, make chord changes less cumbersome, or provide a sparse foundation for a bandmate to solo over. Remember, the bigger the ensemble, the more likely that other people are playing those same notes, making it unnecessary for you to do so.

    A common type of rootless extended voicing is 9th chords. Make a 9th chord from any chord by raising the root one or two frets.
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  7. #5
    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    May 2003
    Seattle, WA

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    Jazz pianists often comp 3 note rootless voicings behind their own soloing. Usually those voicings are a third, seventh and a color tone (ninth, thirteenth aka sixth, eleventh on a minor chord) or an alteration (flat and sharp fifth and/or ninth).

    Pianist Bill Evans was one of the first to do this. I have studied his voicings extensively on his solos and have a chapter on that in my free PDF book "Jazz Chording for Mandolin". You can see it here:
    Pete Martin
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  9. #6
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    Sep 2007
    Austin, Texas

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    One example that comes to mind is that whenever I see a flat 9 chord, the easiest thing for me to do on the fly is to play a diminished 7th chord that includes the flat 9. So, for example, if I see an E flat 9, I'll play 4 3 5 4 - an easy to conjure up diminished 7 that includes the flat 9 (f natural) of the E7 chord. It is a rootless flat 9 chord. (In fact this works if you play a diminished 7 that includes any note of the E7 except the root.)
    Bobby Bill

  10. #7
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Mar 2009
    Redwood City, CA

    Default Re: Rootless chords

    Yes, it's quite common to leave out the root and fifth for many simplified chord voicings (7th, 9th, 11th, sus4, b5, b9, etc), but leave in the "guide tones," especially the 3 or 7. But we should remember that this kind of treatment works particularly well for various types of jazz. The OP's example was from jazz.

    In some other cases, most notably in Mixolydian "modal" music, in bluegrass/oldtimey, or some other genres, it sometimes pays to leave out the 3rd instead, but not the 5th. Thus, the 1, 5, and 7 can form a simplified, 3-note dominant seventh chord. This same voicing is also common in rock-n-roll and blues, to produce a "power chord" lacking the 3rd. And you can also drop the root on some of these chord forms, playing, for example, a rootless 5, 7 and 9.

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