Rootless Left Hand Piano Voicings

Left hand rootless voicings are closely associated with the piano style of pianist Bill Evans (1929-1980).  For most chord types there are two positions:  the A position has the third on the bottom and the B position has the seventh on the bottom.  The voicings are typically comprised of 4 notes, usually excluding the root.  They are played in the keyboard’s mid-range.

The Rule of Thumb:

The top note of left hand voicings, played by the thumb, should be played within the register of middle C and C the octave above middle C.  (Between C4 and C5 of the piano keyboard).

By applying the Rule of Thumb one can be assured that the voicings are played in the correct register so that they are not too low and muddy or too high and thin.


Rootless Exceptions:

In the downloadable, attached handout, you will notice that roots are included in the A & B positions of half-diminished and Maj7(#11) voicings, and the B position of the Maj7 voicing.  It is because of these five exceptions that I often refer to these voicings as “Bill Evans Style L.H. Voicings” instead of using “rootless left-hand voicings” as an overriding title.

Practicing & Memorizing Left Hand Voicings:

Learning voicings is similar to learning to ride a bike.  At first it is difficult, frustrating, and at times, painful.  But once it is learned correctly, you never look back, and you can do it instinctually ever after.

Learn only one chord type at a time.  Start with mi9 and only when it is mastered, then move on to the next chord type on the attached handout.

  1. Locate the pitches for the A position of the chord, in the key of C.  Use the Rule of Thumb to ensure that you are in the correct register.  Memorize the numbers represented by each pitch (in this case: b3, 5, b7, 9).
  2. Do the same for the B position of the chord.
  3. Alternate back and forth between A & B positions in the correct register, using the Rule of Thumb.
  4. Disregard the Rule of Thumb and alternate between A & B positions going from the bottom of the keyboard to the top and then back down.
  5. Return to the correct register and alternate between A & B positions 3 or 4 times.
  6. Now, move to the next key in the circle of fourths. (F)
  7. Work your way through the 12 keys, following steps 1 through 6.
  8. To test yourself and improve your reaction time, use a metronome as you work through the circle of fourths.  Start with 4 ticks per chord, then 2, then 1, “meeting the deadline of the tick”.
    Cmi9 (A pos)   |  Cmi9 (B pos)   | Fmi9 (A pos)   | Fmi9 (B pos)  | etc.
    /   /    /     /           /    /    /    /           /   /   /    /          /    /    /    /
  9. Move to the next chord type (C13), when a degree of mastery has been achieved.  Follow steps 1 through 8 again.  Continue in this manner with all chord types.
  10. To quiz yourself, make 3 stacks of cue cards.  The first stack will have the 12 keys, the second: the various chord types, and the third: A & B positions.  Pick one card from each stack and see how fast you can sound the chord.

Cautionary Advice:

The following chord symbols share the identical voicing shapes & pitches:

F13 = Cmi6 = Ami7(b5) = Ebmaj7(#11) = B7(alt)

I strongly discourage students from using this formula when initially learning the voicings. Doing so will form unnecessary steps or layers of thinking when the goal is ultimately to react and play the voicing instantly, upon seeing it’s symbol. Much later, to reinforce your command of the voicing shapes, ask yourself, when playing a specific voicing, “what other chord symbols could be represented by this shape if the root was changed?” The above formula can also be used as a reharmonization technique in the future.

Practical applications for rootless voicings are demonstrated in the video within lesson #6.

PDF Attachments:

Left Hand Voicings

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