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Rootless Piano Chord Voicings

rootless chord changesRootless piano chord voicings are a style of playing chords that is found predominately in jazz pianists. Even in jazz piano, these chord voicings are not that common and mostly are a stylistic feature of specific players.

As the name implies, these are chord voicings that are not played with a root on the part of the pianist. However, in most cases the root is going to be played by a different instrument.

Without a strong root being defined by another instrument, the rootless chords sound like entirely different chords. The reason for this is because the listener is going to assume a different note in the chord is the root.

There are two reasons that rootless piano chord voicings are used. From a stylistic standpoint, playing the root is not necessary if another instrument, such as the bass or a guitar, is creating a strong root tone. Omitting the root from the chord causes the other notes of the chord to stand out more.

In effect, the chord is being played with every note, except the root, being accented. It makes the chord stand out more, especially when dealing with the more complex chords, such as the major sixth or dominant seventh chords, often found in jazz piano.

Rootless piano chords also have a pragmatic use for jazz pianists that frequently use more complex chords. A rootless piano chord has one less note being played because the root is omitted. Some complex chords possess five notes. Removing the root can potentially decrease the total stretch needed to form that chord.

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6 notes chordIn addition, six note chords, such as the major ninth sharp eleventh chord, can be played with one hand if the root is omitted. Since the root is being provided by another instrument, it is the most practical note that can be dropped without significantly altering the sound of the chord.

Each chord has multiple different rootless piano chord voicings that can be used. The difference in voicing is based on what note in the scale is played as the lowest note. For example, the major seventh chord consists of the root, major third, perfect fifth, major seventh and major ninth notes.

The major third could be played as the lowest note of the scale. Alternatively, the major seventh could be played as the lowest pitch with the major third and perfect fifth notes played as higher pitches. Both voicings give slightly different tones, but are identical musically. It is a matter of preference what voicing you actually use.

Rootless piano chords can be tricky to get sound right and are difficult to practice on your own. You need the strong root tone from another instrument to make them sound right. However, there is a practical way for a pianist to practice these chord voicings.

Use the other hand to play a much lower octave of the root note while you practice the rootless chords. This note creates the root tone for the chord to go over, but the difference in pitch should be enough that it does not sound like part of the actual chord.

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