Jazz Chord Essentials: Drop 2 Voicings - Part 1

An introduction to a set of chord voicings that work well with extensions and jazz harmony. First part is mostly concerned with fingerings and basic progressions.

Ultimate Guitar
In this lesson series I want to demonstrate a set of voicings that are fairly easy to play on the guitar, but will cover most sort of chords. I also want to talk a bit about how you approach playing chords in terms of interpretation of chord extensions, substitutes, connecting or voice-leading the chords. Hopefully it can help you learn and construct some new chords, and I hope it also helps you find new ways to play songs you already know and expand your ability to play chords freely.

Interpreting Chord Symbols and Improvising

In most jazz styles you are free to improvise with the chords when you are comping. This means that you can (tastefully, I hope) choose the chords (and extensions) you play and the way you play them. One aspect of this freedom means that some chords are so similar that you can group them together. Here's a list of groups:
  • Major7: Cmaj7, C, C6, Cmaj7(9), Cmaj7(#11), Cmaj7(13) etc
  • Minor7: Cm7, Cm9, Cm11 etc
  • Dom7: C7, C9, C7(#11) C7(13) etc.
  • Half Diminished: Cm7(b5) Cm7b5(9), Cm7b5(11) etc
  • Altered Dominant: C7(b9), C7(b5), C7(b9,b13), C7(b13#9) etc.
  • MinorMaj: CmMaj7, Cm6, Cm6/9, CmMaj7(9) etc
I guess for now the list is more of a reference, but what this means is that when you see one of the chords above you can substitute it with one of the other ones if you want to.

With practice you'll be able to do this without thinking because you get used to thinking of several voicings as part of the same sound.

Enough talk! Let's play an example. Here's a recording of a simple tonal vamp in G:

GMaj7 E7 Am7 D7, I'll play it a few times with different voicings. The voicings are all Drop 2 voicings, I also recorded a simple two beat bassline to make the chords a bit clearer.

It could be that some of these voicings does not come across to you as drop 2 voicings, but they can be derived from them as I well demonstrate in this series. The secondary goal in this is also that you start to think of new ways to get voicings from the ones you already know, by using some of the principles I use here.

A few basic exercises

In general I won't really spent too much time on the music theory involved, just mention it and you are free to ask or look it up elsewhere if you want to know more. You probably already noticed that I don't play the root in the bass on all chords. This is because I'd suggest using these type of chords in a context where there is a bass player so leave him to play the bass notes and you can focus on the chord and how that sounds.

Let's first cover some basic chords on the top 4 strings in drop 2 voicings. In a major scale you have 4 types of diatonic chords: m7, dom7. Maj7 and m7(b5). Here are each of these from the key of G:

I only show this for the 4 top strings since that is what you probably need the most, but you can play these voicings on the middle and bottom sets of 4 strings too. Here's an overview of those fingerings: Overview of Drop 2 voicings on guitar. You can probably leave it for later and just start with the top 4 string sets. The method is the same for all sets of strings...

You need to know these quite well as they will be the base of everything else you need to do. Try to play them through a scale so that you practice your knowledge of diatonic chords too, that will soon be something you need to know and understand.

Here's an exercise combining them in a basic II V I cadence.

And here's how to take it through the 1st 16 bars of "Autumn Leaves," which is a handy tune because it has most of the chords in the key:

I'd recommend that you try this out with several jazz standards to become familiar with finding the right chords and get used to the fingerings and the sounds. That will make it much easier to go to the subject of the next lesson where we'll start adding more extensions, look at how one voicing can be used over another chord and add some alterations to the dominants.

About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. I hope you like the lesson. Feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, G+, YouTube etc. If you have any questions or if you want to stay up to date with lessons, CD releases and concerts. Here's my website: www.jenslarsen.nl.

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Because it wasn't explained, drop 2 means instead of the four notes of a chord being within the same octave, the second from the highest (which can be any of the four, just depends what the arrangement is) is dropped by an octave to create a more open sound. Naturally, 7th chords all within the same octave other than a Major 7 shape with root on the D string would require a lot of stretching, so guitar players who use 7ths will typically be dropping 2, dropping 4, or possibly other notes of the chord (arranged 1, 2, 3, 4 from the top). On piano, it might usually be easier to play the chord all within an octave, so drop 2 or drop 4 would usually require two hands and create different type of sound (more open) than a closed-voice chord. I'm no wordsmith, but that's what drop 2 actually is. Despite the oversight of actually explaining what drop 2 means, these are good exercises for learning your seventh chords and extensions.
    One major thing about this lesson: you never mention what a "drop 2" chord is. If you are writing an article about something, you should always go about it with the assumption that people will potentially not know what that particular thing is. Like I don't think that I have ever seen a good article that doesn't start off by defining what exactly the subject of the article is within the first couple of minutes. Personally I don't know much about jazz guitar, and so I have never heard that term before. I'm guessing that they are chords that only use four consecutive strings based on the chord voicings given, but for all I know that might be incorrect. Now I basically have to go look up the definition from some other source to be sure. Upon looking up drop 2 chords elsewhere, I found out that that was, in fact, not what a drop 2 chord was: http://www.jazzguitar.be/drop_2_chords.h...
    Thanks for the feed back! You're right of course that I should know who I am writing for and that maybe it is this is too much written for somebody who is already a bit familiar with jazz chords. This is indeed not what I give a student who wants to learn jazz-harmony in the first lesson. On the other hand what you assume and what you ignore will always be a judgment call. For example the first time somebody taught you about a pentatonic scale did he then go "root, minor 3rd, 4th,5th, flat 7th" or did he give you a scale to play and say: "make some music!". That is to some degree what I am trying (but perhaps not succeeding) to do: Demonstrate a set of chords that are fairly easy to play, and give directions on how to practice them so that you can apply them to songs The definition of a drop2 voicing is not that relevant to the music you make with it, in fact most of the famous jazz guys who played solos with them did not know what a drop2 chord was. They just played the chords. I play the chords too all the time and I never think about that definition just like I never think of the definition of a pentatonic scale or a major scale when I improvise. And like you also found out already the definition is only a google search away. Hope this clarifies or helps a bit in understanding why I write like I do? I am by the way curious if you feel the same about the other lesson of mine that was published here? Jens
    On the other hand what you assume and what you ignore will always be a judgment call. For example the first time somebody taught you about a pentatonic scale did he then go "root, minor 3rd, 4th,5th, flat 7th" or did he give you a scale to play and say: "make some music!". This is a poor analogy though. Generally when someone first learns the pentatonic scale, it's when they have been playing for only a few months and the concept of scale degrees is probably too much for them. On the other hand, if somebody has been playing guitar for a few years and understands the major and minor scales and scale degrees and simply has never encountered the pentatonic scale due to not playing rock, blues, country, metal, or other music that uses it, then you certainly would talk about the scale degrees and intervals since it most likely won't be too much for them. I would assume that most people that are interested in jazz and understand the concept of 7th chords and extended harmony should have know problem with the theory behind drop 2 chords. The definition of a drop2 voicing is not that relevant to the music you make with it, in fact most of the famous jazz guys who played solos with them did not know what a drop2 chord was. Just because a famous musician doesn't know the theory behind something doesn't mean that you shouldn't teach it, especially when it comes to things like chord construction. Why handicap yourself or your students just because your idols were not able to do something? Also I should mention that a number of the jazz greats you are referring to probably had no formal musical training, but if they had they opportunity, I'm certain that they would have learned the theory behind the chords they were using.
    Sorry I missed your answer until now. Great that you take the time to answer! I understand that you want it thorough and that you don't agree with me on what I find important enough to include in the articles I write. When I write them I decide what I include and what I leave out, and once it is submitted I can't change anything. Luckily whenever you fall short of info in one of my articles there is always google. It will probably work the next time too. Your are of course also welcome to ignore everything I write in the future. Jens
    I, for one, applaud your judgement call. People who want to detract from a lesson because of the lack of theoretical explanation are missing the point of the lesson, which is to give a player the tools to create. They are missing the primary rule of music: If it sound good, it is good. We do not need a theoretical explanation to figure out if the concept will work, we only need ears. This is not engineering. We do not need to know what a drop 2 voicing is, we only need to use it. The true greats know this, and this lack of explanation did not stop them from creating. To argue about the term is pedantic. We could go into further knowledge. For instance, the acoustician would like to know the frequencies involved and how they interact, how their overtones will result in constructive and destructive interference, and will draw extra from that. The mathematician will investigate the relationships of each fundamental and the ratios of the chord tones to one another. The psychologist will look for double blind test results on the emotional impact of rhythm with each chord voicing and will look for evidence to support the theme of the lesson from a number of empirical perspectives. How much information is too much? Well, you will never satisfy some people. You gave the tools to create. Thank you. Ignore the pedants. Secondly, you have received criticism for mentioning Google. Internet knowledge is a poor substitute for print resources because in print, they are generally peer reviewed and edited. In the absence of a print resource, the responsible student should seek out a number of sources. In college, you are never given just one text for reference, except by a very bad professor. You are told to seek a number and draw conclusions from all. This is the path to greater understanding. People complaining about having to use google to find extra answers don't really understand that this should be a matter of course. Thank you for taking the time to submit this lesson. It was worth it to benefit the true creators. The critics.... well, nobody can benefit them.
    If you aren't going to define what a "drop 2" chord is, don't bring it up. Adding more terms can only confuse if they aren't defined. I did actually learn pentatonics with the intervals. Also, everything is "a google search away." We shouldn't have to do our own research just to understand a "Part 1" article.
    Well, in hindsight it probably would have been easier to define it and then just leave it behind I guess. So I get to learn something from this article too
    I think the article is great. Good info, and practicality, which many lesosns lack. I think if the term "Drop 2 chord" was just mentioned in the article with no further definition, no one would think twice. But the fact that the headline of the article implies "I am going to teach you something known as 'drop 2 voicings' and it is essential to jazz composition" makes the reader expect to learn to know drop 2 when he sees it. If the headline were "Jazz Chord Voicing Essentials Part-1" there would be no discussion.
    Why is everyone so critical of him mentioning drop 2 chords? I feel like reaming a great article that is super useful over rhetoric is simply a silly thing to do. You do realize you are using the internet to find this out right? Why not use to internet to find out more. If you want all of the knowledge in one place perfectly laid out for you then pay for it, don't bicker at people that decide to teach you for free because they aren't giving it to you the exact way you want.
    Hmm, I've toyed with these in the past but it's handy seeing examples laid out clearly like this. Great article once again
    I'm having a hard time understanding and reading the first example here. The tabs of the first chord ( - - 4 4 3 5) seem to show f# b d a, the notes in the sheet above the tablature appear to be f b d and a, and jet it states it is a Gmaj7(9). Whats my mistake?
    The key signature is G major so all f's are f#. The sharp is written by the G clef at the beginning of the system. Does that help? Thanks for checking out my lesson.
    shouldn't be the tabs played on strings 2-5, A, D, g, b?
    I am not sure what you mean? But if I am guessing it right: You can play Drop2 voicings on any set of four strings next to each other, but what I've recorded and written on the top 4 strings. There's an overview for all sets of strings on my website, I link to it in the article.
    "the second from the highest (which can be any of the four)" ----> wtf? Jheeeze. Guys. While were at it. If you eplain something. Explain something 2.0 like you learned in school. USE FRICKIN EXAMPLES!!!!! If this was a description where to find the next central station Id be lost at the first corner. would someone like to explain what a drop 2 chord is. as simple as that: A major chord: F,a,c,e. A major chord with 9: F,a,c,e,g A major chord with 6: F,a,c,e,g,d SO I get it we leave notes like the root out and we focus just on the top 4 stirngs. now based on this example what the heck is adrop 2 chord? By the way very very very nice lesson thank you so much for these inspiring chord progressions! What happens to a chord to call it a drop whatever chord?