Jazz Chord Essentials: Shell Voicings with Jens Larsen

An introduction to shell voicings with some exercises, suggestions for practice and a few demonstrations on how to expand and use this type of voicing.

Ultimate Guitar
I thought I'd make this 3rd lesson on Jazz voicings about a simple reduced way of playing chords that then also lends it self very well to situations where you need to play the bass. Being simple and compact also makes it very easy to extend so a lot of things can be build from them.

As I demonstrate in the video: full chords with extensions, bass lines. They are also useful for playing bossa novas and sambas as well as typical Freddie Green style 4 to the bar stuff.

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Let's first have a look at how shell voicings are constructed. A shell voicing is the bare necessities version of a jazz chord, so the chord is reduced to three notes. The most defining notes of a chord would be:
  • The Root (what chord is it)
  • The Third (is it major or minor)
  • The Seventh (major/minor/6th)
For voice-leading purposes I'll make two different sorts of shell voicings. Both have the chord (3rd and 7th) on the 3rd and 4th string and the root is in one variation on the 5th string, in the other one it is on the 6th string. There are rules for voice-leading, but the essence is that if you don't have to go to the closest note in the next chord when going from one chord to the next. Setting the chords up like this makes it easy to stay in one place with the chord and move the root a 4th or a 5th (which are the most common changes). You will also notice that I am calling the 7th chord m7(b5) even if it does not contain the flatted 5th, so I am naming them according to the key. I do that in the video too.

As usual the best way to learn it is to put it through a song as I do in the video, but here are a few examples on a turnaround in C.

One of the ways I use shell voicings is to use them as a basis and then add extensions or melody notes on top like this:

You might notice that especially the sets with the root on the 6th string tend to become drop3 voicings when you add extensions. And if you watch the video you'll see several applications of these kinds of chords in different styles.

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or to connect with me via YouTube, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases. For more lessons check out my website: www.jenslarsen.nl.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I've always digged these sort of voicings, particularly the 1st, 3rd/5th, and 7th on three consecutive strings. Really great with heavy distortion for black metal and post rock riffs.
    Props again Jens, your lessons are always spot on and target important topics that other's may not touch on and always fully explain the WHY behind everything.
    Chris Zoupa
    I loved this lesson. I was working on a song last night and I was like "What if the solo uses shell voicings and dent?" It's really awesome to get 7ths involved in this manner! Thanks again!
    I've been messing with voicings like this for years without really knowing what to call them. It's always good to get a better understanding of something you only half-knew before. kudos.
    Nice lesson! I will definitely explore these shell voicings One of your examples reminded me of this tune...
    Thanks! Indeed, Also not what I would call a typical Jane's Addiction tune, but maybe that's just me.
    I love how most of us go an appropriate this to metal right away. It shows how useful this is. Thanks again Jens! I love how you explain why something works and how you can expand the topic. And these lessons are concise and well organised with the soundcloud tracks.
    Thanks man!It is indeed funny how everything is made into metal right away around here
    I really love this idea. I personally have always enjoyed using jazz chords in prog metal songs I've written. Particularly, I've been using (without really knowing what it was called in a jazz context) extended shell voicings.
    This was a great lesson jens. I've wanted to get into jazz guitar for quite awhile and I'm wondering where you think a good start would be? Like any essential songs to learn or any lessons you've made or came across like this one that is really good for players that are just starting to dabble in jazz.
    Probably the best thing to do is to get a (good) teacher. Besides that: listen to some jazz: I'd suggest starting with 50's and 60's hardbop, so check out guys like Wes Montgommery, Jim Hall, Jimmy Raney etc. From there on: Learn your scales and try to learn simple songs like Blue Bossa, or Summertime. It's hard to give good advice when I don't know your level. Thanks for checking out my lesson!
    Love it! I've spotted shell voicings in songs before but it's great to finally learn the theory behind them!
    thank you jens! i have found your lessons to be quite helpful and i've been playing for close to 30 years. I look forward to the next one. Good day, sir!