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What do you do when notes from a chord in the left hand overlap with notes from a melody in the right hand?

Do you drop notes? Do you change notes in the chord?

This is my biggest frustration right now trying to play from fake books.

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2 Answers

This kind of playing (reading from lead sheets/fake books) is inherently improvisatory, so the prevailing wisdom should always be "do what sounds good". There are a billion ways to play any given chart in a fake book, so keep in mind that you're not looking for one right answer.

If you're working on a specific voicing technique, then the first thing I might try would be to either drop the bass by an octave or raise the melody up by an octave, in order to give yourself some room to work with.

You shouldn't "change notes" in the chord, but you could change the chord voicing, or leave out nonessential notes. As anyone will tell you, the most important notes in most jazz chords are the 3rd and the 7th, so as long as the voicing has some indication of that specific tension, you're probably okay. Case in point: a dominant 7th chord can be outlined in the space of a tritone: F - G - B (G7), so you do have the option of being very economical with your space.

The voicing you mention, with chords in the left hand and melody in the right, isn't all that typical of solo jazz piano playing as far as I'm concerned. You'd see that in stride piano or when soloing over your own chords, certainly, but a lot more common would be to put just a bass note in the left hand, and chords in the right hand that track the melody as the top note in the chord. It's usually pretty hard to run into that kind of trouble when you're voicing that way, since you can have the bass note WAY far away from your melody and chords.

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Usually, when this happens, it's good enough to just hit the overlapping note again when it occurs in the melody, and just let it ring throughout the chord by holding it with the left hand.

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