I have been learning jazz piano but always using backtracks for bass and playing using rootless chords.

My question is if I want to play solo piano without a bass player what is the best approach for playing the chords in the left hand? Just remove the 9th and play the root like a normal 7th chord?

The main type of jazz I have been playing is bossa nova.

As an example, in this Dave Frank video, the chords he plays in the begining (first two elements presented).


  • Are you trying to play accompaniment only or the melody of the tune as well (as in solo piano)?
    – 02fentym
    Aug 22, 2015 at 8:31
  • Trying to play solo piano.
    – Maralc
    Aug 22, 2015 at 23:59
  • Where's the link for the video?
    – 02fentym
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:15
  • For some reason it didn't saving the link. Added now with the chord position of the video in the link.
    – Maralc
    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:22
  • Aha, I see what you're saying with that video now. Dave Frank is a master! He is not playing rootless voicings there because he's playing the root in most, if not all, of the chords. He is using inversions of the chords to create smooth voice leading between chords. For example, let's say I want to play C major to F major, but using smooth voice leading. I can play C major in my LH as CEG. Now, I want to move each note as little as possible so that I still play F major. That would be CFA (E moves to F, G moves to A). See answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110112025538AANLakO
    – 02fentym
    Aug 26, 2015 at 2:47

2 Answers 2


Here's what I was taught by my teacher with regards to solo piano when I was first starting off with him. It is a method to play solo piano with the chord spread out between both hands and the melody as the top note of the chord. It's definitely not the only approach to this, but it is a systematic approach that really helped me.

enter image description here

Let's say you're playing Cmaj7 and the melody note in the song is G (just above middle C). You have one of two paths to choose, but the melody note must be the top-most note. Since your melody note is the 5th of the chord, you would choose the path on the left since the 9th is the next closest. You would follow that path all the way down until you have the root.

So, this is what we get when we choose the left path. If the 3rd/7th go below low C or D, move them up an octave. The same can be said for the 9th/13th, if it's too close to the melody and detracts from it or makes it sound too crunchy, drop the offending note by an octave.

Like in the image below. enter image description here

enter image description here

Distribute the notes between the two hands and you're good to go. Now, all of those other options beside the intervals that are boxed are other choices depending on the chord. If the chord was C7 instead of Cmaj7, then we wouldn't choose 7, we would choose b7.

Let's take a longer example from the standard "All The Things You Are":

enter image description here

I'm sure there are many ways to do this. Hopefully this will get you started.

  • Your explanation of how to play melodies with chords in the same hand is great. My question was something way simpler. Was about doing jazz voicings/chords in the left hand. As I understand jazz chords are rootless and major/minor goes from 3rd to 9th. I wanted to know the best way to get a jazz sound in the left hand and play the melody in the right hand. If I play a major as root + 3rd + 5th + 7th just doesn't give the same feel without the 9th.
    – Maralc
    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:26
  • I wouldn't say that jazz chords are rootless because it depends on the context in which you are playing. Are you playing with a bass player? Then yes, you would usually NOT play the root to avoid stepping on the bass players toes, but in the case of solo piano leaving out the root is ill-advised because the root is usually fundamental in determining what the chord is. For example, if I play E, A and D in the RH and make the bass note C, it's a C6add2 chord. If the bass note is F, it's an F13 chord. Those are two vastly different chords and they serve different functions as well.
    – 02fentym
    Aug 26, 2015 at 2:38
  • The method that I explained allows you to "keep the functionality of the chord" while allowing the melody to be heard as well. In the simplest form, another solution would be to keep root, 3rd and 7th in the LH and then play the melody in the RH, this could work as well. It will not sound as complex, but you'll have the gist of each chord there. The 9th and 13th rows in my solution provide colour and it's that colour that makes the chords more "jazzy". What you're suggesting (with the 3, 5, 7) is employed is you're playing with a bass player (rootless voicings).
    – 02fentym
    Aug 26, 2015 at 2:41
  • Your comments about having the bass player playing the root with rootless chords is all good. I just wanted to know more about the approach with the color. So your suggestion is to play the root, 3rd and 7th plus 9th or 13th for color and leaving the 5th out?
    – Maralc
    Aug 26, 2015 at 5:59
  • You can include the 5th too. If you've noticed, there is a large gap between the bass note and the note above it in a lot of the voicings listed. You can place a divisi (with the 5th) to break up the gap. The fifth adds "weight" to chords, but is not necessary unless it's lowered or raised.
    – 02fentym
    Aug 26, 2015 at 6:02

You've lots of low notes at your disposal! Just use them with l.h. and put the top parts of the chords in with r.h. Assuming you're accompanying a soloist of some sorts. If not, then you'll have to maybe arpeggiate 1,5 etc. with l.h. and some sparse chords along the melody with r.h.

  • I understand that. I updated the question to clarify I asked about when playing solo piano - I play the chords on the left hand and melody on the right hand.
    – Maralc
    Aug 23, 2015 at 0:09

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