I am trying to improve my mastery of Jazz Piano.

I currently play block chords in my left hand with voice leading and melody in my right hand. I need to improve my right hand harmony.

My first attempt has been to take a song that I know and play the chord in the right hand in the appropriate inversion so as to keep the melody on top.

Are their any book or practice material to teach right hand harmony?

Also often the melody note has a chord above it on the lead sheet but it is not a chord tone. These are not passing tones because there is a chord which often sounds a bit dissonant.

Most important is how do I learn right hand chords, keeping the melody on top.

  • It's common for (say) C7 to be printed as the chord symbol, while the melody forms a more complex chord, maybe C9 or C13. Or something even 'further out'. Maybe it COULD have been included in the chord symbol but the arranger went for simplicity. Remember - chord symbols are printed as an aid to performance, not as a deeply considered harmonic analysis!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


The short answer is that you slowly accumulate a lot of voicings through practice, research, and listening.

This is a very broad question, and without creating a full catalog here on the site, here are some styles of two handed chords you might check out and study. The last two are straightforward enough for you to implement now with very little practice.

  • Bill Evans type A and type B two-handed voicings: I believe those are described here. You take the classic A and B rootless one-handed voicings, move the second lowest note up an octave (played in the right hand), and then add another note higher in the right hand.
  • Combination triad chords: an example is to play D min with a first inversion D min chord in the left hand and a first inversion C maj chord in the right hand, stacked on top of the left hand. I think you hear a lot of this in Bill Evans's solo piano work.
  • upper structure voicings: an example is voicing G7 by playing the 3rd and 7th in the left hand and any one of these major triads in the right hand: Eb (gives the b13 and #9), Db (gives the b5 and b9), A (gives the #11), E (gives the nat 13 and b9).
  • fourth voicings: Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock made these famous. They involve stacked fourths.
  • Red Garland voicings: play your left hand block chords with octaves in the right hand. Then in the right hand, add in the scale tone that is a third below the highest note of the octave. For example if you are playing an F7 chord and your right hand is on the notes C6 and C7, you would add in the note A6 (a third below the note C7). When using this style, you play block chords in the two hands but your right hand can move around the scale to create whatever voice leading you want.
  • thirds in right hand: play the same rootless left hand voicings you already have, and in the right hand, play thirds. You can move the thirds anywhere around the scale, which gives you flexibility and makes it easy to construct the voice leading you want.

This is a good start. I haven't used a book for voice leading, but browsing the available selection online, I would tend to recommend Jamey Aebersold's book and Dan Haerle's book.

Having a teacher isn't always necessary in jazz, but it can help a lot when trying to learn voicings. It becomes important to study with someone how has a lot of experience and is a good performer, because those tend to be the folks with the broadest knowledge base in jazz.

Once you have an arsenal of voicings to choose from, you can pick and choose voicings whose highest notes spell out the melody. There are two ways to do this: you could keep a few books on hand so that you can search for a voicing with the appropriate top note to fit the melody. Or if you wanted to be really methodical, you could literally write down a database of chords organized by the top note. For example, you could have a first section for "highest note is the root," then another section for "highest note is the 9th," etc. This would make it easy to pick and choose voicings and then practice those voicings in the context of voice leading the melody of a tune. The other approach would be to learn the voicings in all 12 keys, e.g., over II-V-I progressions, and then have them in your memory to draw from when voice leading a melody. I recommend a mix of these two approaches: commit at least some voicings to memory in all 12 keys, and then have resources (books, database) with additional chords you haven't memorized yet.

Voice leading is an outstanding skill to work out. It's also a good chance to practice comping rhythms, if you decide to do this outside the context of voice leading a melody.

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