I've learned about chord inversions in my basic piano instruction, usually emphasizing voice leading as being important for a more accomplished sound.

But this seems to be absent in beginning jazz piano, particularly for the lowest note. It is implied, for the mid-range tones, when discussing open voicing. But not the lowest note. Why? Isn't voice leading a good thing in jazz solo piano?

To clarify my question, I referring to reading from lead sheets, and how there seems to be an emphasis on using 1 -7 or 1-3-7 or say 1-5-7 chord tones in the left-hand.

  • 2
    Can you clarify what you mean by "particularly for the lowest note"? Inversions are all about the lowest note, so I'm having a little trouble following your question.
    – Richard
    Feb 1, 2018 at 20:46
  • Note that if you're seeing "slash chords" like G/B, then that notation indicates inversion. That example is a first inversion. The note name after the slash indicates the lowest sounding note that should be played from the chord. Also slash notation can indicate that a non-chord tone should be played as the lowest note, like G/F. If you're not seeing slash notation anywhere in your music, or you're playing from scores that are written out with no inversions, then maybe you're playing from a strange book or a book for (as you note) beginners. They might want to introduce inversions later. Feb 1, 2018 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


The practice is largely based on history and theory. More specifically, jazz piano education tends to place a very large value on:

  • understanding many different historical traditions in jazz, and
  • progressing in jazz theory.


At a very general level, the most important jazz piano voicing techniques would include stride piano (which frequently alternates between the 1 and the 5 in the base), Bud Powell shell voicings (which use 1-7 or 1-3), rootless Bill Evans voicings (which don't have the 1 at all), and Tyner/Corea/Hancock quartal voicings. This isn't a comprehensive list, but it's a decent sketch of the evolution of a jazz pianist's left hand. To be a rounded jazz pianist, one must master all of these things, along with using the left hand to walk bass lines during solo performance. Compared to that expansive list, inversions of shell voicings aren't as historically significant.


Moreover, many teachers/programs focus on theory. From a theoretical perspective, students start with the basics, and perhaps the most important things to master first are guide tones. Along with the root, guide tones define the chord quality. Extensions and alterations all rely on the chord quality established by the guide tones. Shell voicings are the perfect way to learn guide tones, because they contain the root & guide tones. But from the perspective of theory, the next logical question is to ask what additional notes beyond the 1, 3, and 7 can be added to the chord. And thus, after one learns shell voicings, they next learn rootless voicings, which incorporate other scale tones like the 5th, 6th, 9th, etc. Learning how to invert the shell voicings might be useful, but it doesn't progress the student's theoretical knowledge in the same way that rootless voicings do.


A lot of jazz piano instruction covers LH chord VOICINGS, but assumes a bass player will be taking care of the lowest note and hence the inversion.

  • 2
    I'm finding there is a --lack-- of inversions. For example, I don't see 3-7-1, or 3-5-1 left-hand chord voicing being taught. Feb 1, 2018 at 23:11

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