I have played the violin for several years so I have fundamental knowledge in some areas, however chords are currently opaque. For instance, I can play the melody line for any jazz standard by ear basically, but with chords I have very little intuition and mostly end up guessing what chord that comes next (when playing by ear). Is that an A? D? No? How about a C7? This is a struggle, but I don’t think more scores is the solution. I think scores basically “gives me the fish” instead of me learning how to get there on my own, and hence I try to only resort to the score when I’m thoroughly stuck. My idea is to “build my ear” by for instance playing arpeggios but it isn’t giving results. I guess another way is more theoretical, say chord progressions and that sort of thing. Any ideas for how to get a good connection for chords? Any material I should study?

Voicings can be complex patterns. One example is Keith Jarrett’s I got it bad, see the transcription: https://www.keithjarrett.org/wp-content/uploads/I-Got-It-Bad-and-That-Aint-Good-Keith-Jarrett-Transcription-by-Sam-Leak-2018.pdf . That’s way over my head but my current idea of going in that direction is to build a vocabulary/repertoire/library/tool-box of voicings, by learning one by one. But this is dog slow! Anyone got an idea for learning voicings?

2 Answers 2


Jazz chords are jazzed-up versions and combinations of regular simple chords, or simple chords used in slightly non-obvious roles. Jazz chord roles can be combinations of multiple simple roles. To learn to feel their essence, you first learn to feel simpler things by ear, and then you learn how to modify and combine the simple things in simple contexts. Take an easy melody, learn to accompany it with simple chords, and then start making more and more complex modifications. That way you'll learn to see behind the chords and feel bigger picture of the overall harmony.

For example, take a regular dominant seventh chord. The most common way to use a dominant chord is in a plain dominant-to-tonic motion, V - I, e.g. G7 - C. But let's take another role: I7 - IV. This usage in itself is already a tiny bit jazzy, because you do a temporary change in the plain vanilla scale and use the illusion, for example C - C7 - F. At the C7 chord, you're supposed to think "what if F is really the tonic...?" It's such a small trick, nobody will actually be fooled. But let's jazz it up more: Gm - Bb/C - F. That's like something you'd have in the key of F major, but you can use it in place of a plain C7 - F movement.

Expand your idea of harmony roles. You see a Gm7 - what role is it doing in that specific context? Is it a ii chord for F major, or is it a C7 in disguise? Symmetric chords like dim7, or the things you'd have in "tritone substitution" situations can function in many different roles. G7#5#9, what is it doing, is it a dominant for a C chord, or ... An F# chord?

IMO, trying to learn what's happening harmonically in a jazz chord progression by purely "analysing" it can be extremely difficult. But if you can listen to it and feel where it takes you and how it affects the sense of harmonic functions, it's much easier. This feeling is based on playing around with simple things and modifying and combining them.


If the voicings in that Keith Jarrett tune seem too hard for you now, then that's exactly what you need to start working on. Learn all of them

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