I’ve tried to answer a question about voicings in Jazz. I was not sure if it was concerning a 4 part or unlimited part voicing.

Now I’ve seen that I’ve overlooked in the title of the question the term shell voicing. I haven’t heard this term before and looking for clearing I couldn’t find an explanation in wiki. I suppose it has to do with the fact that in a sequence of ii-V7 or in a fifth-fall progression the 3rd e.g. Dm (=F) becomes the 7th of the next chord G7 and and the 7th of Dm (C) is leading half step down to 3rd of G(=B). Are these (often) chromatically leading tones called shell voicings? Or what did I miss?

  • 2
    At the risk of sounding Anglo-centric, should our tags be in English?
    – Richard
    Oct 25, 2019 at 15:47

3 Answers 3


The first time I read about shell voicings they were described as only root and seventh or root and third and Bud Powell was the pianist credited as the innovator.

Mark Levine calls them Bud Powell voicings, like this...

enter image description here

But, it seems other user shell to mean voicings that omit unessential tones like the fifth and/or root.

It seems that stride and shells are often presented together in some way. Levine does that. So does this book (Austin, An Approach to Jazz Piano)

enter image description here

I suppose it has to do with the fact that in a sequence of ii-V7 or in a fifth-fall progression the 3rd e.g. Dm (=F) becomes the 7th of the next chord G7...

That is smooth voice leading for descending fifth progressions, but I don't think shell voicing is used exclusively for that kind of progression.

This example from Levine...

enter image description here

...shows Bud Powell (shells) including a progression by step Bb7 A-7.

  • Would this mean the third and seventh are building the shell? Nov 3, 2019 at 22:03
  • That seems a good way to state it: 'build the shell.' Personally, I think of it as "shell" mean "essential" chord tones. Omitting un-essential tones empties our the chord leaving only a 'shell.' Nov 4, 2019 at 13:58

A shell voicing is a "barebones" voicing of a chord, usually with the root, 3rd and 7th. For instance:

Cmaj7 : C / E / B

F#7 : F# / A# / E

It's a good way for very bad pianists (like me) to give the basic flavour of a chord at the piano, so they can hesitantly pick out the melody with the other hand and hear how it all fits together.


A shell voicing is a chord which contains only the root, third, and seventh. Players will often only use two notes, the root and third, or the root and seventh.


and this:

For the most part they are 2 note voicings. For each chord you play the root of the chord as your lowest note. The second note will be either the 3rd or 7th of the chord. And that’s it.

It seems that by this voicing the bass is playing the circle of 5ths and the upper voice is dropping chromatically by half steps building the 3rd or the 7th from chord to chord.

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