I’m an accomplished jazz trombonist and not actively playing anymore. I would like help improving my piano playing, especially my left hand chord fingering. I can sight read and play just about anything with my right hand, but when I try to add in the chords with my left hand I get all screwed up. I can play any tune with my right hand and my left hand playing chords with the 1,3,5,7 My problem is being able to move through the chords without moving my hand all over the keyboard and only playing the basic 1,3,5,7 notes of a chord with the 1 always being the lowest note. For example when playing a ii, V, I progression when do I need the root of the chord to be the lowest note or not even needed. Sorry for the long question but there must be a method or system that I could learn so I could play most tunes from the Real Book at a party or sing along without screwing up the time or just crashing the whole song because I missed a #11 or flat 9 in my chords. I’ve got tons of time to practice. Thanks for anything.

  • 1
    Eventually you’ll need to use both hands together, and the right hand cannot be dedicated to single-note melody only. Here are the required transitioning steps for moving from “left hand chords, right hand melody” style to full piano accompaniment youtube.com/watch?v=78-Ggxq6868 Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 23:03
  • piiperi Reinstate Monica, nice video Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 22:16

5 Answers 5


Several options are available, but for the specifics in the question, inversions are on the cards.

Take a simple harmony accompaniment of I, IV and V - which, let's face it, are going to be present in most pieces, which will include Real and fake book pieces.

For practice purposes initially, use triads, not too low. In key C, for example, use C E G on the root chord. Without moving away from the c note, a IV chord is found using C F A. If there's a V chord instead, keep the G (from I) and move fingers down so there's now B D G.

The idea is to move as little as possible from any chord to the next. There's often a common note, so hold on to that, and move the other two, usually a tone/semitone away.

You don't always need the root to be the lowest note - if you do, then you're stck with what you already do, I'm afraid!

If chords are more than triads - 7ths spring to mind - then their 5ths can be (and often are!) omitted. But you can still concentrate on the above idea, getting used to all 3/4 inversions of chords.

Note - this is only one way to accompany with l.h., but it's specifically what you ask about.

  • IMO "accompany with left hand, melody with right hand" is going to be a dead-end very quickly, particularly if there's no bass player, but the OP just doesn't know it yet. You just can't afford to split the hands' roles to completely separate harmony and melody, unless you have three or more hands. And even in that case the three hands will be too close together, they'd have to merge together when the voices get too close. Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 7:50
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - yes, that's true. But in the absence of OP wanting to (or being capable of) jumping round with roots with l.h. - which isn't always the way to go anyway, this suggestion is one which at least will give a different aspect on playing. I agree that remnants of chords can be played under the melody with r.h. - it just didn't feel that OP is ready yet. Sometimes it's not easy to pitch answers at an appropriate level.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 7:59
  • I have a nice "cheat code" for this - keep the right-hand melody harmonized with the thumb adding a constant sixth below the melody, only diverting from that interval when a sixth clearly isn't appropriate. Play bass with l.h. leftmost fingers. This basic position leaves the l.h. index finger and thumb free for adding a 6th/7th/octave with various rhythmic patterns, and the r.h. thumb and index, maybe middle finger as well ... Nice open voicings and rhythmic comping possibilities. But I've never taught this to anyone, no idea how long it will take to learn. Maybe I should write an answer. Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 8:13

If you want to play the chords with the left hand without moving the hand all over the keyboard you need to play a lot of the chords without the root note as the lowest note. The chords sounds best when they are played in about the same place on the piano instead of chords jumping up and down in very different registers (unless you want a special effect with such jumping).

If you want to play the root note with the left hand in general you can include some of the other chord notes in the right hand instead of the left hand. Often you don't need to play all the chord notes. Play the melodic line and include some extra notes with the right hand here and there while you play the bass notes with the left hand.

You need to experience a bit and play in a way that is possible for you with whatever technical level you are at.


Unrelated points (but both relevant):

  1. you don't want to play all the notes in each chord, especially not as a stack of thirds. It usually sounds muddy and causes hand to jump too much.

  2. for playing at a party, without a bass player - I think you will get the best bang for your buck if you start with the three-note voicing technique: the left hand plays just the root (always at the bottom), third and seventh of any chord - but you always try to lead the voices as smoothly as possible. Any 9, 11 or 13 are simply ignored (in some cases things might sound better if you play 6 instead of 7, but it's rarely a catastrophe if you don't). The good way to learn it is by just playing ii-V-I around the circle of fifths. This might sound simplistic, but actually sounds very clean and nice.


For example when playing a ii,V, I progression when do I need the root of the chord to be the lowest note or not even needed. Sorry for the long question but there must be a method or system that I could learn so I could play most tunes from the Real Book at a party or sing along *

What I used to do is:

L.h. bass, r.h. Chords, melody: voice

Practice without singing the circle of fifths:

a) l.h. Bass, fifth falls r.h. 1357 (seventh chords root position)

b) l.h. Bass, chromatic scale downwards, r.h. like a)

c) d) l.h. like a) b) r.h. inversions of seventh chords

e.g. g#bde -> gac#e -> f#acd -> fgbd (=> E7 A7 D7 G7 etc.)

  • also practice the circle of fifths alternating minor and major chords (ii-V7 progressions)

  • same exercises like above with 3579 chords (V9 and Vb9). Notate the chords and the patter of the keys on a sheet for better memorizing.

  • also r.h. seventh chords chromatic downwards, l.h. Bass root tone (fifth-fall sequence = circle of 5th)

    What chords are resulting here? Write them down and analyze them.

When you are through with this studies you can also try to play the chords with both hands ( just as an exercise, l.h. = r.h.) and if this works automatically you can play the bass and chords in the l.h. and melody in the r.h. or mix and improvise just the way you like it. But as you are looking for performances at parties it will always be the best if you try to sing along.


I suggest you don't aim for the sort of LH voicing a jazz pianist would play in a combo including a bass player, rather concentrate on BEING the bass player. Fill in what you can inbetween melody and bass, but look for the important ones, the 3rds and 7ths, the notes you'd choose if comping a sustained inner line on your trombone.

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