Advanced Jazz Piano Arranging Tips on Misty

Instructor
Yannick Lambrecht
Quick Tip
Level 3
29:24

Learning Focus
  • Analysis
  • Chords
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads

Are you trying to reach the higher levels of jazz piano ballad playing? Maybe you feel like you’re missing something in getting that deep, rich, and lush cocktail jazz sound. Maybe you’ve learned all your basic jazz chords and scales, but now you want to take it to the next level and get a much more diverse and interesting sound. If so, you’ll love the techniques in this Quick Tip where we’ll learn advanced jazz piano arranging tips on “Misty.”

Whenever jazz enthusiasts think of jazz ballads (or Cocktail Jazz), the tune Misty written by Erroll Garner in 1954 definitely comes to mind as one of the most popular tunes in the style. Almost everybody loves the beautiful melody and chords contained within this tune, and that’s why it is a must-know for any pro jazz pianist. That is also why we are using Misty as a basis for the various techniques we’ll be talking about and applying to make an advanced jazz piano arrangement. Hopefully, that’ll make it easier to grasp these principles so you can use them on any other jazz piano tune you play.

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

  • How to keep the motion going – delaying the resolution of dominant chords
  • Spicing up dominant chords using upper structures and drop 2 diminished voicings
  • Using contrary motion to add more excitement
  • Inserting passing or parallel dominant chords

Excited to take it to the next level? Let’s dive in!

Getting Ready: The Chords For “Misty”

The chords to the jazz ballad Misty by Erroll Garner
The chords to the jazz ballad Misty by Erroll Garner

Briefly review the chords to Misty. We’ll be pulling from parts of the chord progression as we discuss the different techniques.

We won’t be making much reference to the melody here due to copyright, but you can certainly fill in the blanks in your own playing.

This is a pretty advanced lesson, so we will have to be assuming you know many of the fundamentals of jazz piano and chords. If you feel at any point that you are missing information in your understanding, be sure to check out the Beginner Piano Foundations (Part 1, Part 2) and Intermediate Piano Foundations (Part 1, Part 2).

Technique #1: Delaying Resolution Of Dominant Chords

Dominant 7th chords in a chord progression are typically the most versatile in harmonic and melodic possibilities. This is because they are already the most unstable chord in the key and they get you aching for a resolution (to the tonic or I chord).

That’s why it’s cool to add more tension notes to a dominant 7th chord over any other chord type (tensions such as altered extensions like b9, b13, etc). There are also dominant sus4 chords which you also may be familiar with. All these types of tensions produce different feelings and colors, yet they all still pull you towards the tonic chord in the end.

Now, simply adding these tensions to your dominant chords is probably something your already familiar with. But an advanced jazz pianist is intimately familiar with all these types of tensions, and may even use them in a sequence, or a progressive manner. This extends the motion and makes the dominant-tonic resolution much more like an extended journey, instead of simply playing 1 dominant chord and 1 tonic chord following.

Examples Of  Delaying Resolutions and Creating Motion on Dominant Chords

Dominant sus chord to a regular dominant chord:

Using a sus dominant 7th chord before a regular dominant 7th to delay the resolution and create motion
Using a sus dominant 7th chord before a regular dominant 7th to delay the resolution and create motion

TIP: An easy way to play colorful dominant sus chords is to think of the ii chord of the V chord you’re on. If you’re playing a Bb13sus, you can simply play a Bb in the bass and an Fmi7 rootless voicing in the right hand.

Now, let’s add a dominant 9th moving down to dominant b9 motion:

Adding even more motion by going from a natural 9 to a b9 on a dominant 7th chord
Adding even more motion by going from a natural 9 to a b9 on a dominant 7th chord

If you have the 3rd and 7th below it, you can even move the b7 in the upper part of the voicing down to the 13th. This creates an upper structure voicing, (discussed in the next section):

When the 7 moves down to the 13th, we get a G major chord on the top part of the voicing
When the 7 moves down to the 13th, we get a G major chord on the top part of the voicing

Technique #2: Use Upper Structures On Dominant Chords

What is an upper structure? Essentially it is a triad that is stacked on top of another chord. Usually, that top triad is a major chord. These upper structures highlight interesting chord tones and tensions of a dominant chord.  Also, since we’re so used to hearing major chords in general, these upper structure voicings resonate quite well.

Now, here’s some examples used in the turnaround (iii-vi-ii-V) in Misty:

G major upper structure triad voicing over an E minor 7th
G major upper structure triad voicing over an E minor 7th

F# major upper structure triad voicing over an A dominant 7th chord
F# major upper structure triad voicing over an A dominant 7th chord

F major upper structure triad voicing over a D minor 7th chord
F major upper structure triad voicing over a D minor 7th chord

E major upper structure triad voicing over G7
E major upper structure triad voicing over G7

If you want a deeper dive into upper structures, then check out Coloring Dominant Chords With Upper Structures.

Drop 2 Diminished Chords Over Dominant

This is similar to the previous technique of using upper structures, but instead of a triad on top of another chord, it’s a diminished 7th chord. We can take the upper 4 notes of a G7(b9), and that will create a B diminished 7th chord. We can then treat it as its own structure, and essentially play the B diminished 7th up and down the piano, over the G7. This again will resonate quite well since it’s a commonly heard structure.

Another way to think of it is playing a diminished chord a half step up from the root of the dominant chord you’re playing:

You can use the diminished 7th chord created from the upper 4 notes of a G dominant 7th b9 chord as its own structure
You can use the diminished 7th chord created from the upper 4 notes of a G dominant 7th b9 chord as its own structure

If you really want to achieve more advanced jazz piano arranging, then you can play this diminished 7th structure and invert it up and down using the drop 2 technique:

Playing the diminished upper structure on G dominant 7th b9 in drop 2 voicings
Playing the diminished upper structure on G dominant 7th b9 in drop 2 voicings

Technique #3: Using Contrary Motion

Contrary motion is a powerful technique many use in advanced jazz piano arranging. A rich sound is produced because we can perceive two distinct melodies, yet they still fit harmonically. These techniques have been thoroughly explored in classical music, especially in renaissance and baroque music. That is one reason why jazz musicians are so interested in the music of Bach.

Let’s take a look at some of the examples of contrary motion used in this arrangement.

Approaching the ii chord with contrary motion:

Creating a counter line in contrary motion to a melody
Creating a counter line in contrary motion to a melody

Harmonizing melody in B section with contrary motion:

Melody and bassline in contrary motion while inner notes are chord tones or neighboring tones to C major
Melody and bassline in contrary motion while inner notes are chord tones or neighboring tones to C major

Technique #4: Passing/Parallel Dominant Chords

The use of parallelism (sometimes called planing), became quite popular in the 20th century. Essentially, we can take a chord or chord shape and move it either up or down, keeping all the same intervals in the chord.

In this arrangement, we use some parallel dominant 7th chords. We are approaching our target dominant 7th chord with a dominant 7th chord a half step up, and because of that context we might call it a passing chord:

Inserting a passing dominant 7th chord a half step up from the expected dominant 7th chord in the music
Inserting a passing dominant 7th chord a half step up from the expected dominant 7th chord in the music

This creates more motion in the harmony. The passing dominant 7th is so close to the dominant 7th we actually expected that we still hear its relation, but a resolution is still desired. If this sound were a game of catch, it would be when the ball bounces off the player’s hands after a throw, but they are still able to capture it before it hits the ground.

Parallel And Contrary Motion

In this arrangement, while the harmonic motion is parallel, we might make our upper notes, the melodic motion over the chord something different. Maybe even in contrary motion: 

Creating contrary motion in a parallel chord progression by having the melody resolve up but the bass resolve down
Creating contrary motion in a parallel chord progression by having the melody resolve up but the bass resolve down

Here are the same two chords, but we can make the first dominant 7th a dominant 7th sus chord for a different color:

Raising the 3rd of the passing dominant 7th chord to create a sus quality
Raising the 3rd of the passing dominant 7th chord to create a sus quality

Summing It All Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on advanced jazz piano arranging for the jazz ballad “Misty.” We’ve covered just a few of the amazing advanced jazz piano techniques that are possible. I really hope this encouraged you to learn as many of these different possibilities and options as all this will serve as different musical colors for your artistic palette.

If any of this seems daunting, remember what the video said: when you look up at the mountain it might seem scary. Eventually though, you’ll be able to see from a higher viewpoint, but there still will never be a top, only scenic viewpoints. This is why we take things little by little and just enjoy our musical journey wherever it takes us!

Download the PDF below to summarize the main jazz piano arranging techniques used in this lesson. If you’re a member, you can also download the smart sheet music to transpose into any key!

If you want an even deeper into this and related jazz piano subjects, check out the following courses here at Piano With Jonny:

Thanks for checking out this Quick Tip. See you in the next one!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Yannick Lambrecht

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