Yannick Lambrecht
Quick Tip

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  • Accompanying
  • Analysis
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  • Jazz Swing
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What are the essential differences between playing solo jazz piano versus playing in a piano trio? Even though a tune’s melody and harmony are the same in both contexts, what you play as a pianist is significantly modified for a trio setting. In today’s Quick Tip, Yannick Lambrecht demonstrates a simple and tasty approach to “Autumn Leaves” on piano for a jazz trio setting. You’ll learn:

  • Cycle of 5ths Chord Progression
  • Quartal & Rootless Chords
  • 4-Note Voicings for Two Hands
  • 6-Note Voicings for Two Hands

While playing with others can be intimidating for many pianists, this is really what jazz is all about. Thankfully, today’s lesson will get you ready to step into your next rehearsal or jam session with confidence—even if it’s your first!

Autumn Leaves for Jazz Trio—First Things First

Okay, so you want to learn to play “Autumn Leaves” on piano in a jazz trio setting—but where do you begin? A very helping starting point is to find a one or more great recordings that are similar to your context. This is recommended even before you rush to your Real Book. Jazz pianist Wynton Kelly (1931–1971) recorded several piano trio versions of “Autumn Leaves” that are quite accessible. You can find them on his pair of albums from 1961, Someday My Prince Will Come and Wynton Kelly!.

Autumn Leaves Chord Progression

Once you are familiar with the tune, next you’ll want to learn the melody and chords. Again, it’s helpful to have a couple references here. For example, you’ll notice that The Real Book has the tune in E minor whereas The New Real Book has it in G minor. This is extremely helpful to be aware of before blindly jumping into a jam session. For today’s lesson, we’ll examine the tune in E minor. However, you can easily transpose the material to G minor or any other key you need using our Smart Sheet Music. Let’s take a look at the chord progression for the A section.

Cycle of 5ths Progression in G Major / E minor Autumn Leaves Les Feuilles Mortes
Cycle of 5ths chord progression in G Major (E minor).

The cycle of 5ths progression above occurs in many jazz standards including “Autumn Leaves,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “All the Things You Are.” One unique aspect of this progression is that in contains a 2-5-1 progression in both the major key and its relative minor. For example, the first half of the progression clearly outlines G Major while the second half outlines E minor. Therefore, you will frequently see references to “Autumn Leave” as being in G major/E minor (or B Major/G minor).

The example below shows a harmonic analysis of the cycle of 5ths progression with root position 7th chords. Note, many jazz musicians favor a minor 6 voicing for the 1-chord when resolving a 2-5-1 progression in minor. Therefore, measure 7 now contains a Em6. Also, measure 8 commonly features a dominant chord when repeating the progression. This leads back to the first chord in the cycle. Specifically, E7 is the 5-chord of A minor. This is known as a  secondary dominant.

Cycle of 5ths Progression with harmonic analysis
Harmonic analysis of Cycle of 5ths Progression in G Major / E minor.

In you want to learn even more about the cycle of 5ths progression including how to play this progression in 3 different styles, check out our courses on Cycle of 5ths in 3 Jazz Styles (Level 2, Level 3).

Autumn Leaves Piano Chords for Jazz Trio

When playing “Autumn Leaves” on piano in a jazz trio setting, there are some special considerations regarding chord voicings. The biggest difference is that in a trio setting, we can use both hands to play voicings spanning larger than one octave. By contrast, solo jazz piano playing frequently leans on voicings that are smaller than one octave and can fit in the left hand by itself. Another way to think about this is that chord voicings for one hand contain notes that are spaced apart by 2nds and 3rds whereas chord voicings for two hands are generally spaced apart by intervals larger than a 3rd. The example below demonstrates 4-note voicings for “Autumn Leaves” spread out for two hands. This example uses a combination of rootless voicings and quartal voicings which we’ll cover in more detail below.

Autumn Leaves Two-Handed Piano Voicings for Jazz Trio–Level 1

Autumn Leaves Jazz Piano Trio Chord Voicings–Level 1
Two-hand piano chord voicings for “Autumn Leaves” with jazz trio (Level 1)

Rootless Voicings

The “Autumn Leaves” piano example above utilizes rootless voicings which are common practice in a jazz trio setting. Since the bass player is generally playing the root of the chord, it is not necessary for the pianist to play the root also. This gives the pianist an opportunity to utilize more complex chord colors instead. This will generally involve the addition of one more chord extensions (9th, 11th or 13th). For example, the D7 in measure 10 above contains the note E which is the 9th of the chord. Notice, it is note necessary for a chord symbol to specify a particular chord extension in order for you to add it in. Check out our course on Piano Chord Extensions (Level 2) to explore this topic in detail.

Regarding the labels in the example above, we classify rooless voicings as A voicings or B voicings based on their bottom note. A voicings are constructed with the 3rd of the chord on bottom. B voicings, on the other hand, are constructed up from the 7th of the chord.

Quartal Voicings

The term quartal voicing describes any voicing in which the majority of the notes are a perfect fourth apart. A quartal voicing can contain as few as three notes or as many as five notes without doubling any notes. Some quartal voicings may even contain six or more notes, although these voicings will contain doubling. Doubling simply means that a note is used more than once within the voicing.

One unique characteristic of quartal voicings is that you can use same voicing can for more than one chord symbol! For example, did you notice that we are using the exact same notes in measures 3 and 4 to voice G Major 7 and C Major 7? However, the notes have a different relationship to each chord as illustrated below. In order to build the voicing in stacks of 4ths, we need to use the major 6/9 chord construction in which the major 6th substitutes for the major 7th. As such, the chord symbols below reflect the specific voicings shown (G 6/9 and C 6/9).

G69 and C 69 Quartal Voicings
Example of the exact same quartal voicings used for G 6/9 and C 6/9.

Next, let’s look at at how advanced jazz pianists may opt to use even bigger two-hand piano chord voicings to play “Autumn Leaves” in a jazz trio setting.

Autumn Leaves Two-Handed Piano Voicings for Jazz Trio–Level 2

Autumn Leaves Jazz Piano Trio Chord Voicings–Level 2
Two-hand piano chord voicings for “Autumn Leaves” with jazz trio–Level 2.

As you can hear, these big six-note chord voicings sound great and are perfect for big band playing . They’re also great in a jazz trio setting on “Autumn Leaves” or any time you want that piano big sound. Once you get comfortable with these chords, try playing along with one of the backing tracks included with this lesson. The backing tracks are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership.


Congratulations. You are now ready to play “Autumn Leaves” on piano with a jazz trio and sound amazing! For even more professional jazz piano tips on “Autumn Leaves,” check out our full length course on Autumn Leaves Jazz Swing (Level 2) which covers fills, improv techniques, intros and outros, walking bass lines and more!

If you enjoyed this lesson, then you’ll also love the following courses from our library:

Thanks for learning with us. We’ll see you next time!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Yannick Lambrecht

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