Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Reharmonization
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
  • Smooth Jazz
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One of the exciting aspects about playing jazz from the perspective of a pianist is that we have a polyphonic instrument. As such, we have the opportunity to personally orchestrate jazz harmonies with our fingers. At least we do in theory, right? Well, in today’s Quick Tip, we’ll explore practical jazz arranging techniques to create beautiful inner voice movement with jazz piano chords. You’ll learn:

  • Spread Voicings
  • Inner Voice Movement with 1, 2 or even 3 Parts
  • 4 Dominant 7 Voicings

What if you have zero experience at jazz arranging? No problem. After today’s lesson, you’ll find yourself hearing plenty of opportunities for delicate inner voicing movement in all your favorite jazz piano ballads.

Introduction—What is Inner Voice Movement?

Perhaps today’s Quick Tip topic, inner voice movement, is unfamiliar to you. What exactly does this mean? We’ll certainly break it down in today’s lesson. However, initially, we can show you better than we can tell you. Consider the following examples. Each provides a different treatment of the final phrase of  Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”

Without Inner Voice Movement

With Inner Voice Movement

Now THAT is inner voice movement! But let’s come up with a working definition as well.


Inner voice movementa compositional device or arranging technique that uses countermelodies for the purpose of embellishment or personal expression.

In fact, this definition nearly perfectly describes the difference between our two opening examples. Listen again to the first example. It’s certainly not bad. Notice that the melody for “Over the Rainbow” is harmonized with beautiful jazz piano quartal voicings. However, the essential approach is melody plus chords. By contrast, the second example adds interesting countermelodies in the inner voices that create captivating moments of tension and release. This use of countermelody is distinctly different than melody plus chords and is known as a contrapuntal approach. In today’s lesson, you will learn how to add 1, 2 and 3 inner voices to traditional dominant chord resolutions like this second example.

Another way to explain inner voice movement is that it is one type reharmonization. Reharmonization is the adding, replacing or removing of chords to an existing tune. Solo jazz pianists frequently use reharmonization in their performances. In fact, this is one significant factor that distinguishes one player’s sound from another.

You can discover other reharmonization techniques in our full-length course on Passing Chords & Reharmonization (Level 2, Level 3).

Piano Pedaling and Inner Voice Movement

All of the video examples in today’s lesson show the sustain pedal. This is intentional. When adding inner voices, it is imperative that you clear the pedal immediately after each voice moves to avoid sustaining simultaneous tension and resolution. This technique is called legato pedaling or delayed pedaling. You can learn more about the proper use of all three pedals in our full-length course on Piano Pedal Essentials (Levels 1–3).

Now that we’ve defined our subject, let’s learn how to add these beautiful inner voices to our piano playing in the context of traditional dominant chord resolutions. But first, be sure to download today’s lesson sheet. The PDF lesson sheet is downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also quickly change the key of this lesson using our Smart Sheet Music.

Chord Progression for Today’s Lesson

In case you didn’t notice, the chord progression that supports the final phrase of “Over the Rainbow” is a modified turnaround progression. A standard turnaround progression that uses all diatonic chords follows the sequence of I–VIm7–IIm7-V7. In fact, the first example in our introduction uses these chords to harmonize the melody. The example below shows this chord progression accompanying a melodic sketch of “Over the Rainbow” to comply with copyright restrictions.

Turnaround Progression—Diatonic Chords

Turnaround Progression ~ Diatonic Chords Over the Rainbow
Melodic sketch over turnaround progression with diatonic chords.

In order to adapt this progression for inner voice movement, we’ll modify it in the following ways:

  • Apply a common substitution ⇒ 3-chord in place of 1-chord
  • Covert all diatonic chords to dominant 7th chords
Turnaround Progression—Dominant 7th Circle Movement

Melodic sketch over turnaround progression with all dominant 7th chords.

By converting all the chords to dominant 7th chords, the chord sequence now follows counter-clockwise movement around the circle of 5ths. This means that each dominant 7th chord acts like a V7 chord resolving to the subsequent chord. This creates the perfect framework to add inner voice movement characteristic of beautiful jazz piano ballads.

Dominant Chords & Inner Voice Movement

The concept of adding movement on dominant chords is not unique to jazz. If fact, the movement of G7(sus4) resolving to G7 can be heard in the Baroque era music of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). PWJ co-founder Yannick Lambrecht covers Bach’s use of this compositional device in  lesson 3 of our course on Bach Prelude in C Harmonic Analysis (Levels 1–3). The example below illustrates this most basic and recognizable inner voice movement—the 4-3 suspension.

Classical Style Inner Voice Movement for piano beginner intermediate
The 4-3 suspension commonly used in classical music is the most commonly recognized inner voice movement for beginners.

This term 4-3 suspension refers the interval relationships of the moving notes with regard to the bass note. In this example, the suspended note C is a 4th above the bass note and resolves to a 3rd above the bass note—the note B.

In Baroque and Classical music, it is rare to find examples in which sus4 chords do not resolve in the manner illustrated above. However, in contemporary music, it is quite common to use sus4 chords “right off the shelf” so to speak without much consideration for any particular approachment or resolution. You can learn how to apply sus4 chords in pop and contemporary piano styles in our course Pop Piano Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder (Level 2).

Now, let’s look take what we’ve learned about the 4-3 suspension on dominant 7th chords and apply it to “Over the Rainbow.”

Step #1 — 1 Inner Voice

Once you have a string of dominant 7th chords, you can take the first step to creating inner voice movement quite easily. Simply apply a 4-3 suspension to each dominant 7th chord as in the following example.

Turnaround Progression with 1 Inner Voice

Jazz Piano Inner Voice Movement Step 1 1 Voice 4-3 Suspension
Step 1: Adding a V7(sus4) that resolves to a V7 creates inner voice movement with 1 voice.

A portion of readers likely have questions about the chord symbols in the above example. You may have expected:

|  E7(sus4) – E7 – A7(sus4) – A7  |  D7(sus4) – D7 – G7(sus)4 – G7  |

That is exactly the approach with respect to the accompaniment. However, the melody itself contains tone colors which further shape these chords. When this happens, it is most common for the chord symbol to reflect the overall sound. For example, when the A7(sus4) resolves to A7, the melody note is an F♮. This is the lowered 13th note (a.k.a. “♭13”) with respect to an A7 chord. That’s because A7 come from the key of D major which has two sharps—F♯ and C♯. The terms altered note, chord alteration and altered dominant all similarly describe the presence of the ♭13 in this chord. You can learn all about these exciting chord sounds in our course on Piano Chord Alterations (Level 2).

What about the the G13 chord symbol in the example above? What not G7? It’s important to know that G7, G9 and G13 are all dominant chord sounds containing the ♭7—the note F♮. In our example above, the melody note E is the 13th tone above G. This is reflected in the chord symbol as G13. This is called a chord extension. You can learn how to expand four-note 7th chords to include extensions in our course on Piano Chord Extensions (Level 2).

Okay, now you’re ready for step 2.

Step #2 — Spread It Out

In this step, we’ll improve on the sound of the previous example by spreading out the chord tones. Did you notice that the texture of step 1 sounds a little unbalanced? The right hand in particular sounds thin with only 1 note as compared to 4 notes in the left hand. An easy way to fix this is to bring the 5th of each dominant chord into the right hand. This applies mainly to the E7(sus4) and the D7(sus4). That’s because the A7(sus4) and the G7(sus4) already have the 5th as the melody note. For these chords, we’ll simply remove the 5th from the left hand. As a result, we get the following harmonization:

Step 2 – Spread It Out Piano Chord Voicing Jazz Theory Harmony Voice Leading
Step 2: Spread out the chord by putting the 5th in the right hand.

Spreading out the chord tones allows the listener to better hear and appreciate the inner voice movement. You may also notice that we spread out the voicing of the final tonic chord by following principles of good voicing leading. Specifically, we placed the 3rd of the chord (E) in the right hand so that it resolves from the F of the G13 chord in the same voice.

You doing fantastic! Now, let’s learn how to add inner voice movement in a second voice.

Step #3 — 2 Inner Voices

In the step, we’ll make our inner voice movement even more compelling by harmonizing it. To do this, we’ll add the 9th to our dominant chords and lower it to the ♭9. When this is combined with the movement of the 4-3 suspension, we get movement in parallel 6ths which sounds absolutely gorgeous.

Step 3 ~ Add 9 to b9 Inner Voice Movement
Step 3: Add movement from 9 to ♭9.

Pro Tip

You may have noticed in today’s Quick Tip that Jonny plays some sweet sounding slides in the inner voices. You can add these ornaments too! Jonny inserts these slides when his index finger is playing 9th of a dominant chord. In today’s example, this happens on the A9(sus4) and the G9(sus4). In notation form, this is expressed as a grace note. However, this ornament is actually played on the beat with an immediate slide to the main note. The notes of this ornament move from the♭9 to the 9.

Pro Tip ~ Index Finger Slide into 9 blues bluesy
Pro Tip: For a professional touch, use your index finger to slide into the 9th on dominant chords.

You’re sounding great. Now, let’s add one more inner voice.

Step #4 — 3 Inner Voices

At times, you may even want to add a 3rd inner voice. You can do this by moving from the 5th of the dominant chord to the ♭5 (a.k.a. ♯11). This will give you a crunchy dominant 7(♭9♯11) chord. Here is our turnaround progression with 3 inner voices.

Step #4 ~ 3 Inner Voices Contrapuntal Solo Jazz Piano Arranging Tips
Step 4: Lower the 5th to the ♭5 (or ♯11 enharmonically) to get a crunchy dominant 7(♭9♯11).

What a cool sound! Notice, Jonny opted to not add a 3rd voice on the A7(♭9♭13). The ♯11 for this chord would have been the note D♯, which is a whole step below the melody. This is permissible, but it is often preferable to keep an interval of a 3rd or larger below the melody to allow it to penetrate clearly.


Congratulations, you’ve completed today’s lesson on playing jazz piano with inner voice movement. Next, you’ll want to apply these concepts to tunes in your repertoire. In addition, the following PWJ courses contain applications of inner voice movement:

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


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Michael LaDisa

Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...

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