Quartal Voicings for Blues Band Accompaniment

Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
Level 3

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Chords
  • Improvisation
  • Reharmonization
Music Style
  • Blues

Today you’ll learn how to use quartal voicings to accompany or “comp” in a blues band.

One of the biggest problems I see with pianists playing with a bass player is that they’ll play bass lines like the blues shuffle. Sometimes this works, but oftentimes, it clashes with the bass player.

If playing in a band, you should stay in the midrange of the keyboard and look for more spread out chords. Now, you can use simple root position chords like C7, or spread them out into an open position like C Bb E G.

But there’s an even cooler way to play these chords using quartal voicings.

Quartal voicings are essential for jazz comping

With quartal, or 4th voicings, you get more rich colors added to your chords, like the 9th and 13th.

Quartal Voicing Blues Comping - First 4 Measures
Quartal Voicing Blues Comping – First 4 Measures

Let’s look at the first 4 measures of a C Blues. On the first C chord we are using the the 3 and b7 in the left hand, and playing a D G and C in the right hand. This “quartal” voicing in the right hand adds the D, which is the 9 of the chord.

The beauty of quartal chords is that you don’t have to move very much between the chords, creating good voice leading.

In measure 2 we go to the F chord, and we only have to move the left hand to the b7 and 3 of F. The right hand plays the same notes, which now become the 13, 9, and 5 of the F chord. A very hip sound!

On the next four measures we can repeat these same quartal voicings.

Quartal Voicing Blues Comping - Middle 4 Measures
Quartal Voicing Blues Comping – Middle 4 Measures

Now let’s look at the final 4 measures to analyze the quartal voicing we use on the G chord. On the G chord we are again using the b7 and 3 in the left hand. In the right, hand we are using the 13, 9, and 5.

Do you recognize this voicing? It’s the same chord shape we used for our F chord!

Quartal Voicing Blues Comping - Final 4 Measures
Quartal Voicing Blues Comping – Final 4 Measures

In this lesson we’ll also discover how to use chromatic dominant 7th chord connectors to create interesting counter melodies in your accompaniment.

The great jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller discusses in this video how the piano fits into a jazz ensemble, and how important it is to practice these voicings until it feels good. You’ve got to practice these until you know them like the back of your hand!

If you’re a member here at Piano With Jonny, be sure to download the blues backing track and sheet music. Then you’ll be able to play and read along.

Also, check out the Smart Sheet music, which allows you to change the key with the click of one button!

If you want to explore comping as a solo pianist, be sure to check out our courses on Jazzy blues comping for beginner-intermediate, and intermediate-advanced.

We also have workshops that teach how to “color” your dominant chords for an authentic and professional jazz sound. Check out the beginner-intermediate, and intermediate-advanced versions here.

Happy practicing!

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