Shell Voicings with Color Tones


Don't feel like you're "missing a lot" by just using the shell voicings; they're not just training wheels that you'll discard when you learn more advanced stuff. In fact, for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience with the particulars of jazz harmony and voice movement, shell voicings will usually sound more "hip" than if you try to play a bunch of more complicated voicings and do it in a clumsy way. Professional players make constant use of shell voicings.

Just make sure you can play shell voicings in two different places on the neck for Maj7, dom7, min7 (which is the same as half dim.), and fully diminished (same as m6), and maybe also maj6. See if you can comp through tunes you are working on, strictly using only shell voicings, without jumping all over the neck, and also become familiar with II V I in all 12 keys in two different places on the neck with the shell voicings.

Once you can do all that stuff pretty well (or if you already can), I'd suggest that you start adding some color tones on top of the shell voicings. Presumably you're putting the 3rd and 7th on the middle two strings, which leaves you the top 2 for color tones. Here's a basic thumbnail sketch of color tones that usually work best with each chord type. Obviously, many of the examples list 3 or more color tones, and you won't have enough strings to play all of them at once. I'd encourage you to experiment with just one color tone, or different combinations of 2:

Major 7: 9, 13, #11

Major 6: 9, #11 (also major 7)

Minor 7: 9, 11 (sometimes 13)

Minor 6: 9

Half Dim.: 9 (that's natural 9), 11, (also b5 since it's a "colorful" tone and isn't in the basic shell voicing)

Dim.7: bb5 (for same reason as above), 9 (also 11 and b13 but be careful)

Dominant 7: This one is a slight bit more complex because it depends on the context of the chord. If the dominant chord is resolving by a 5th (example, a G7 going to a C chord of some sort):

standard "vanilla" mixolydian sound for major keys: 9, 13, (#11)

OR

harmonic minor sound for minor key: b9, b13

OR

altered dominant sound for major OR minor keys: b9, #9, b13, #11

OR

diminished dominant sound for major, or in some cases, minor, keys: b9, #9, #11, 13

For suspended sounds (where the natural 4th replaces the 3rd):

dominant7 sus4: 9, 13 (also b9 can replace 9 in some cases) (additionally, the 3rd placed an octave above the 4th, or even in the same octave, can be a nice sound in some cases)

If the dominant chord is NOT resolving down a 5th (for example, the G7 in bar 3 of "Girl From Ipanema" or the the Gb7 in bar 2 of "Well You Needn't"):

9, #11, 13

The main reason for not using the more colorful sounds on a dominant that doesn't resolve by a 5th is that V to I movement is the basic sound of dissonance to consonance in most western music, and making the V chord more dissonant serves to make the resolution that much more satisfying (if the bass notes of the chords move by a 5th, they are behaving somewhat like a V to I progression even if they're not actually V to I). If the bass movement is not a 5th, there won't be that same V to I effect, and it won't sound as satisfying to go from a really dissonant sounding chord to a relatively consonant sounding one. This isn't to say you shouldn't EVER put a b9 on the G7 chord in "Ipanema," but it's not the "common practice" thing to do.

Another approach (or, more preferably, an additional one) would be to learn drop 2 and drop 3 voicings for all chord types and all their inversions all over the neck, but this is a much more time-intensive task, and I'm guessing the above stuff would keep anyone busy for a while.

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