Music & Entertainment

Chord Voicings

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 14:25 min

There’s a near-infinite number of ways play chords on your instrument. Learn some of Herbie’s go-to approaches, and let them spark your own experimentation.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
Get All-Access


OK. It's time to talk about chord voicings. We can experiment with different kinds of voicings that we can use, for a lot of purposes, to keep the music interesting to not only the listener but keep it interesting to yourself. If you're going to be playing, it better be interesting to you in order for you to deliver it, you know, for real, to the people out there. In jazz, we talk about the ii-V-I relationship. And say you're in the key of D, right? OK, and then the two-- --is the E-minor seventh. And the A seventh-- well, basically A seventh-- --is that. But it can also be-- And back to-- so that's ii-- --V-- No, it wasn't that. That was my mistake! But then there's iii-VI-ii-V, which is-- Basically it's that. But-- I did the same thing, except I didn't put the root note on the bottom. I voiced a lot of chords with the fifth on the bottom or the third on the bottom. Because it really changes the quality of the sound. Even if you take a-- right now, I'm playing in the key of D, right? OK. I mean, you can play a D chord like this-- --as a D-major ninth. And you can play like this. Or you can play it like this. And all I did was change the root note, from the-- --root to the-- I got the third on the bottom-- --which is called "first inversion." And this is second inversion, putting the A on the bottom, or the fifth on the bottom. But what I've learned, over the years, is to be able to move through keys, using different combinations of the root, the third, and the fifth on the bottom, for major and minor chords. For example, OK, let's take this. That's a D chord. It's a D-major chord, because you've got D-- --F sharp, and you've got A. But I threw this in, too. [TAPPED NOTES] That's the ninth. But there's a certain voicing I'm using. But that's a whole other subject. OK, so, we were talking about iii-VI-- OK. Now, with the third on the bottom-- right? Now-- uh-- Let me do it this way. Let me see. Uh, not right. Let me do that again. There we go. Yeah, I make mistakes, too. "Mistakes." So, anyway, that was basically the same thing as-- --except I don't have the root note on the bottom. What I would suggest that you do, to get some sense of it for yourself, and what exercise you might be able to do is, first of all, to-- I mean, if you're comfortable-- --playing a chord like that, or a chord-- --like that, or whatever you're comfortable with, even if it's that. If you play-- --C-major seventh, in the root position-- now, if you want to put the third on the bottom-- --what really works well-- --is actually to put the root note-- --above that third. [...

Find Your Sound

Herbie Hancock's jazz career started in his family's living room, listening to his favorite records and trying to play along. Now, he's one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Join Herbie at the piano as he shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony. Gain access to 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Started off philosophical, which didn't do it for me, but soon got into actual techniques and practicum. Bravo! Very useful. Well done, Mr. Hancock.

yes ! it was a wonderful journey ! with herbie. with me. with jazz. with the world. thanx so much and ........ i think i go back to lesson one and do it again and again and again and again and again and again and again .........

I am Looking Forward Learning From The Masters!

Loved the study on voicings. Very cool way of viewing chord structures.


Mark C.

I understood what Herbie was saying and I am going to practice my voicing! That lesson is going to improve my playing. I appreciate the practical advice. Thanks!

Janice H.

This lesson reminds me of some the Theory classes I've taken. This still doesn't come easy. I'm thankful for Herbie Hancock showing how he goes through this process.

Susanna R.

I am grateful for this lesson! For many years I have been studying functional singing and improvisation by doing vocal research but I have never received such a detailed lesson that can also be useful for my vocal range. ❤️❤️❤️

Andrew Stephen L.

It’s hard to play purely improv music at Stonehenge but I really try to stay away from regular songs and flow through.Im playing about 4-5 instruments and singing chanting there.Aside from my saxophone,I carry a drum across my shoulder and I have several percussion instruments-the thing I really wish for is a dude that would turn up with an accordion and play chords!!! It’s Acoustic only music there and most of the time I can only play the melody line along with the drummers-there’s lots of sonic empty space and that’s hard with chord progressions,hardto improvise too as well as I think to listen to -but the fans love it and I put my crazy Jim Morrison James Brown Robert Plant stage persona make up on and go wild for a few hours!! our band is up to 156,000 members now... shame Royalities don’t pay for improv music-and at the end of the day jazz and other improv music,as far as us most musicians I know feel-it’s the only Real Music there is,everything else is pre-scripted. I always think it’s a crazy thing to try to learn jazz by playing too music music from yesteryear... the very nature of that yesteryear music was improv! So if you really wanna learn jazz-just improvise right?! (Least that’s the way I figure can’t make no money from CD’s no more so I just improvise tracks out of thin air... I played about 17,500 of these tracks around the world now!! All floating out there in the ether ... many jammed together with other musicians or singers...manyjudt to a small top of people or an a boat sometime...some sung live to 36,000 people at Stonehenge! Or as I like to call it ALIVE... I think when we jam the music is actually Alive and every single person there affects its flow.... the claps and cheers and clatter of cups move the sonic textures along... I callit RAW too because it’s unprocessed...RAW&ALiVE music or R&A is the Real Deal! Gotta think quick to patchyge right chord voicing or get a nice Lydian mode in there somewhere like on top of a F major chord flowing in the scale of G! Dynamics and meter with a R&A band that is a) Global and b) you never met before and c) live in tv...well it’s a challenge!!! But we have kids that come with their parents in our band jamming along...anyone can do it!! We Love You Herbie Handcock! ❤️

Andrew Stephen L.

Great stuff Herbie H x yeah I was lucky to meet a dude same kinda age to you who lived and played awesome guitar 🎸 and sang through the 60’s.... he can play and improvise super fast electric guitar solos and have a conversation with about dinner or what you will do next week or something at the same time.... He is great on Chord Voicings and helped me learn a lot of stuff about that.I also learnt from an Australian pianist dude who has a Grand piano music school-they got about 6 Grand piano’s there and he is great improv player too.Chord voicings give so many flavours that turn a sunset into delicious color candy! I learnt from another dude that was a jazz pianist from Hungary-now 84 or something and still playing...he held a PhD too in music... he’s pretty awesome wow lucky to meet such a dude! I got some of his jam sessions from the 60’s I listen to sometimes for inspiration! I got into your music just before I set sail and went to live out in Thailand and travel the world for next 15 years... I used to listen to out there on the beach on an old cassette Walkman with speakers chilling in a hammock...late 90’s those were the days!! Starting getting good on guitar then too... chords and harmony give us wings to build improv on... I’m having fun trying to play through saxophone too and splitting chord to play quick because obviously only one Melody note at once...just rocked improv at Stonehenge to 9,500 people wahooo!

Russ K.

I've been interested in chord voicings and I have been amazed at how Herbie seems to easily place the chords between both hands. I have learned chord shapes with one hand and want to be able to do the two hand thing he does. I was expecting something different from this lesson, but I found what i was looking for in the way he seemed to grapple with the voicings to create or release the tension of dissonance within the chords. It's funny how he starts with the 2-5-1 and immediately jumps to the chord extensions like the 9 and the #11. I guess all you can say is,"jazz".


On some of the 3-6-2-5-1 voicings there are doubled thirds and sevenths. I always thought that these notes should never be doubled in a voicing. Does someone maybe know why herbie does double them here?


Question: Am not a student of jazz, per se. Why did Herbie use the F# in the C scale? Can anyone explain?

Calvin R.

Another one of my favourite chapter in Herbie's masterclass. Chordal harmony and Voicings is what attracted me to firstly listen to music as a child then to learn and play the piano. What evokes the greatest emotion is listening to harmony whether in a TV or Film Theme tune or listen to artists. Herbie's approach is very intuitive and open-minded. He along with Stevie Wonder, Richard Tee, Joe Sample & George Duke has been very influential in inspiring me to appreciate chordal harmonies. Thanks Herbie for a great chapter.

Neal S.

Very valuable insights into chord voiceings using inversions and how different voiceings actually change the sound of each chord. I personally like to utilize as much of the keyboard as possible and attempt to stay away from what can become muddy sounds in the lower register. I like Herbie's approach to experimenting with one's own personal voicings using as many variables as possible. Often 'plain vanilla' voiceings can become repetitive and uninteresting if the pianist sticks too much to root positions. Herbie's point about neutralizing dissonance is also well taken. Herbie is so right when he says dissonance can be less pronounced yet still there and with some spice, if the chords are configured in inverted configurations and spread out. Kudos to you Herbie for presenting this lesson in a relaxed and straightforward way, allowing for individual creativity.