New to Jazz? Here’s How to Play Drop 2 and 4 Jazz Piano Voicings

Introduction

Drop 2 and 4 voicings are very effective and consistent, and ideal for beginners to start grasping what each chord in a jazz standard is made of.

Let’s take a look at Afternoon In Paris chord by chord and learn how to play the chord progression using drop 2 and 4 voicings. We actually talk about this in our Advanced Piano Tricks Course so check that out if you want to take a look at this idea from a slightly different perspective. By the end of this post you’ll be able to play the chords in the song like we did on the demo in our video.

A good workbook to practice this topic is the Notebook from the Jazz Standards Progressions Book Collection with the grand staff. This is a very useful resource since it has all the jazz standards all laid out for you with the complete form and chords on an empty grand staff, which will save you tons of time.

So here’s “Afternoon In Paris” as shown in the notebook.

Afternoon In Paris as shown in The Jazz Standards Progressions Book Notebook Vol.1

Write a treble and a bass clef. You don’t need to add any accidentals to the score since the song is in the key of C.

By the way if you’re wondering why there are no clefs in the book this is because these notebooks were made to allow for different types of arrangements so maybe you want to write for two guitars which would require two treble clefs or four viola and cello or oboe and clarinet which will use different key signatures.

Okay, so the first chord is a Cmaj7. So write a C note on the bass and then write the thirds on top. Remember, all these chords are seventh chords so we need the root, third, fifth and seventh. Most of the chords are going to look like four notes on spaces or four notes on lines.

Now, let’s make sure we have the correct accidentals for this Cmaj7 chord
A maj7 chord is built with all natural intervals 1 3 5 and 7 so… Is to E a major third? Well yes it is, then I don’t need any accidentals on the E. C to G is a perfect fifth, and C to B is a major seventh no accidentals needed for this chord.

This is what we call a Cmaj7 in root position because the C is on the bass. And this is a closed voicing because the notes are written in the order they appear starting from the C note at the bottom.

If I take the top note and the second note from the top and I move them up an octave, I get an open voicing. This voicing is called a drop 2 & 4 voicing.

Look. If i write this same C chord up an octave, and then number the voices from the top as one, two, three four: B is the first voice, G is the second voice E is the third voice, and C is the fourth voice and then I drop the G and the G, voices 2 and 4, and octave below, we get the same voicing.

That’s why we call this voicing a drop 2 and 4 voicing. It just happens to be easier to move the first and third voices up in our case.

Okay, so now we have the Cmaj7 in a drop 2&4 voicing. These types of voicings are called Open Voicings, because the notes are placed with gaps in between them. The interesting thing is that open voicings offer a more consistent sound across the keyboard they don’t get muddy or harsh as easily as closed voicings do. I’ll keep this voicing for the Cmaj7


Next, is a Cm7. Again, i’ll write a C on the bass and then the other three notes on top.
A m7 chord is a 1 b3 5 b7. So I’m going to have to flatten the E to an Eb and the B to a Bb. Then we can move these two notes up to build our drop two and four voicing.

Next: F7. Let’s write the four notes. Now, a dominant chord is a 1 3 5 b7. So, is F to a a  major 3rd?
Yes! F to C is a perfect fifth. That’s good. And F to E is a major seventh but we need a b7 (or a minor seven) so we need to flatten the E to Eb and we have our F7 in root position closed voicing. We move an octave up and we have our drop 2 & 4 voicing.

So, by now you should have the method we use to build these voicings. We showed you the method we used in the video. But here’s the perspective writing the chords and octave up and dropping voices 2 and 4 (which might make more sense since these type of voicings are called 2 & 4)

How To Play Drop 2 and 4 voicings for Jazz Piano

  1. Write your chord using 1 3 5 7 (in treble clef, on or above middle c)
  2. Add accidentals as needed so that the notes match the type of chord.
    maj7 = 1 3 5 7
    m7 = 1 b3 5 b7
    dom7 = 1 3 5 b7
    m7b5 = 1 3 b5 7
    o7 = 1 b3 b5 bb7
  3. Number the voices from the top down 1 (top voice) 2 3 4
  4. Drop voices 2 and 4 down an octave

That’s all! Now you have a balanced voicing. It’s open with nice gaps between the notes, which by the way, will help avoid the low interval limit (muddy sound produced by some intervals in the lower register.)

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