Basic Music Composition Techniques pdf | Jazz Voicing Upper Structures

Free Composing Software

The best part is, you don’t have to spend a ton of money. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money at all. There is a great notation software program called musescore, and it is available for mac or pc for free. The sound is usually not the greatest, but you can also look for SF2 sound files on the internet and load them into the program.

Sibelius First

And here are some free soundfonts. These can be used with Musescore to get a better sound out of the program:

Upper structures, also called upper structure triads, are triads that have been superimposed above a tritone. Upper structure triads are predominantly used on dominant chords but can also be applied to other chord types. In this lesson we’re just going to focus on dominant uppers structures triads.

Incorporating upper structures into the tunes you play will really take your playing forward and make your dominant chords sound much more interesting and sophisticated.

From a practical standpoint, upper structures allow you to easily remember voicing s for complex altered sounds in all 12 keys.

Ultimately, thinking of the lower and upper structures of the chord separately provides a shortcut as our brains have to process less pieces of information to get the same chord.

Jazz Keyboard Harmony: A Practical Voicing Method for All Musicians, Spiral-Bound Book & CD

A practical and systematic method that teaches how to practice jazz piano voicings so that they become automatic and intuitive. The method progresses step-by-step from 2- to 7-voice chord structures with fourths and upper-structure triads. Each chapter presents essential harmonic progressions written and spelled out in all keys, along with fingerings to help non-keyboardists. Also provided are songs written out for both hands, which utilize the techniques and voicings just learned. Includes comping rhythms, bass line techniques, and practice strategies. Excellent for both classroom and individual study. Strongly endorsed by Mark Levine, Bobby Shew, Denis Diblasio, and many others. The included play-along CD allows you to practice the piano exercises in the book with bass and drum accompaniment. You can also practice comping along with a saxophone soloist. A demonstration piano track on one channel, played with a stylistic comping feel, gives you an idea of how the piano voicing exercises should sound. Large 248 page spiral-bound book and CD.


Today there are many examples of composer’s learning from, and borrowing from older composers. As Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”let me show you one of my favorite types of jazz voicing…

‘Upper Structures’.

This term refers to a whole range of voicings that you can create based on the same idea:

Upper Structures are usually applied to V7 chords (perfect for the V chord in any ii-V-I).

They’re a simple way to play lots of colorful notes, without much brain work.

Let’s say the chord symbol says C7, here’s some Upper Structure voicings you could play:

The left hand is always the same – you just play the root, major 3rd and minor 7th of the chord (C E Bb).

But in your right hand you can play a variety of major and minor triads – and each one gives you a different set of colorful chord extensions:

Let’s say you play a D major triad in your right hand (D F# A):

C  E  Bb  /  D  F#  A

Well now you’re playing C7 – with a 9th, #11th, and 13th.

Or you could play an A major triad in your right hand:

C  E  Bb  /  A  C#  E

Now you’re playing C7 – with a b9 and a 13th.

With Upper Structure voicings, you don’t have to play the right hand chord in root postition (1 3 5). It sometimes works better if you invert it (turn the notes upside down).

So for the A major Upper Structure we just looked at, I might invert the right hand and play this instead:

C  E  Bb  /  C#  E   A

This way the spacing between each note is more even – and there’s no big major 7th gap in the middle, which we had before (Bb up to A).

So you can play the right hand chord in any inversion, and it should sound just as strong and colorful.

Upper Structures work well because the most important chordal tones are being played low down (root, 3rd, 7th). And your right hand is just playing extended harmony notes, which are the colorful notes on top, which can be played in any vertical order.

Here are some more Upper Structures I’ll play for a C7 chord:

Ab maj / C7:
C  E  Bb  /  Eb  Ab  C
Gives you C7 #9 b13. A good voicing for C7 altered.
Eb min / C7:
C  E  Bb  /  Eb  Gb  Bb
Gives you C7 #9 #11
F# min / C7:
C  E  Bb  /  C#  F#  A
Gives you C7 b9, #11, 13.
Implies C diminished scale – C Db Eb E F# G A Bb

And all of these Upper Structures sound great as the V chord, in the middle of any ii – V – I.

To exaggerate their complex sound, I like to play the ii chord and I chord with simple voicings. Something like this:

That way, you’re creating a simple – complex – simple sound – which is how you really sound sophisticated with your playing (and not by playing complex – complex – complex, which looses its effect quickly).

Have fun exploring Upper Structures in your playing. Play through your favorite standard, and start by applying the D major / C7 voicing we started with, to every V7 chord (you’ll have to transpose it of course).

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