Voicing the ii7 chord

In the last lesson, we talked about substituting a ii7 for a V7 chord.  I got a few questions related to the voicing (where on the piano you actually play the notes in the chord).  It is critical to understand the voicing because if you do not do it right, this substitution will not always work.

Today, I want to address the voicing of ii7 chords in detail.  I am taking a long time on this particular substitution because it is extremely important.  In fact, before I start, look at this reharmonization of the song we are working on.

Note that the song consists almost entirely of ii7-V7-I progressions.  In fact, if you take a moment and circle all the ii7-V7-I progressions, you have only a few chords here and there that are not circled!

Can we use different chords and make this more complicated?  You bet we can, and we will.  But if you never get past this point but understand how to use this progression, your music will be dramatically improved from a harmonic perspective.

You probably now know why I want to focus on the voicing of the ii7 chord.  You probably already know instinctively how to voice V7 and I chords most of the time, but the ii7 can be a bit tricky.

By the way, the voicings I am about to give you are not just for ii7 chords; they will work for all minor 7th chords.  The voicings are going to be simple with as few color notes as possible.  Later, I will show you more complex voicings with color notes.

First, we need to understand that if you are going to voice a chord, you need to know at least two things–the chord itself and the relationship of the melody note to the chord.

Here is an example.  If you are in the key of F and you want to play a ii7, you are going to play Gmin7 (G, Bb, D, F).  Let’s say that you are going to play it with a melody note of A.  You need to immediately know that A is the 9th of the Gmin7 chord.

Make sense?  Yes, this may seem complicated at first, but you can get to the point where you can think this way very quickly.

Now, let’s take a minor 7th chord and show you voicings for the common notes that might be in the melody.  There are many voicings you could use, but I am going to show you just one simple one for each melody note.

Here’s how you read this chart. When you want to play a min7 chord, identify the melody note within the chord and find it in the first column on this chart.  The next two columns will tell you which notes to play in each hand.

Melody note

Left Hand

Right Hand

Example Gmin7
1 1, 7 3, 5,
9 1, 7 3, 5,
3 1, 5 7, 3
11 1, 5,
3, 7,
5 1, 7 9, 3,
13 1, 3,
9, 13
7 1, 5 9, 3,

Now that I have given these voicings to you, it is up to you to learn them well enough to start using them.  How? By practicing the voicings by themselves in every key. Take 10 minutes a day for a week and play each voicing in every key and you will likely know them enough to start using them.

In general, these voicings will sound good in most areas of the keyboard.  However, notice that the voicing for the 13th has a close interval in the left hand.  This interval will not sound good low on the keyboard.  Over time, you develop instincts for knowing where to play voicings based on how open they are.  The rule of thumb is this–close intervals work better higher on the piano.

By the way, also note that there are no doubled notes in these voicings.  None are necessary, and if you really feel the need to double something, you should double only the melody note.  If you are like me, eliminating doubled notes from chords may be painful but you will be glad you did in the long run.