• Jazz Harmony: The “So What” Chord And How To Play It

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Jazz music,Piano,Theory

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    So What chord? Yes!

    There are so many terms used to describe chords. Some folks go as far as saying “spinal chords” and that’s  amazing. But the So What chord is not just one of those names like steroid chords, phat chords, etc.

    The So What chord is a popular chord voicing in Jazz harmony and because of the fourth intervals between its tones, it sounds great in modern Jazz.

    In case you’re just coming across the term So What for the first time, don’t worry! We’re getting started (in this lesson) with the term So What and where it’s coming from before anything else.

    So What Voicing: “Where Did The Term Come From?”

    In 1959, Miles Davis recorded a classic Jazz album titled Kind of Blue and the first track on the album was titled So What and it has come to become one of the most recognizable modal jazz tunes in the world.

    The So What Chord Voicing

    The So What chord voicing is basically a minor eleventh chord that is stylized in a certain way.

    In Miles Davis’ album, a notable American Jazz pianist (Bill Evans) stylized the minor eleventh chord in a unique way that has become established as the So What voicing and anyone who voices the minor eleventh chord like Bill Evans did in the So What track is said to be playing the So What chord.

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    So, a good way to get started with the So What chord voicing is to look at the minor eleventh chord and here’s the D minor eleventh chord:

    Instead of voicing the D minor eleventh chord using the regular third intervals, Bill Evans used fourths intervals, and of course, one third interval on top of the voicing.

    Here’s Bill Evans’ voicing of the D minor eleventh chord:

    …in Miles Davis’ recording of the So What track and the term So What has come to be associated with the voicing.

    A Breakdown Of The So What Voicing

    Although the So What chord voicing is NOT purely/absolutely a quartal chord, it is populated with fourth intervals and just a third interval on top.

    In the D So What chord:

    …apart from the third interval between F and A:

    …the interval between every other notes successively is a fourth interval.

    “Check Out The Fourth Intervals…”

    D to G:

    …is a fourth interval.

    G to C:

    …is also a fourth interval.

    C to F:

    …is another fourth interval.

    Altogether, that’s three fourth intervals and one third interval.

    Formation Of The So What Chord

    So, starting on any note, if four notes are stacked and there are fourth intervals between them, and then we end by adding a third interval, that’s the So What chord.

    “Let’s Form The F# So What Chord…”

    Starting from F# (which is the title of the chord):

    …we’ll basically be stacking fourth intervals.

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    A fourth from F# is B:

    …and another fourth from B is E:

    …and the last fourth interval from E is A:

    At this point, we’ve stacked four notes together (F#, B, E, and A):

    …and the interval between each of them is a perfect fourth interval.

    Now, adding a note that is a major third above A (which is C#):

    …to F#, B, E, and A:

    …produces the F# So What chord:

    How To Cheat Your Way Through To So What Chords

    If you’re finding it difficult to master fourth intervals on the keyboard, then you’d have to invest some time into learning the music clock:

    Focus on mastering the notes in the counter-clockwise direction and you’ll be surprised at how fourth intervals will become a piece of cake to you.

    There are five notes in the So What chord and the first four notes (80% of the total notes) in a So What chord can be determined from the music clock and in the counter-clockwise direction.

    If I take four notes in the counter-clockwise direction (starting from Bb):

    I’ll have Bb-Eb-Ab-Db:

    …and those are 80% of the notes in the Bb So What chord:

    Adding the last chord tone that is a third interval above Db (which is F):

    …to Bb-Eb-Ab-Db:

    …produces the Bb So What chord:

    Final Words

    In the next lesson, we’ll be talking about the versatility of the So What chord and you don’t want to miss it for anything.

    See you then.

    “Meanwhile, Check Out All The So What Chords On The Keyboard…”

    C So What:

    C# So What:

    D So What:

    Eb So What:

    E So What:

    F So What:

    F# So What:

    G So What:

    G# So What:

    A So What:

    Bb So What:

    B So What:

    Attention: Click here to claim the $150 bonus course reserved exclusively for members of the Jazz Intensive Training Center.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    1 Alan Sloane

    Thank you very much once again for sharing such rich and informative lessons. I really value and appreciate them.

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