How to Learn Drop 2 and Drop 3 Voicings for Jazz Guitarists
Here's a clever way to learn 96 jazz guitar voicings in a few minutes:
- Learn Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings (2 things to learn)
- ... for 4 chord qualities (maj7, min7, dom7, m7b5)
- ... at each fret (12 frets on the guitar)
TWO times FOUR times TWELVE = 96
So, this whole post will be about "Drop" voicings and more specifically how to play them on the fretboard. They are very foundational, as Jazz guitarists of all level will sooner or later learn Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings. Here's the original website page that discussed those jazz guitar voicings on the website ...
In very few words, Drop voicings are a way for us to cope with chords that would be otherwise impossible to play. And I'm specifically pointing my guitarist's index finger at closed voicings. Those bastards!
If you look at virtually any theoretical explanation about chord construction, you'll soon see a bunch of stacked third on staff paper. Like this:
Man ... those are impossible to play on the guitar! (most of the time)
So, what do we do? Well ... we find our way! :-)
And "our way" consists of changing the order in which the notes appear in the chord; we'll displace some notes on a different octave so chords become more guitar-friendly. And we do that by using the concept behind Drop 2 and Drop 3 voicings.
Drop 2 - STEP 1 - Understand the Theory
What is a Drop 2? Well, without discussing inversions (and stuff) in too many details, let's put it like this:
C major 7th chord: C E G B becomes C G B E , from low to high (see video)
- C E G B is a closed voicing for Cmaj7. This means that it consists of all stacked thirds.
- Then C G B E is the Drop 2 voicing we were looking for.
Did you notice? It's like the E note is an octave higher now. In fact, it is not exactly what happened, but you can remember the idea this way if you'd like.
The most important thing is that all the same notes are present, whether we change on which octave the notes appear. The second most important thing is that Drop 2 voicings are super easy on us, Jazz guitarists. :-)
So, as guitarists, our Drop 2 voicing of reference for C major 7th is the fingering x 3 5 4 5 x. Simple, easy and effective.
So consider x 3 5 4 5 x as our new "compass" for now. :-)
And that's all you need to know, for now at least. Simply understand that a Drop 2 is a sort of voicing, a way to align the notes so this-or-that chord becomes playable on the guitar (because, as discussed in the video, most closed voicings are not even nearly playable on the guitar.)
Drop 2 - C major 7th on the Staff
For the those of you who really like theory, here's how we get Drop 2 voicings on staff paper. This is the "correct way" to get C major 7th as x 3 5 4 5 x ... it stems from a 2nd inversion of a closed voicing.
But it doesn't matter if you don't completely "get" this latter part. The important thing is still the C major 7th voicing we got. If you can play it, move on.
Drop 2 - STEP 2 - Finding a Good Fingering
Play C major 7th on the guitar as a Drop 2 voicing as x 3 5 4 5 x ...
So we are basically done here!
We found something that is practical and that we can apply ... but it is beyond the closed voicing. Zat sit.
We could have considered other string sets. But, so far, the best location to play that Cmaj7 is on strings 5-4-3-2 ... and we'll see why in step 3.
Drop 2 - STEP 3 - Through the Scale
This is the hardest and longest step of the process. This is where you get a lot of "bang for your buck". We extract TONS of new chords from our starting point.
We will be using the same voicing (starting at C major 7th in Drop 2) and keep using the same set of strings and moving each note within the chord to the next note in the scale. The scale is, obviously, C major: C D E F G A B.
Doing so, we'll get all the diatonic chords in the key of C. Diatonic chords (meaning chords within a key) are important. Most tunes you'll play are "in a key", so diatonic chords are likely to appear together. Makes sense, right?
The chords in the key of C major are:
Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7(b5)
So we will take that simple x3545x voicing and move it up and down the major scale. We now (magically) have 7 chords. They all sound nice and are easily playable on the guitar. :-)
Drop 2 - Wrap Up
All the chord shapes are moveable. So this means that for the string set 5-4-3-2, you now have a voicing for:
- Major 7th chords
- Minor 7th chords
- Dominant 7th chords
- Minor 7th (flat 5) chords
Four chord types TIMES twelves frets = 48. We are halfway there!
Drop 3 Voicings: Repeating the same ideas
Same concepts as above ... different starting voicing.
What is a Drop 3? Well, without discussing inversions (and stuff) in too many details, let's put it like this:
G major 7th chord: G B D F# becomes G F# B D , from low to high (see video)
- G B D F# is a closed voicing for Gmaj7. This means that it consists of all stacked thirds.
- Then G F# B D is the Drop 3 voicing we were looking for.
Did you notice? It's like the F# note is an octave lower now. In fact, it is not exactly what happened, but you can remember the idea this way if you'd like.
And that takes care of steps 1 and 2. :-)
Drop 3 - G major 7th on the Staff
Not for the faint or heart ... check out this picture if it helps you (only):
Drop 3 - STEP 3 - Jazz Guitar Voicings Through the Scale
And finally, here's how to play this on the guitar:
And we have the remaining 48 jazz guitar voicings / chords! :-)
Going further: Introductory Course (for Jazz Guitar Chords)
If you wish to go further and apply chords in real contexts (on II-V-I) with 9ths and 13ths, using interesting rhythms, going “rootless” (and more!), then this free resource is highly recommend:
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.
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