Drop 2 Chord Voicings


This lesson presents a solid foundation for making pretty much any kind of jazz chord you'd ever want to play on the guitar. We start off slowly, but then take off very quickly. I encourage you to work with this material over a long period of time. Dig out your favorite tunes or a few jazz standards and try to play them using these voicings. The possibilities are endless as is usually the case when it comes to music. I'm sure you'll gravitate to certain voicings over others, but I encourage you to experiment with all of them as much as possible. So let's begin...

Drop 2 Theory:

Let's take a look at a C maj. 7th chord in all its inversions:

Four Voicings for a C maj. 7th Chord
Diagram 1 - Four Voicings for a C maj. 7th Chord

As the diagram shows, we have 4 voicings arranged in "closed" position. That is, the chord tones are packed-in together very closely - so much so that one cannot insert any other chord tones in between any of the notes.

Now, let's take the second note from the top of each voicing and drop it an octave and see what we get...

Drop 2 Voicings for a C maj. 7th Chord
Diagram 2 - Drop 2 Voicings for a C maj. 7th Chord

As you may have surmised, these voicings are called drop 2's because we've dropped the 2nd note from the top one octave. These structures yield the following fingerings on the guitar:

Drop 2 Fingerings for a C maj. 7th Chord

Some observations:

  1. Each voicing has only 4 notes.
  2. Each voicing covers 4 adjacent strings on the guitar.
  3. If you take each note from any one voicing and play the next closest chord tone on the same string, you'll get the next drop 2 voicing.
I'd like to elaborate on this last point because it is very important and is basically the method for learning drop 2's.

The third voicing above (voicing #3) is a drop-2 C maj.7 chord in root position and it has the following note structure from lowest note to highest: C, G, B, E.

Now, if we move each note in this voicing up to the next closest chord tone we get the following notes from lowest to highest: E, B, C, G which is voicing #4 above.

Do the same thing for voicing #4 and you'll get voicing #1. Take voicing #1 and add the next chord tone to each note and you'll get voicing #2. Take voicing #2 and repeat this process one more time and you'll come back to where we started with voicing #3. Pretty cool, eh?

In short, the pattern is cyclical. It repeats after every 4th voicing and this makes sense since there are only 4 notes we're working with. Of course, some voicings are going to be easier to grab than others, but all of these voicings have some use as we'll see later in a later lesson with "tension substitutions."

Check it out:

C ==> E ==> G ==> B
G ==> B ==> C ==> E
B ==> C ==> E ==> G
E ==> G ==> B ==> C
R ==> 3 ==> 5 ==> 7
5 ==> 7 ==> R ==> 3
7 ==> R ==> 3 ==> 5
3 ==> 5 ==> 7 ==> R

At this point what you should do is learn the drop 2 patterns for a major 7th chord all over the neck of the guitar. What you'll discover is that there are 12 patterns. 4 patterns on the bottom 4 strings of the guitar (6, 5, 4, 3) one of which is revealed above (voicing #1). 4 patterns on the 4 middle strings (5, 4, 3, 2) three of which are shown above. And 4 patterns on the top 4 strings of the guitar (4, 3, 2, 1).

After you've learned these patterns (shapes) on the guitar, switch to a new chord like a dominant 7th chord. That's simple enough, just take the 12 patterns you've learned and drop the 7th by a half step. Then figure out patterns for a minor 7th chord (take dom.7 patterns and drop the 3rd) and so on. Sounds like a lot of work if you ask me and I guess it is, but who said learning how to play the guitar was always easy?

Here is a list of chord forms that you should work through:

No. Chord Formula
1 Maj.7 R 3 5 7
2 Min.7 R b3 5 7
3 Dom. 7 R 3 5 b7
4 Min.7 (b5) R b3 b5 b7
5 Min. Maj. 7 R b3 5 7
6 Min.7 (#5) R b3 #5 b7
7 Maj.7 (b5) R 3 b5 7
8 Maj.7 (#5) R 3 #5 7
9 Dom.7 (b5) R 3 b5 b7
10 Dom.7 (#5) R 3 #5 b7
11 Dom.7 sus4 R 4 5 b7
12 Maj.6 R 3 5 6
13 Min.6 R b3 5 6
14 Dim.7 R b3 b5 bb7
15 Tonic Dim. R b3 b5 7

With 15 kinds of chords and 12 patterns for each kind of chord, we get a total of 180 chords forms. Yeah, that's pretty much what I said when I first learned this stuff too. When I went to Berklee our first assignment for "chord lab 3," the class that presented this stuff, was to learn these 180 forms in a week's time. That equates to learning roughly 25.7 chord forms per day. Ouch.

Drop 2 Voicings:

For your benefit (and mine too) and to help get you started, here are the drop 2 forms for the major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th and minor 7 (b5) chords in the key of C major:

C Major 7th - Drop 2

D Minor 7th - Drop 2

G Dom. 7th - Drop 2

B Minor 7th (b5) - Drop 2

Any finally, here's a link to an empty tab diagram for your convenience. Use it to work out voicings for the other chords mentioned above.