Jazz Chords, Octaves, and small hands - advice and tips

First, I want to thank you for the great lessons!!! I am enjoying them so much! I started working on some of the Christmas songs. Several of them have the melody raising a register using octave voicing in the right hand. I have small hands and some arthritis making the full octave reach very uncomfortable. Is there anyway to make a rich sound in the upper register without using a full 8 key span? Thank you!

Hey Celia,

Firstly, glad you are enjoying the lessons. Always makes me happy to hear.

Now, onto your question…

You don’t need big hand to play the piano. Many of the most talented jazz pianists I have met have small hands - much smaller than mine. Of course, the arthritis is an additional constraint for you, but we can work out a solution.

My hands are just over average, and I can just about reach a 10th interval in most keys.

Here’s 2 initial suggestions for you:

  1. Use the sustain pedal and play the notes in quick succession - start with the bottom note, and then hit the top note.

  2. ‘Roll’ the notes - check out this lesson: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/kenny-barron-voicing/

Then in terms of smaller intervals that might suit you better:

  1. The octave is the most consonant interval because it’s the same note - either an octave lower or higher. But, if it’s difficult for you to reach this interval, then we need to find a better solution.

  2. The next most constant interval is the 5th, so instead of playing the full octave in your right hand, play the melody and also a note a 5th below in the scale of the chord. This is most useful in the left hand in the lower registers of the piano… you can play a 5th interval very low down, without it sounding too distorted or “muddy” as the jazz cats say :smile:

  3. The 4th interval is ‘angular’ and ‘sharp sounding’ - which personally i don’t think is suited to harmonising melodies in the Christmas arrangements. It certainly has a place in jazz, but perhaps not for Christmas tunes…

  4. Now Celia… The 6th interval is BEAUTIFUL. One of my favourites intervals to harmonise melodies.

I’m sure I use this in some of the Christmas arrangements.

Just count 6 notes down the scale - I demonstrate this in this lesson here at 7:45 - https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/foundations-practice-guide/

I think that Point (4) will help you most Celia. The 6th interval sound so beautiful. But it does depend on the context…

If you can send me a time stamp (0:00) and the lesson you are referring to, I will give you more suggestions :slightly_smiling_face:

Send me the video URL and the part of the arrangement you are referring to.

I will find a way to make it work for you :sunglasses:


Thanks Hayden! I am having a hard time with measure 20 in White Christmas starting with the Db. Also, would it be better if I ask any questions directly in the section below the lesson rather than the community forum?

I did post this one in the general forum since the right hand octave voicing is usually a problem for me in most songs and thought there may be others that experience the same issue.

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My pleasure Celia.

I’d recommend simplifying the chords, to just roots, 3rd, 7th, and melody. Then perhaps try to add in alterations extensions. Sometimes the R-3-7 voicings work just fine.

I am away from my piano right now, but I will send you some ‘easier’ voicings to play from a technical standpoint for that part of the arrangement.

I think that this is the perfect place to ask this kind of questions - as you say, this is a common challenge for students and so it’s nice to have these insights in the forum.

If I can be of further assistance just let me know.

Thanks tescher:laughing::kissing:

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