Drop 2 More

Still doggedly playing in four-way close...

Still doggedly playing in four-way close…

I wrote about Drop 2 last year here and I’ve had some feedback (a few people really loved the picture of the Golden Retriever with four tennis balls in her mouth – so here she is for a well-deserved encore).

In particular, I’ve been asked variations on the following question: “All very well, mate, and it works well over static I chords and turnarounds, but what do you do when there are other sorts of chords involved?”

Well, I’ll freely admit that I’m not the hottest drop-twoer on the planet. I regard it as an occasional tool. Keep meaning to get round to putting more work into it… and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Mostly, my approach to other chord types and situations when using this approach is to sort of bend and twist either the major or minor 6th versions to fit as I go along. Which is a bit haphazard, to be honest. But you can be a bit more scientific and there are specific ways of tackling different chord types in drop two by applying 6th structures on different roots.

Warning: this will get technical. Don your safety goggles now and make sure you have at least seven pens and a slide rule in the top pocket of your white coat. Prepare also to learn how to play some beautiful sounds, but not to make any money or have much sex as a result.


If you’re playing over a passage that’s basically “in C major” (even with turnarounds), you play the drop two set that combines C6 and G7b9 chords – you are harmonising the C major bebop scale (C D E F G G# A B).

If your passage is “in C minor”, you play the set that combines Cm6 and G7b9 chords – same as above, just with the flat 3rd of the key.

An Eccles interviewed earlier today.

This is what we already know and it can take us a very long way indeed. At least in functional harmony, every tune is, at any given point, in a certain key. Even such devices as tritone and Coltrane substitutions are temporary modulations. As the famous Eccles from the Goon Show used to say, when asked “What are you doing here?”, “Everybody got to be somewhere.” With Drop 2, you’re effectively just playing the key centres and using a seesawing of I and V7b9 chords over them.

The question arises – how much of this stuff should you play? Well, if you’re playing solo, feel free to go nuts. During a combo piano solo you can often get pretty wild too – remember that even in a band context, when the piano solo comes you’re playing a mini trio gig.

As for comping… My experience has been that it’s best to restrict the hardcore drop twoing to the occasional fill when the soloist rests (which is essentially a tiny moment of trio situation again). You can also occasionally use drop two under (or with) a soloist, but take care not to bury their ideas in dense lush sound. This stuff can be far too rich for comping and what’s worse it can restrict the soloist.

In particular, when comping you can use drop two voicings as approaches to chords – just slide up or down from the 7b9 voicing into the target. But take great care, because the soloist is often reharmonising the changes as they go, and they might prefer “just the facts ma’am”. Some soloists dig a really active, even reactive backing, others will just feel like punching your lights out. If in doubt, play less, and always leave them space – it is their time to shine. (And you can’t afford reconstructive surgery on a musician’s wages.)


Cm7 is often played as if it were a minor tonic (it’s just slightly bluesier). But whether you’re thinking that way or nimbly chucking in some drop-twoery over a II chord in a II-V-I, you just play the set that combines Eb6 and Bb7b9. You’re harmonising the Eb bebop scale (Eb F G Ab Bb B C D). Strictly speaking this scale is Aeolian or classical minor, but the flat 6th is played as a passing tone.

If you specifically want a CΔ#4 (Lydian) sound play the set combining Am6 and E7b9.

C7 is sometimes played as if it were a major tonic (it’s just much bluesier). Whether you’re doing that or being athletic on the V in a II-V-I, you can play the set that combines Gm6 and D7b9. The Gm bebop scale (G A Bb C D D# E F). This can be slightly unsatisfactory, since the “on” voicings in that set spell out a C9 without the root – although the root is in the “off” voicings. (But note also that the blue 3rd is in there.)

What about minor II-Vs? Panic not. Over a CØ chord (eg from a minor II-V-I in Bb), play the set that combines Ebm6 and Bb7b9. The Ebm bebop scale (Eb F Gb Ab Bb B C D). This set, played over a C half-diminished chord gives you the common modern alteration of a #2nd.

Over a C7alt chord (eg from a minor II-V-I in F), play the set that combines Dbm6 and Ab7b9. The Dbm bebop scale (Db Eb Fb Gb Ab A Bb C). Again, the “on” voicings don’t contain the root.

C7b9 is just about as diminished as diminished can be. I personally tend to treat 7b9 and diminished chords as two sides of the same coin. There isn’t really a pure drop two solution to either. Maybe I’m just being lazy, but I prefer to think in terms of upper structurey type things in these situations – they can blend very nicely with drop two. If you wish, you can try interlacing the two diminished chords that make up the scale – in this case Co and C#o. To my ear this has a rather “bionic” superactive sound, which may be too much. But if it floats your boat, go for it.


I honestly don’t think I know anyone who is totally hands-on conversant with drop two in all keys and situations – and, believe me, I know some hardcore woodshed nutters. In my experience, the best way into this sound is to work slowly and methodically on arrangements of individual tunes and gradually acquire pet situations and solutions over time. Of course, this stuff is an absolute killer on fat horn arrangements… Why not write some?

That's the science over and done with. As you were.

That’s the science over and done with. As you were.

In most situations a pianist just doesn’t have the time to accurately apply drop two manoeuvres to each and every chord as it passes – and even if you’re clever enough to do it, it’s often not appropriate. You’d just wind up burying the tune in thick harmonic washes (and nobody likes a smartarse).

But a certain amount of this thinking, judiciously applied, can definitely broaden the scope of your playing, and take you away from your instinctive claw shapes in interesting and fertile new directions.

That concludes our tour of the research facility. You can now remove your safety goggles, pens and slide rule and go back to being sexy again.

See also:
Playing Scales in Chords – the Basics of Drop 2
Using Upper Structures in Solos

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, b) Harmony & Comping
8 comments on “Drop 2 More
  1. Cmaj7#11………..you say am6 and d7b9……I’m confused unless you meant Am6 and e7b9?

  2. Really great site Jason, very interesting reading. Your pentatonic book, I assume you approach them from a different perspective to Bergonzi?

    • Jason says:

      Glad you’re enjoying the site James. It’s been on hold for a couple of months, but I’ve now got more lined up in the pipe.
      Regarding The Gonz and pentatonics, it’s a difficult one to answer. First off, his book is predominantly “exercisey”, mine is more “talky”.
      While I sometimes do splank it out like ’60s Tyner, I’ve also had people come up on gigs and say: hey, you’re the one with the pentatonics book – I didn’t hear much of that. My response is that just about everything I play is based on pentatonics – I’m just constantly combining lots of different ones.
      Pents are an incredibly versatile tool. Perhaps the two extremes of possibility are: a) using them as “the sound” and b) stitching so many together that it’s barely discernible that you’re actually using them at all.
      I think that if you internalise all the different pent possibilities on different chord types, they become a powerful structural overlay even when you’re playing full scales with bebop chromaticism.
      Pentatonics are a bit like the old Volvo joke – you never notice them, but as soon as you buy one you start to see them everywhere.
      Hope that clarifies more than it confuses!

  3. I would nt know anything about Volvos, but I’ve ordered the book. Combining pentatonics sounds like it could open things up.

  4. Kris says:

    I came across the concept first in some of Batry Hsrris’ videos where he was essentially playing a ii v I using drop 2 and like most young musicians my mind was filled with wanting to play exactly what have was playing.

    I then came across this article and immediately set to work on learning it and just as the article implies using this extensively for comping purposes is a bit much. It’s far too thick. At least at first glance.

    The real issue came for me when I wasn’t voicing tonic major chords, major 6 and minor 6 came fine as did minor 7 but what on earth could I have done for major 7. Now the issue wasnt so much how to voice it but how to get that cascading effect where ever voice moved.from one to the other in the scale which I then figured wasn’t possible, moreover some voicings were just not friendlying to ears as whenever that major 7 hit the top note and that root was in the bass it was not a pleasant sound but I digress.

    You can get a lot of mileage out of using drop 2 over the standard rootless voicings. There is especially a lot to be gained when your start playing on the fact that a minor 7 chord is really just a rootless major 9 chord. So you can create some interesting bits of unexpected tension by going from say

    Eb Bb D G (rootless C minor B position)
    Eb A C Gb ( regular F7b9 drop 2 )
    E Bb Db G (Eb7b9/Gb7b9/A7b9/C7b9)
    F C D A (set of FM/Dmin or rootless BbM)

    And that’s just scratching the surface expecially since your rootless Maj6 chords are really just sus chords. Which you can sub in for either dominant chords or minor 2 chords.
    And since you could reasonably use 3 different sus 7 chords to act as any major chord (iii sus7, vi sus 7, vii sus 7 though this last one is maj 7# 11) you get some very interesting results using drop 2 or 3 to go from say

    Bsus7 (sub for B7) – Ddim7( B7b9) – Esus7(CM7)
    Fsus7 (sub for C minor )
    F7 – F#sus7 V of B
    Bsus7 (GMaj7)

    That batch right there gets you over the first 6 bars of “Just Friends” and in drop 2 its a weird but refreshing sense of “whoa what the heck did he just play?” Because you’re playing upon key centres that aren’t really the key centres of the chords you’re heading to but in a sense they are at the same time.

    I am unsure whether you could even used Coltrane substitutions or tritone subs over suspect chords subbing Vs or iI – Vs but at this point I feel like I’m being dragged back into the asylum while Jason is ready to whack me with a copy of the article “You’ve been taught the wrong chord tones!”.

    It is now 5 10 am and I have to wake up in 20 minutes for work.

    • Jason says:

      Pretty interesting and comprehensive stuff there Kris, thanks.
      Regarding tritone and Coltrane changes, I generally take the view that since they’re already subs, subbing them again tends to unsub them.
      I’m not a slave to Barry Harris’ 6th/dim thing. I just think it’s important that people shouldn’t think that a tonic chord always has to contain a major 7th.
      (Oh, and the only people I ever whack with anything are those who behave like idiots on my jam session…)

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