Two Handed Voicing With So What Chords

A “So What” chord is a particular 5 note voicing played by Bill Evans on the Miles Davis tune entitled “So What”, consisting of 3 stacked 4th’s (perfect or tritone) and a 3rd (major or minor) on top. By going up the diatonic scale, there are 7 possible So What chords for a particular key. The following shows the series of So What chords in the key of C:

So What Chords

Note that the 1st, 2nd and 5th chords are of the same shape (3 perfect 4th’s and a major 3rd), which works very well for:

  • Minor seventh chords built from the root
  • Major seventh chords built from the 3rd
  • Lydian (maj7#11) chords built from the 7th

The 3rd and the 6th chords both contain a minor 9th, which is typically avoided because of its dissonance. Although they may add interesting colors when playing in a long single mode section of a modal tune for example. The 4th and 7th chords on the other hand work very well as voicings for a sus chord. Putting the chord symbols to the above staff for C major we have:

So What Chords With Symbols

The shape in the 1st, 2nd and 5th chords will be used much more frequently because minor and major seventh chords are much more common than sus chords. To familiarize with this shape, play this voicing and its inversions in all keys around the cycle of fourths:

So What Chord Inversions

To help getting familiar with all five inversions for a particular key, some patterns can be recognized if we assign fingerings such that the hand playing 3 notes always holds 2 perfect fourths. Assuming we are playing on a minor seventh chord:

So What Inversions Minor 7th

  • The root position and the 1st inversion are mirrors of each other because:
    • In the root position, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the root, the right hand plays the minor 3rd and the 5th.
    • In the 1st inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the root, the left hand plays the minor 3rd and the 5th.
  • Using the same idea, the 3rd inversion can be mirror with either the 2nd or the 4th inversion. For the sake of symmetry let’s consider it to be a mirror of the 4th inversion. Then:
    • In the 3rd inversion, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 5th, the right hand plays the minor 7th and the minor 3rd.
    • In the 4th inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 5th, the left hand plays the minor 7th and the minor 3rd.
  • In the 2nd inversion (the median), the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 4th, the right hand starts on the 5th and ends with the root on the very top.

Similar patterns can be recognized when applying So What chords to the other chord types, except the basic position should no longer be called the root position because the root is not present in the voicing. For major 7th chords:

So What Inversions Major 7th

  • The basic position and the 1st inversion are mirrors of each other:

    • In the basic position, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 3rd, the right hand plays the 5th and the major 7th.
    • In the 1st inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 3rd, the left hand plays the 5th and the major 7th.
  • The 3rd inversion and the 4th inversion are mirrors of each other:

    • In the 3rd inversion, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the major 7th, the right hand plays the 9th and the 5th.
    • In the 4th inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the major 7th, the left hand plays the 9th and the 5th.
  • In the 2nd inversion (the median), the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 13th, the right hand starts on the major 7th and end with the 3rd on the very top.

And for major 7th #11 chords:

So What Inversions Major 7th #11

  • The basic position and the 1st inversion are mirrors of each other:

    • In the basic position, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the major 7th, the right hand plays the 9th and the #11th.
    • In the 1st inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the major, the left hand plays the 9th and the #11th.
  • The 3rd inversion and the 4th inversion are mirrors of each other:

    • In the 3rd inversion, the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the #11th, the right hand plays the 13th and the 9th.
    • In the 4th inversion, the right hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the #11, the left hand plays the 13th and the 9th.
  • In the 2nd inversion (the median), the left hand is the 3 note hand and starts on the 3rd, the right hand starts on the #11th and end with the major 7th on the very top.

Since So What chords work well with both minor and major seventh chords, they can be easily applied to II-V-I’s. The following are some examples in the key of C starting from different So What chord inversions:

Starting on root position:
So What Chord II-V-I Root Position

Starting on 1st inversion:
So What Chord II-V-I 1st Inversion

Starting on 2nd inversion:
So What Chord II-V-I 2nd Inversion

Starting on 3rd inversion:
So What Chord II-V-I 3rd Inversion

Starting on 4th inversion:
So What Chord II-V-I 4th Inversion

To become familiarized with using So What chords, try applying them to II-V-I’s in all keys. In the following example the voicing positions are chosen so that they fall within the middle range of the keyboard:

II-V-I's With So What Chords

An important and the signature application of So What chords is move them in parallel motion along the diatonic scale. This is especially useful during a long section of a single chord, often seen in modal tunes (“So What” is such a tune, obviously). To become familiarized with this application, play So What chords along diatonic scales of all keys:

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