Marian McPartland Piano Jazz Tutorial

marian mcpartlandWould you like to learn how to sound like Marian McPartland?

You’re in for a treat. 

In this lesson, you’re going to discover some Marian McPartland piano jazz moves through her tune “A Delicate Balance”.

These piano techniques will help you be as expressive as the first lady of jazz.

Let’s get started.

Marian McPartland Performing “A Delicate Balance”

Before we go into the lesson itself, listen to this recording of “A Delicate Embrace”

Now that you have listened to the piece, let’s dig deeper into Marian McPartland’s music.

How Marian McPartland Crafts Cool Jazz Harmonies

To study Marian McPartland’s compositional and pianistic style, let’s look at the melodies, harmonies, and form of “A Delicate Balance”.

“A Delicate Embrace” is in 3/4 time, making it a jazz waltz.

It’s also a modal jazz piece in the same vein as “So What” by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”.

The melody of first A section of the piece looks like this:

The first chords she uses for the first 3 bars are Dmaj7, Cmaj7, and Fmaj7.

If you look at the chords closely, they do not seem to follow the traditional ii – V – I chord progression.

However, if you look at the notes, you’ll realize that Marian is focusing on the major 7th chord tones.

On the 4th bar, we see that she plays an Ebmaj7.

Over that chord, she plays G, C, and A. These are the 3rd, #11, and 13th of Ebmaj7.

Marian then repeats the 1st three bars with just a little bit of variation in the melody.

On the 8th bar, instead of playing Ebmaj7, she plays a Bbmaj7 chord with the G-C-A melody:

Marian McPartland

Now let’s look at how Marian changes up a standard 2-5-1 chord progression a little bit.

One Way To Make 2-5-1s Sound A Bit Different

The next 4 bars feature Marian McPartland’s take on a 2-5-1.

She modifies it a bit by using 6/9 chords on the 2 and 5.

In this instance, she plays a G6/9 – C6/9 – Fmaj7 chord progression:

This creates a more “delicate” floating sound, reminiscent of Claude Debussy.

Also take note of how Marian voices her 6/9 chords.

These are rootless chord voicings built on 4ths, similar to McCoy Tyner’s style.

Both the G6/9 and C6/9 start on their 3rds.

The great thing about the rootless C6/9 chord is that it can also work as an F6/9 chord starting on a 7th.

The C6/9 chord also voice leads nicely into an Fmaj7 chord.

In the recording of “A Delicate Balance”, the first 12 bars (the A section) is repeated twice.

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Let’s look into the B section of the tune.

How To Shift Musical Gears Like Marian McPartland

The B section starts with a Mixolydian mode chord progression with 6 bars of Dbmaj7 and Bmaj7:

Marian McPartland

Let’s look at how this works.

The last chord of the A section, Fmaj7, acts as a substitute for the V chord (Ab7) in the key of Db.

The Fmaj7 chords notes actually form the 13th (F), b9 (Bbb a.k.a. A natural), 3rd (C), and b13 (Fb a.k.a. E) of a rootless Ab7 chord.

This chord voice leads nicely into a rootless Dbmaj7(9).

On the 6th bar of the B section, we have the Cbmaj7 chord.

The 3rd, 5th, and 7th of Cbmaj7 actually voice lead into an Em triad.

Marian McPartland

The last 2 bars are a straight 2-5 leading back to a Dmaj7 chord when you go back to the A section.

And that is how you navigate “A Delicate Balance”.

Now let’s go into some Marian McPartland soloing vocabulary.

One Important Marian McPartland Lick You Must Learn

Looking at Marian McPartland’s way soloing is a worthwhile exercise.

She may not be as widely known as Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson in terms of virtuosic prowess.

However, she plays real solid lines across chords.

You won’t be surprised why she’s one of the most respected figures in jazz.

Let’s take a look at this Marian McPartland lick over the first 3 bars of the A section:

 

Marian McPartland


You can take the general idea of the lick and use it on a standard 2-5-1 chord progression with some small tweaks:

Marian McPartland

As a bonus, here’s another lick where Marian plays over a standard ii-V-I:

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Now, you might be wondering what’s the guiding principle behind Marian McPartland’s soloing.

It’s simpler than you think. Discover it below:

How Marian McPartland Weaves In Between Chords

marian mcpartlandOn secret technique that Marian McPartland uses to solo over chord progressions is none other than the 7th chord arpeggios.

You heard me right.

It’s that simple most of the time…at least based on some excerpts from “A Delicate Balance”.

Here are a list of chords and matching 7th chord arpeggios you can use:

  • Minor chords – minor 7th arpeggio from the root, major 2nd, and perfect 5th
  • Major chords – minor 7th arpeggio from major 3rd, major 6th, and major 7th
  • Minor 7th (b5) – minor 7th arpeggio from the minor 3rd and perfect 4th
  • Dominant chords – diminished 7th arpeggio from b2, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and b7 OR minor 7th b5 arpeggio (for a bluesy effect) from the major 3rd and major 6th

Play around with these arpeggios over the given chords above.

You’ll be surprised at how easy you can incorporate extensions into your solos using only 7th chord arpeggios.

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marian mcpartland

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I hope you enjoyed this brief exploration into this Marian McPartland lesson.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions on this Marian McPartland tutorial please leave a comment below.

Happy piano workout day!

Photo of marian mcpartland by Laura Kolb Satellite Beach, Fl.- Taos,N.M., USA / CC BY
About The Author

Mark A. Galang

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music.