Notable Quotes Supporting the "One Note Chord":

submitted by Michael Pettersen

From: Bucky Pizzarelli
Source: National Public Radio
Program: Billy Taylor's Jazz At The Kennedy Center
Air Date: Not listed, but no later than 2002.

(Thanks to jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein for submitting this quote.)

Billy Taylor to Bucky Pizzarelli: "In the early days when you were
playing with the you started 'In A Mellow Tone', which we
played, in a rather special way. You said, 'Check out Freddie Green'.
Now what were you doing when you did that?"

Bucky Pizzarelli: "Well, I was playing rhythm the way Freddie
did... trying to play like Freddie Green and nobody could, you know. A
guy that played with you, Barry Galbraith, could. Remember Barry?"

Billy Taylor: "Oh, very well."

Bucky Pizzarelli: "Instead of playing a full chord like when you learn
the guitar... [Bucky plays a six note Bb7 chord at the 6th fret.] You've
got three Bb's in there. See, that's no good. You have to cut it down
to maybe a few notes. Actually I only play one or two notes. You're
holding the other ones down [i.e., muting the other strings]."

Billy Taylor: "You get the essence of the chord."

Bucky Pizzarelli: "Yeah, right."

Billy Taylor: "And that way you really get the rhythm going."

Bucky Pizzarelli: "Oh definitely. You don't have many notes to hit.
The minute you start hitting six strings at one time, the band stops!"
(Both laugh.)

Read a message from guitarist James Chirillo about some of the theories put forth in this web site.

From: Dr. L.H. Dickert, guitarist and educator
Source: PhD dissertation by L.H. Dickert
Title: An Analysis of Freddie Green's Style and His Importance in the History of Jazz Guitar; copyright 1994, The University of Memphis
Location: page 180

"Green commonly played two note chord voicings on strings six and four in such a fashion as to mute the sixth string, yet allow the pick to strike muted strings six and five while the fourth string sounded. The overall effect was full, like that of a chord, yet actually only the fourth string had a pitched sound."

From: John Pizzarelli
Source: Mel Bay Instructional Video MB97334VX ISBN 0-7866-3646-7
Title: Jazz Guitar Virtuoso Video
Subject: John Pizzarelli Trio (7 string guitar, piano, and double bass)
Location: 29 minutes from the beginning
Web sites:

" I just want to say a few things about the sound of the rhythm guitar as you hear it as we are playing all these songs. You may just be only hearing one note. Sometimes when I do a recording session, the engineer will beep in and say 'I only hear one note in there'. Well sometimes that's all you hear because that's all I'm playing.

"We're going to play a little rhythm and what you will hear is the 7th of the chord. It's either the 7th or the 3rd of the chord that makes it stand out. You don't need to play the whole chord. I'll show you an example. First, I'll play the whole chord. [Using three and four note chord voicings, Pizzarelli plays a simple progression in F major at a medium tempo, accompanied by piano and bass.]

"So what (playing the whole chord) does is that it doesn't leave any space for whomever else is playing with you. What I have heard over the years is if you listen to Freddie Green, or my dad, Bucky Pizzarelli, or Barry Galbraith who was a great session rhythm guitar player, or George Van Eps who played on the West Coast on a lot of great records, you just hear one note coming through.

"We'll try it again...the correct way. [Pizzarelli again plays the same progression in F major at a medium tempo, accompanied by piano and bass. This time the only note he clearly sounds is on the 4th string, the D string. ]

"What happens is you see me fingering the entire chord but only one note is ringing out. Let's try it again. [Pizzarelli repeats the previous musical example.]

"And also the stroke of your right hand should always be the same whether you are playing a ballad or playing fast. You keep the stroke the same and therefore the sound of the guitar still has the same pulse. Let's try it slow. [Pizzarelli repeats the progression in F major at a slower tempo.] Now let's play it fast." [Pizzarelli repeats the progression in F major at a much faster tempo.]

[Pizzarelli then moves on to other aspects of playing rhythm guitar in a trio setting.]

Note: I would like to thank Dr. Bruce Pritchard of Woodstock Ontario, Canada, for finding this John Pizzarelli quote and sending me the video tape. - Michael Pettersen

Also from John Pizzarelli, this quote was part of a 1997 interview by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's Fresh Air program: (Requires Real Audio Player to hear this file)

From: Charlton Johnson, former Basie guitarist
Source: Hal Leonard Publishing HL00695147 ISBN 0-7935-7381-5
Title: Swing and Big Band Guitar
Location: page 32 - "Which Voicings Should I Use?"
Web site:

"Big Band - Three note rhythm voicings are all that you really need. Check out some Count Basie recordings with guitarist Freddie Green. With Freddie, sometimes you only hear one note of the chord - but what a note! By using primarily three note voicings, the left-hand finger is always free, which allows the guitarist to play little melodies. This can best be heard on small group recordings with Freddie Green."

From: Bill Frisell
Source: Guitar One magazine, July 2001, page 74
Title: A Private Lesson with Bill Frisell: Jazz Guitar's Unique Voice
Web site:

Guitar One: "Your playing style tends to be sparse, minimalist, but every now and then you whip into Freddie Green style comping"

Frisell: "Very momentarily. There are guys who really can do it, and who can keep it going, whereas I do it in little gestures, for four bars or so at a time. One of the first systematic things I did when I got into jazz was to go through chord inversions on the 6th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings. You hit the whole chord but the 5th and 1st strings don't ring. I started out with major 7th, dominant 7th, and minor 7b5 chord inversions. If I play an Fmaj7 in the lowest position with the root on the bottom, the next inversion would be with the 3rd on the bottom, and so forth. You can also connect these inversions with bass notes from an F major scale. Freddie Green often wasn't hitting whole chords, but rather single notes."

From: Dave Johnson, guitarist
Source: E-mail to Michael Pettersen
Date: April 2002

The first recording I heard with effective rhythm played on an electric guitar was "Butch and Bucky", with Pizzarelli and Butch Miles, accompanied with bass and piano. Butch sings every tune and plays with brushes on a wooden microphone box. Pizzarelli used his 7 string Van Eps Gretsch. The recording puzzled me because I heard one note, yet it sounded like a chord. John Pizzarelli's comments on your web site explain this quite well.

Listening and playing along with Pizzarelli, and again to Freddie Green, I tried the idea of sounding one or two notes, and I found I was getting closer to the sound I want. When a guitarist plays just one or two note chords, the question is "Which notes?" At this time of discovery, I was playing weekly with a rehearsal big band that used a lot of Sammy Nestico arrangements, so I had opportunity to experiment with voicings.

Again, Pizzarelli pointed the way in his book "Power Guitar." He recommends "Forget the fancy altered tones. The guitarist's job is this: delineate the chord as major or minor, and the seventh as major or dominant."

I started accentuating 3rds and 7ths in chords, and discovered the wonderful interaction of those two chord tones, especially in progressions of a fourth. (e.g., chord sequence: C7, F7, Bb7, Eb7 = 3rd/7th note sequence: Bb/E, A/Eb, Ab/D, G/Db). It is a simple downward chromatic series.

The artistry of rhythm guitar is the constructing of these simple structures into musically satisfying passages, which are synchronized with the musical content of the piece at hand.

Regarding the fingering of the one or two note chords: I think that three or four notes are fingered, and different pressure used to allow notes to sound--or not sound--in a controlled way. The notes, that are fingered but almost fully muted contribute sympathetically to the sounded note(s).

To illustrate power of sympathetic resonance, consider how a tune played in D major with the 6th string tuned to D has a different sound than the same tune with the 6th string tuned to E, even if--or maybe especially if--the string is not used. The string resonates sympathetically with the played strings.

I have no idea what form Freddie Green's knowledge of harmony took or what kind of theory background he had. But he clearly knew how the guitar tone and timbre worked with bass and drums to clearly state the harmony in an exciting, musical manner.

Thanks again for your marvelous web page.

"Paul Meyers: Down For Double with Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross"
Excerpts from a May 2002 on-line interview with guitarist Paul Meyers. Insightful comments about the playing technique and chord voicings of Freddie Green.

From: Holger Weber, jazz guitarist
Source: E-mail to Michael Pettersen
Date: October 2002

I know there are non-believers out there, so I checked Freddie's chord voicings using audio analysis software and found that Freddie does indeed play one-note chords.

For the analysis, I used the tune "Southern Exposure" on the Frank Wess recording "Opus In Swing" (Savoy MG12085). Freddie's guitar is very prominent and well recorded. From listening to the tune, the following is obvious: Freddie does use one-note chords frequently. They are usually played on the D-string on beat one or three. Those one-note chords are played long, at full quarter-note value, where everything else is played short. I loaded a clip from this tune into "Transcribe!", a transcription software by Seventh String Software. This software includes pitch recognition for isolated passages (which works very well) and showed that Freddie sounds just one single note as described in the articles on this web site.

Another fact that doesn't get mentioned often is that Freddie did not play "chunk, chunk" (every quarter note roughly the same length), but every other bar played one chord LONG, i.e., to it's full quarter-note value.

Please feel free to incorporate any of this into your great "one-note chord" article or elsewhere on the site.

From: Mike Greene - Long Island, New York
Source: E-mail to Michael Pettersen
Date: February 2003

"I have explored many books and lessons that purport to show the Freddie Green style, but view any film of the Basie band that shows his left hand and you will understand that most of these lessons are incomplete or just plain wrong. The Freddie Green style, in my opinion, was a "walking" guitar style that used many passing notes and passing chords in order to complement the walking lines of the bassist, almost on a note for note basis. These distinctive passing notes and chords are left out of practically all of the three note chord approximations of Freddie's style. These three note approximations are fairly easy, if you understand jazz harmony and already know your chords well. But they do not sound like Freddie Green."

From: Doug Campbell
Source: E-mail thread; Google group ""
Date: February 2003 archives

"Freddie Green, arguably the greatest rhythm guitarist ever, played incredibly spare chords, two or three notes maximum, often even only one, in order to not crowd a harmonic area that was already occupied by other instruments such as piano or bass, or to move melodically into another area that needed filling out. Can one note be a chord? Technically no, not in isolation, although in an ensemble it can certainly suggest or create chords in relation to the other instruments. I think what is meant when one hears reference to Green's 'one note chording' is that he would finger multiple note chords but often only sound the one note of the chord that defined it or worked against the other instrument voicings."

From: Aaron Weinstein, jazz violinist (
Source: E-mail to Michael Pettersen
Date: April 23, 2003

"Towards the end of a recent tour with jazz guitarist Frank Vignola, Frank and I were hanging out in the green room before a performance. I told him about He did not know about the site, but was very interested. When I told him about the "one note chord theory" Frank responded, "Well, that IS what you're able to hear on the records...of course Freddie's playing one note" He then proceeded to hum "One O'clock Jump" while playing Freddie Green style 'one note' rhythm. He then said, "And sometimes Freddie played two notes", and proceeded to hum "One O'Clock Jump" while playing Freddie Green style 'two note' rhythm."

From: Henry Johnson, Chicago based jazz guitarist. ( (Henry performed with singer Joe Williams in the late 1980's and was a friend of Freddie Green.)
Source: E-mail to Michael Pettersen
Date: November 2004

"Freddie's sound consisted of many factors, the main ones being: his touch on the instrument, his time feel, and his conception of the sound that started in his head and came out of the instrument. Freddie ALWAYS spoke about how his melodies had to complement what the rest of the band was playing; that was a rule he followed throughout his career. Sometimes only one note was needed for a particular musical situation. But it was how Freddie projected that one note that made it sound bigger than it was."

From James Chirillo in a message recognizing Freddie Green's 100th birthday.
Date: March 2012

Freddie turns 100 and there are still new facets of his style for us to discover. It's quite humbling to keep in mind that Freddie Green is not just the swing era's pre-eminent acoustic rhythm guitarist, not just the name of the man most every player on every instrument associates with how a guitar should sound and be played in a big band, his is the name which defines the style - Freddie Green is the style. All we need to see on an arrangement is 'ala Freddie Green' and we know what to do. An arranger or conductor cannot be more explicit nor precise than to say "play like Freddie Green" in order to tell the guitarist what he/she should be doing. In looking at what/how Freddie played mainly in the New Testament Basie band and later, Michael Pettersen described it as a "one-note chord" in that Freddie focussed on a single strong tenor harmony line on the 4th string, spicing it up once in a while with an added note on the 3rd string. As I've said before, that's exactly right; that's how he played. What was only recently brought home to me was how appropriate and fortuitous a choice of words that term really is.

I was giving a rhythm guitar workshop to a group of middle and high school band directors from all over the world a while ago at Jazz at Lincoln Center. To aurally illustrate the tenor line on the 4th string concept, I played some rhythm on my acoustic. No sooner had I started playing, only on one string of course, than Eli Yamin, a participant and an excellent pianist with whom I've worked before, piped in asking for the real number of notes I was actually playing. I repeated that I was only playing on the 4th string and began to continue when he interrupted again insisting that he was hearing more than one note, this time echoed by a few others. I asked that they all come up, stand next to me and listen closely one more time. That's when it struck me that what they were hearing (and now so was I) were the multiple random harmonics excited on the strings I was deadening but not playing with my left hand. I would strum a single note on the 4th string and we would clearly hear the overtones ringing after letting the 4th string note go. With heavy gauge bronze strings and a very high action any note I played on the 4th string was joined by sympathetic harmonics and/or by the natural harmonics (particularly those at the 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets) of the other deadened strings.

The "one-note chord" it is. Thank you Freddie for showing us how to do it right.

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