Rarely is a chord played with its tones contained in a single octave, the root on the bottom, the third in the middle, and the fifth on the top.
Usually chords are "voiced!"
This basically means that the positions of a chord's tones are scattered over the keyboard. The tones may be altered, doubled, added to, missing, and so forth.
There are a great variety of possibilities available in voicing chords. Voicing chords properly is an art within itself. Using the correct voicing techniques in your playing will give your improvisation a "hip," mature and full sound. Chords played in root position just does not seem to do the job when playing Jazz, Rock, Pop, Blues, Gospel and "Smooth Jazz" piano.
Learning and mastering good voice leading techniques in your playing is not difficult if you just follow some simple rules.
1. The most important notes in any chord is the 3rd and the 7th. The 3rd of the chord defines whether the chord is a major or minor chord. The 7th of the chord will define whether the chord is a dominant or major chord. Usually the bass player will play the root and fifth. The root and fifth are not essential tones and can be completely left our from your chord progressions. If you must use the root and fifth try using it in your right hand, not your left. You should add your "color" tones in your right hand.
2. When you are taking a solo and not "comping" (accompanying) for another soloist you should play your chord voicings in your left hand, so that the right hand can be free to improvise, do fills, double the left hand, add extensions, etc.
3. The range of your voicings is also very important. A good rule of thumb to remember when voicing your chords, is to always try to voice your chords around middle C. Keeping your voicings around middle C will sound full and clear. Limits of approximately an octave above or below will assure best results by preventing the voicing from assuming a quality of thinness or muddiness.
Ron Worthy is a Music Educator, Songwriter and Performer. He offers online piano instruction for all ages at: http://www.mrronsmusic.com/playpiano.htm