Chord Voicing

Interested in learning about chord voicing?

Chord voicing is the technique of playing chords on keyboards or guitars. The different voicings can be played with different inversions, added notes, and alterations. This makes for a vast array of harmonic possibilities when creating music.

By learning chord voicings, you will be able to create richer and more complex-sounding chords, which will add depth and texture to your music. You’ll also have a greater understanding of how chords work together to form progressions and songs.

Read the complete article to learn more about chord voicings!

How to Use Chord Voicing in Music

A music composer in a group may distribute the notes and chords of any composition to different instruments in various ways to create different sounds.

Even if you are playing solo, there are many ways you can play any selected chord on your guitar or piano. This depends on the color or tone you are trying to create, the genre of music you are playing, the arrangement of notes between two hands on the piano, the ease of fingering the chord, and the voice leading.

Before you dive deep into how to use the chord voicings, you must familiarize yourself with the basic concepts associated with the same.

What Is Chord Voicing in Music? The Voicing Definition

In the different ways that you can play a chord, as discussed above, what changes is the order in which the notes of the chord are arranged and the octaves they are in? In music theory, changing the order and the octave of the notes of a chord produces a different voicing. For example, C E G and C G E are the two voicings of the C major chord.

So, basically, voicing refers to the arrangement of the different notes in the chord structure. The more the number of chord tones in any chord, the more options you have in your hand to create a different sound.

Chord spelling

The very basic voicing of any chord formed by stacking the interval of thirds over the root note is known as its root position. All the notes in this option lie within an octave. The unique group of notes that forms a chord is known as its chord spelling. For a C major triad, C, E, and G constitute its spellings.

With this background, let us look at the various elements you can alter to create a voice of your choice.

Ways to Create Different Chord Voicings in Music

You can play with the spacing between the notes, double them, alter their octaves, change the order to create inversions, and divide between multiple instruments to create individual voices. Let us see each of the individual options in detail, along with the associated rules and limitations.

Spacing

While going through the concept of chord spelling above, you have seen the chord in the root position, which has all its notes confined within an octave. This is also known as the close-position chord and is the most compact version of any chord.

In contrast, you have the open position chords, with wider spacing between the basic chord tones.

In the initial part of his career, Beethoven mostly confined himself to using close-position chords. But as with most composers gaining experience with time, he used open-position chords with wide spacing between the notes a lot in his last compositions. For example, Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111 (1822).

Doubling

When a note presents itself in multiple positions in a chord, it is said to be doubled. The doubling usually happens by repeating the note in different octaves. Though repeating the same melodic phrase at the same frequencies by a different set of instruments also qualify as doubling.

There are certain rules associated with doubling to ensure an improved musical composition. They are:

  1. Try to double the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees of any major scale, as they tend to strengthen the basic chord structure.
  2. Try to double the 5th note of the chord in its 2nd inversion form. In A Major chord, E is the 5th note. The 2nd inversion of the A Major chord takes the form E A C#. Double the E note.
  3. Double the root of any major and minor triad.
  4. Never double the leading tone note, as they will resolve to the tonic note, an octave higher. This leads to parallel octaves.
  5. Avoid doubling the 3rd note in any major triad.
  6. Unlike the major triads, you may double the 3rd in diminished and minor triads.

Inversions

In spacing and doubling options, we were keeping the root note of any chord unaltered. Inversion is a voicing in which the bass note of the chord is changed to the other notes in the chord. A triad has three notes so that it can have two inversions, the 1st, and 2nd inversion. Though some musicians call the root position chord also the root inversion.

To create the first inversion, you need to shift the lowest note of the chord one octave higher. Similarly, the second inversion is created by shifting the 1st and the 3rd (interval) note up by one octave.

Voicings and extensions

The seventh chords have four notes and three inversions. Following the logic of other inversions, the third inversion is formed by shifting the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the 7th chords up by an octave. The same concept applies to extended chords. A chord with “n” number of notes will have (n-1) inversions.

The triads and the 7th chords cover the 1, 3, 5, and 7 scale degrees of the major scale and form the chord tone, while the extensions provide the notes with scale degrees 2, 4, and 6.

We have dealt with inversions in much more detail in our separate articles on the subject. You may refer to those if you want to go deeper into the subject.

How to Use Chord Voicing When Playing Music

Let us first start with a brief discussion about chord tones.

Rules Regarding the Chord Tones

This section will guide you about the basic rules to be followed regarding the chord tones and tell which notes of a chord you must play and which ones you can skip in a voicing.

If you are playing a solo without a bass player, include the root note. You must always include the basic sound of the chord, which is given by

  • Notes 3 and 5 for the basic triads.
  • Notes 3 & 6 for the 6th chords and notes 3 & 7 for the 7th chords. The 6th or the 7th notes determine the chord function. The b7 gives any 7th chord a dominant function, while 7 results in tonic or the subdominant function.
  • Notes 4 and 7 for 7th dominant sus4 chords.
  • b3, b5, b7 for half diminished 7th and b3, b5, bb7 for full diminished 7th chords.
  • 3, #5, b7 for augmented 7th chords.
  • The 5th is not considered a basic sound unless they have been altered to b5 or #5. Hence they are only included in the diminished and dominant chords.

Voice Leading

As stated earlier, the main purpose of different chord voicings is voice leading and ease of playing, apart from adding tone or color. The voice leading relates to the transition of the chords in the chord progressions such that each voice or note does not move more than a whole step up or down in the pitch during a chord change.

The term voice leading originated from choral music, music written for a group of singers with each given a unique melody line. The four-part music has four lines of music with four voices – the soprano voice, alto, tenor, and bass voice. The way each of these melody lines moves and their interaction with other voices in the choir was called voice leading.

You can take four separate instruments and apply the same concept. If instead of four singers, each instrument plays a single note, they will actually play chords. These different melodies move in harmony through the voice leading.

We are doing the same when playing chord progressions on one instrument. Trying to assume all notes of a chord as a separate melody line that transitions to the melodic line of the other chord without a disjunct motion.

You may recall from the discussion on the melody that any change (up or down) up to one step between the notes in a melody is called conjunct motion, else it is disjunct. A conjunct motion between notes of the chords ensures a smooth, good-sounding, and easy-to-play transition between chords.

Voice Leading Through Inversions

We discussed the concept of voice leading in the article on Chord Inversions with examples. You may see the detailed explanations there. The below diagram shows an ii – V – I chord progression with the V chord in the second inversion.

7th chord ii-V-I - Chord Voicing to improve Voice Leading

Chord Voicing Techniques to Use in Your Music

Let us now discuss some of the techniques for voicing chords that you may incorporate into your chord playing.

Voice chords in the open position.

Guitar players frequently use the chords in the open position with doubling, which produces sounds in multiple octaves. This leads to more overtones and a much fuller and bigger sound, particularly when the chord is spread out over more strings. In piano also, you can try an open voicing to have much better sound quality,

Chord Voicing for Ease of Fingering on Guitars.

In our article on the Guitar CAGED system, we introduced you to the different chord voicings and broke them into partial forms that are easy to finger. We also showed various partial forms to play the C form barre chords.

Use of different hands for playing a chord on the Piano.

In pop and rock styles of music, the bass note on the piano is played by the left hand, while the basic triad is played by the right hand. The bottom note may be played as a single note or in octaves.

Drop-2 voicings.

As you may be aware, the Drop-2 voicings are formed by dropping the 2nd from the highest note by one octave. For example, a GMaj7 chord has notes G, B, D, and F#. Its drop-2 voicing will have notes in the order D, G, B, and F#.

This voicing allows you to play the four notes of the 7th major chord on four adjacent strings of the guitar. On piano, if you were playing G3 – B4 – D4 – F#4 keys for the normal chord. You must now play D3 – G3 – B4 – F#4.

Drop-2-and-4 voicings.

Like Drop-2 voicings, here you drop the 2nd and 4th notes from the top by one octave. In the previous example of the GMaj7 chord, the note order will now be G, D, B, F#. On the piano, you will play them on G2 – D3 – B4 – F#4.

Conclusion

Chord voicing is an important musical technique that can add great interest and variation to your music. By understanding what chord voicing is and how it works, you can start to experiment with different voicings in your own songs.

There are many different ways to voice chords, so don’t be afraid to try out new things and see what sounds best. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave a comment below, and we will be happy to help.

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