• “Drop 2” vs “A & B” Voicing Techniques in 2-5-1 Chord Progressions

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    drop 2

    The 2-5-1 progression is arguably the most important chord progression in tonal music.

    In certain subgenres of jazz and gospel music, you can hardly listen to the chorus of a song without hearing the 2-5-1 chord progression. The 2-5-1 progression is the strongest pull to the tonic chord (chord 1 of the key you’re in) involving two scale degrees that are a fifth/fourth apart (2nd and 5th degrees).

    Having covered A-B-A and B-A-B voice leading techniques for approaching the 2-5-1 progression in a previous post, let’s take it to the next level by applying a new voicing technique over the 2-5-1 progression.

    Drop 2 Voicing

    Voicing is the practice of regarding the individual notes of a chord as voices. Pursuant to this consideration, voicing involves the rearrangement of the notes of a chord to move smoothly to the closest possible options. We’ve covered voice leading principles for triads so we don’t need to rehearse the rules and guides again. However, I’ll reiterate where possible.

    There are several voicing techniques that can be used to rearrange the notes of a chord. This post is dedicated to the understanding of the drop 2 voicing technique.

    There are four voices in the chord above. If the voices are ordered from the highest to the lowest, we have:

    B – Soprano – 1st Voice

    G – Alto – 2nd Voice

    E – Tenor – 3rd Voice

    C – Bass – 4th Voice

    The drop 2 voicing technique features the octave transposition of the 2nd voice (alto voice). The 2nd voice in the Cmaj7 chord is G. Transposing G an octave lower than its position will yield a new rearrangement:

    This rearrangement is called the drop 2 voicing because of the octave transposition of the 2nd voice.

    Drop 2 Finally Meets the A and B Voicing Technique

    If you are not familiar with what the A and B voicing technique is, you may need to pause for a while and read it here before you continue. In this segment, let’s look at the outcome of the drop 2 and A & B voicing techniques.

    Dmin7 – Chord 2

    This is the first chord in a 2-5-1 chord progression. Below are the A & B voicings of chord 2 and their respective drop 2 voicings.

    A Voicing of Dmin7

    A Voicing vs Drop 2 Voicing of Dmin7

    B Voicing of Dmin7

    B Voicing vs Drop 2 voicing of Dmin7

    Gdom7 – Chord 5

    Below are the A & B voicings of chord 5 and their respective drop 2 voicings.

    A Voicing of Gdom7

    A Voicing vs Drop 2 voicing of Gdom7

    B Voicing of Gdom7

    B Voicing vs Drop 2 voicing of Gdom7

    Cmaj7 – Chord 1

    This is the harmonic destination of the 2-5-1 chord progression. Below are the A & B voicings of chord 1 and their respective drop 2 voicings.

    A Voicing of Cmaj7

    A Voicing vs Drop 2 voicing of Cmaj7

    B Voicing of Cmaj7

    B Voicing vs Drop 2 voicing of Cmaj7

    Application of Drop 2 Voicing in an A-B-A 2-5-1 Progression

    An A-B-A 2-5-1 progression can be broken down to: A voicing of chord 2, B voicing of chord 5, and A voicing of chord 1. Below is a typical A-B-A 2-5-1 progression:

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    This 2-5-1 will look different if voiced with the drop 2 voicing technique:

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    Analysis

    This should give you an idea of the smoothness derived either by the retention of common voices or the movement to the closest options possible.

    Chord 2 – Chord 5 :

    • A (in chord 2) moves down smoothly to G (in chord 5),
    • D and F notes are retained,
    • C moves down to B.

    Chord 5 – Chord 1 :

    • G (in chord 5) is retained (in chord 1 ),
    • B is retained,
    • D and F moves down to C and E respectively.

    Application of Drop 2 Voicing in a B-A-B 2-5-1 Progression

    The B-A-B 2-5-1 progression can be broken down to: B voicing of chord 2, A voicing of chord 5, and B voicing of chord 1. You may find this voicing a little challenging, however, knowledge of this 2-5-1 style in ALL keys is important. Below is a typical B-A-B 2-5-1 progression:

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    An introduction of the drop 2 voicing technique can revolutionize this B-A-B 2-5-1 chord progression.

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    Analysis

    This should give you an idea of the smoothness derived either by the retention of common voices or the movement to the closest options possible. It is clear that the movement from chord 2 to chord 5 features a retention of outer voices and the movement of inner voices to the closest possible option. The reverse is the case in the movement from chord 5 to chord 1 where the outer voices move and the inner voices are retained.

    Chord 2 – Chord 5 :

    • A and C (inner voices in chord 2) move down smoothly into G and B respectively (inner voices in chord 5),
    • D and F notes (outer voices) are retained.

    Chord 5 – Chord 1 :

    • G and B (inner voices in chord 5) are retained (they are also inner voices in chord 1 ),
    • D and F (outer voices in chord 5) moves down to C and E (outer voices in chord 1) respectively.

    This post will not be complete without instruction on how to distribute the notes between both hands. Let’s consider how notes can be distributed between both hands.

    Note Distribution Between Hands

    Owing to the octave transposition of the 2nd voice, seventh chords that are voiced using the drop 2 voicing technique can encompass ten diatonic degrees.

    Chord 2. From the lowest voice (D) to the highest voice (F) in this chord are ten diatonic degrees.

    Kindly spare me the next 15 seconds.

    D is one diatonic degree

    D to E are two diatonic degrees

    D to F are three diatonic degrees

    …fast forward to…

    D to D (and octave [meaning eight)) are eight diatonic degrees

    D to E (the upper E) are nine diatonic degrees

    D to F (the upper F) are ten diatonic degrees

    Chords 5 and 1 span ten diatonic degrees each too.

    Chord 5 (D-F [tenth])

    Chord 1 (C-E [tenth])

    Playing tenths on one hand can move from difficult to impossible. I can remember getting scared years ago when I came across GospelKeys 300 where our founder (Jermaine Griggs) played this chord with his right hand over A on the bass:

    Don’t despair if your fingers aren’t long enough like that of our founder. All you need to do is to distribute the notes of your chord between both hands. There are two ways to do this:

    One note to the left and three notes to the right

    Using this note distribution, you’ll have 75% of the chord tones (G, B and E) on the right and and only 25% (C) on the left.

    Two notes to the left and two notes to the right

    This is a 50-50 note distribution. C and G on the left, then B and E on the right.

    Final Words

    I recommend you practice this 2-5-1 progression in all keys. Start out with C, then proceed to F, then to B, E, A etc. Practice in this order:

    C (ABA) -> F(BAB) -> B(ABA) -> E(BAB) -> A(ABA) -> D(BAB) -> G(ABA) etc.

    A-B-A 2-5-1 in the Key of C

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    B-A-B 2-5-1 in the Key of F

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    A-B-A 2-5-1 in the Key of B

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    That’s 25% of all the keys there. So, you go get the remaining 75% on your own.

    See you next time.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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