• Finally Cracked…The Concept Of Chord Voicing

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    We’re exploring the concept of chord voicing in this lesson.

    Attention: This lesson is for everyone who wants to learn about the term chord voicing, especially those who are just coming across the term for the first time.

    In addition to a detailed explanation on chord voicing, we’ll also be exploring various chord voicing techniques, ranging from the part-over-root voicing, to the upper-structure voicing, to the rootless voicing, and other voicing techniques.

    The Concept Of Chord Voicing – Explained

    The relationship between notes that are heard at the same time (simultaneously), produces harmony. Although there are several harmony types, we’ll be focusing on these two:

    • Vocal Harmony
    • Keyboard Harmony

    “On Vocal Harmony…”

    There are four main voice parts in a choir:

    Soprano, the first voice

    Alto, the second voice

    Tenor, the third voice

    Bass, the fourth voice

    When these voice parts sing together, the outcome is vocal harmony.

    “On Keyboard Harmony…”

    The collection of notes in keyboard harmony are generally defined as chords. A chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not), sounded together.

    There are various classes of chords, ranging from triads (like the C major triad):

    …to seventh chords (like the C major seventh chord):

    “What Is Chord Voicing?”

    When musicians talk about chord voicing, they are describing the process of conceptualizing keyboard harmony as vocal harmony.

    In other words, chord voicing is a vocal approach to keyboard harmony. Consequently, the notes of a chord are considered as voices or voice parts. For example, in the C major seventh chord:

    …its notes are considered as voices thus:

    B:

    …is the soprano voice.

    G:

    …is the alto voice.

    E:

    …is the tenor voice.

    C:

    …is the bass voice.

    Other Considerations In Chord Voicing

    Beyond the vocal approach to keyboard harmony, there are other important things to consider in chord voicing, which include (but is not limited to):

    • The movement of the voices (in a chord progression)
    • The rearrangement of the voices

    We’ll be exploring a variety of techniques that can be used in the voicing (aka – “rearrangement”) of a chord. From the part-over-root voicing technique, to the rootless voicing technique, and more.

    The “Part-Over-Root” Voicing Technique

    In this voicing technique, a chord is rearranged in such a way that its root is isolated from the rest of the chord tones (which are considered as a part.)

    Applying the part-over-root voicing technique to the C major ninth chord:

    …entails the isolation of the root note (C):

    …and the consideration of the rest of the notes:

    …(which are basically the E minor seventh chord) as a part.

    The part over root voicing technique is used to voice seventh and extended chords.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    The part-over-root voicing technique are mostly used to play extended chords, that exceed the average human hand span. For example, playing the C minor ninth chord:

    …is challenging to play with one hand. However, using the part-over-root voicing technique, it can be rearranged into an Eb major seventh chord:

    …played over C:

    …on the bass.

    Altogether, the part-over-root voicing of the C minor ninth chord:

    Following the same procedure, you can form the part-over-root voicing of any seventh or extended chord.

    The Drop-2 Voicing Technique

    In the consideration of the notes of a chord as voices, there are basically four voices to look out for:

    Soprano, the first voice

    Alto, the second voice

    Tenor, the third voice

    Bass, the fourth voice

    In the drop-2 voicing, the second voice (aka – “the alto voice”) is played an octave below its position. For example, the drop-2 voicing technique can be used to rearrange (or voice) the C major seventh chord:

    …by the determination of the second voice (aka – “alto voice”) in the chord (which is G):

    …and playing it an octave lower:

    …to produce the drop-2 voicing of the C major seventh chord:

    “In A Nutshell…”

    The octave transposition of the second voice in a chord an octave below its position, produces its drop-2 voicing.

    The Upper-Structure Voicing Technique

    The upper-structure voicing technique is exclusively for extended chords.

    It focuses on the rearrangement of an extended chord in such a way that its extensions (ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth tones) or other basic chord tones (root, third, fifth, and seventh) are considered as a upper chord structure.

    For example, in the C dominant thirteenth sharp eleventh chord:

    …its extensions, which are basically D (the ninth):

    …F# (the sharp eleventh):

    …and A (the thirteenth):

    …can be considered as a D major triad:

    …which is the upper structure triad in the C dominant thirteenth sharp eleventh chord:

    Consequently, playing a D major triad:

    …over a C dominant seventh chord:

    …produces the C dominant thirteenth sharp eleventh chord:

    The Rootless Voicing Technique

    The rootless voicing technique is one of the chord voicing techniques that is commonly used by advanced players to voice seventh and extended chords.

    It features the exclusion of the root note in any given chord. For example, in the C major ninth chord:

    …excluding the root note (which is C):

    …leaves us with an E minor seventh chord:

    …which is considered as the rootless voicing of the C major ninth chord:

    The Polychord Voicing Technique

    The polychord voicing features the superimposition of two or more chords with the goal of achieving an overall harmony. For example, the superimposition of the E minor triad:

    …over the C major triad:

    …produces a C major seventh chord:

    …as its overall harmony.

    In the same vein, the superimposition of the E minor seventh chord:

    …over the C major seventh chord:

    …produces a C major ninth chord:

    …as its overall harmony.

    To derive the polychord voicing of a chord, one must be aware of the triads and seventh chords it consists of. For example, the D half-diminished seventh chord:

    …consists of the D diminished triad:

    …and the F minor triad:

    Consequently, the superimposition of the F minor triad:

    …over the D diminished triad:

    …produces the polychord voicing of the D half-diminished seventh chord:

    Final Words

    The concept of chord voicing presents you with a variety of ways that any given chord can be rearranged.

    Although most of the chord voicings covered in this lesson are commonly used by gospel and jazz musicians, they can also be applied to other popular music styles like R&B etc.

    Thank you for your time and see you in another lesson.

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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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