• Intermediate Voice Leading Techniques for Seventh Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    voice leading

    The art of moving smoothly from one chord to another is called voice leading. In a previous post, we covered voice leading principles for triads that you may want to check out before proceeding to this one.

    Let me ask you a couple questions:

    Are you finding it difficult to move from one seventh chord to another smoothly?

    Are you interested in exercises that will give you the liberty to quickly move through seventh chords, regardless of the key you’re in?

    If you are, then read on because in this post, I’ll show you, step-by-step (leaving no stone unturned), cutting-edge principles that can facilitate smoothness between seventh chords.

    Seventh Chords

    Seventh chords are basically chords that cover the width of a seventh. In tertian harmony, seventh chords are built by stacking thirds together over an underlying scale. Using F major as our underlying scale:

    We can create a seventh chord by stacking thirds.

    Remember that three degrees from every scale tone is a third. Here’s the first third – an A stacked on top of the F:
    voice leading

    In the same manner, the next third will be a C on top of A and that’s pretty much a triad:

    So far, we’ve connected the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of the scale of F major using this principle of thirds. If you add one more third over a [root position] triad:

    …you’ll have the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th degrees of the major scale connected in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony”).

    Scale Degree Seventh Chords

    Seventh chords can be formed using any degree of the scale as its root. In the key of F, here are the scale degree seventh chords:

    Chord 1 – F major seventh

    Chord 2 – G minor seventh

    Chord 3 – A minor seventh

    Chord 4 – B major seventh

    Chord 5 – C dominant seventh

    Chord 6 – D minor seventh

    Chord 7 – E half-diminished seventh

    In the major scale, there are basically four qualities of seventh chords:

    Chord Quality

    Scale Degrees

    Percentage

    Major seventh

    1st and 4th

    28.5%

    Minor seventh

    2nd, 3rd, and 6th

    43%

    Dominant seventh

    5th

    14.5%

    Half-diminished seventh

    7th

    14.5%

    Notice that 28.5% of scale degree seventh chords are major seventh chords (2 of 7) while 43% of scale degree chords are minor chords (3 of 7). Dominant seventh and half-diminished seventh chords are 14.5% each (1 of 7 each).

    The frequency of usage of these qualities may vary from one style to another. For example, there are more dominant seventh chords in blues music than any other seventh chord quality.

    In this lesson, our focus will be geared towards chord qualities of the 2nd, 5th and 1st degrees. These degrees of the scale are associated with the popular 2-5-1 progression. Below are the chord qualities of the 2-5-1:

    2nd degree – Minor seventh

    5th degree – Dominant seventh

    1st degree – Major seventh

    Voicing of Seventh Chords

    Just like triads, seventh chords can be inverted.


    The F major seventh (above) has three inversions:

    First Inversion

    Second Inversion

    Third Inversion

    It’s important to know all the inversions of seventh chords in all the keys. However, this doesn’t guarantee smoothness. Smoothness has more to do with voice leading than inversions. Let’s get into it.

    Major 2-5-1 Progression

    While studying triads in a previous post, we applied voice leading techniques to primary chords. In this post, we’re taking it a step further to suit intermediate players. We’ll be applying voice leading techniques to the 2-5-1 progression (which is a harmonic movement to the 1st degree of the scale via the 2nd and 5th degrees).

    In the key of F, a 2-5-1 progression using seventh chords can be played like this:

    Chord 2 – G minor seventh

    Chord 5 – C dominant seventh

    Chord 1 – F major seventh

    If we play the 2-5-1 progression exactly the way it appears above:

    1. It will be grow from being inconvenient to being challenging at faster tempo.

    2. Practically, it will not sound coherent and meaningful. You’ll appreciate this point more as we proceed.

    Imagine the task of moving from chord 2 to 5:

    Chord 5 to chord 1:

    It can be daunting, depending on the speed in which you are required to play it.

    Let’s explore how to create smoother connections between these chords.

    Voice Leading Techniques for Seventh Chords

    The principle of voice leading has to do with voicing. Considering that we covered the basics to voicing (keyboard style vs choral style, etc.) in this Voice Leading Techniques for triads lesson, we’ll go straight into voice leading principles which essentially has to do with:

    1. The retention of common voices between two successive chords.
    2. The movement of different voices to the closest note possible.

    Voice Leading Example – Chord 2 to Chord 5

    Application of the voice leading principle to a chord progression in the key of F, from Chord 2 (G minor seventh) to Chord 5 (C dominant seventh).

    Step #1 – Retention of common voices between two successive chords. Our assignment here is to determine the number of voices these chords share in common.

    G minor seventh has G-B-D-F as its chord tones.

    C dominant seventh C-E-G-B as its chord tones.

    The common voices in both chords are G and B. Therefore, in a chord movement from G minor seventh to C dominant seventh, G and B will be retained.

    Step #2 – Movement of different voices to the closest note possible. We’ve succeeded in retaining common voices and we’re on to the next assignment, which is the movement of the remaining voices to the closest notes possible.

    We have D and F left in G minor seventh (after retaining G and B)

    We have C and E left in C dominant seventh (after retaining G and B)

    D and F in chord 2 are close to C and E in chord 5 but most importantly, both notes are adjacent to E. Let me show you how to handle certain situations when you have more than one option for a given note. In such situations, it’s best for you to consider where other voices will move to.

    If D moves to E, that means that F will move to C. F and C are not close enough. Try again.

    If F moves to E, that means that D will move to C. D and C are close enough. Therefore, D and F will move down to C and D respectively.

    If we put everything together:

    G and B are retained as the common voices.

    D moves down to C as its nearest voice.

    F moves down to E as its nearest voice.

    Voice Leading Example – Chord 5 to Chord 1

    Application of the voice leading principle to a chord progression in the key of F, from Chord 5 (C dominant seventh) to Chord 1 (F major seventh).

    Note: We’re starting over and using the root position of the 5 chord (C dominant seventh). In a future post, we’ll discuss connecting the 2 to the 5 to the 1.

    Step #1 – Retention of common voices between two successive chords. Our assignment here is to determine the number of voices these chords share in common.

    C dominant seventh has C-E-G-B as its chord tones.

    F major seventh has F-A-C-E as its chord tones.

    The common voices in both chords are C and E. Therefore, in a chord movement from C dominant seventh to F major seventh, C and E will be retained.

    Step #2 – Movement of different voices to the closest note possible. We’ve succeeded in retaining common voices and we’re on to the next assignment, which is the movement of the remaining voices to the closest notes possible.

    We have G and B left in C dominant seventh (after retaining C and E )

    We also have F and A left in F major seventh (after retaining C and E)

    Similar to what we encountered earlier, G and B in chord 5 are adjacent to F and A in chord 1. Therefore, we’ll consider the best voice leading option.

    If G moves to A, that means that B will move to F. B and F are not close enough.

    If B moves to A, that means that G will move to F. G and F are close enough. Therefore, G and B will move down to F and A respectively.

    If we put everything together:

    C and E are retained as the common voices.

    G moves down to F as its nearest voice.

    Bb moves down to A as its nearest voice.

    That’s enough for today. In another post soon, I’ll be showing you how to easily play the 2-5-1 progression in ALL 12 keys without difficulty. In that same post, we’ll be offering a comprehensive workbook to support your technical development. Till then.

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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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