• Explained: The Difference Between A Chord And A Voicing

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

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    If you’re interested in knowing the difference between a chord and a voicing, you are on the right page.

    The following notes “F-Bb-C-Db-Eb-Ab” (when played together):

    …can either be called a chord or a voicing and this is because the term chord and voicing are related and can be used interchangeably.

    Understanding the difference between a chord and a voicing would help you know situations where the interchangeable use of both terms is appropriate or isn’t.

    Let’s start out by defining both terms before proceeding into highlighting the difference between them.

    Ask Dr. Pokey: “What Is A Chord?”

    There are so many ways a chord can be defined. However, for the purpose of this study, we’ll use the definition below:

    A chord is an aggregate of three or more “related” notes (agreeable or not), which may be played or heard together.

    Although an aggregate of three or more notes can be considered as a chord, the relationship between the notes (three or more) is one aspect that determines what a chord is and what a chord isn’t.

    The notes below (Ab-G-F#):

    …by virtue of their number can be considered as a chord. However, that’s only if the relationship between the notes Ab, G, and F# is ascertained.

    So, in the definition of chords, the relationship between chord tones is very important and chord tones are related in two ways:

    By scale

    By class of harmony

    “Let’s Briefly Discuss Both Using The C Major Triad As A Reference…”

    The Relationship By Scale

    The C major triad:

    …is considered to be a chord because of the scale relationship between its chord tones. The chord tones (which are C, E, and G) are tones of the C major scale:

    C is the first tone

    E is the third tone

    G is the fifth tone

    Every chord must have and underlying scale where its chord tones are derived from and that’s the basis of scale relationship in chord theory.

    The Relationship By Class Of Harmony

    Chord tones of the C major triad:

    …are a third interval apart from each other:

    C to E (major third):

    E to G (minor third):

    The chord tones of the C major triad are related by the tertian class of harmony; which is associated with the use of third intervals in chord formation

    “In A Nutshell…”

    The tones of every chord type (be it a triad, seventh, or extended chord) are related by scale and class of harmony and any collection of notes that are not related by scale and class of harmony is NOT a chord.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    Quick Insights On The Concept Of Voicing

    The notes of a chord are known as chord tones. The C major seventh chord:

    …has four chord tones:

    The root (which is C):

    The third (which is E):

    The fifth (which is G):

    The seventh (which is B):

    In the concept of voicing, these chord tones are considered as voices or voice parts (like soprano, alto, tenor, and bass):

    B is the soprano voice

    G is the alto voice

    E is the tenor voice

    C is the bass voice

    In addition to the consideration of chord tones as voices, the concept of voicing is concerned with the rearrangement of the tones of a chord using chord rearrangement techniques known as voicing techniques.

    There are a variety of voicing techniques out there, which include (but is not limited to) the following:

    The drop-2 voicing technique

    The part-over-root voicing technique

    The skeleton voicing technique

    The A&B voicing technique

    The upper-structure voicing technique

    The polychord voicing technique

    Let’s just discuss the drop-2 and skeleton voicing concepts before we proceed.

    The Drop-2 Voicing Technique

    In the drop-2 voicing technique, the second voice part (which is the alto voice) is transposed an octave lower than its position.

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …where G is the alto voice:

    The transposition of the alto voice from its position (G):

    …to a lower position (G):

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

    The Skeleton Voicing Technique

    The third and seventh tones of a chord are known as its “skeleton” and this is because they define the quality of a chord.

    The third and seventh tones of the C major seventh chord are E and B:

    So, here’s the skeleton of the C major seventh chord:

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    The Difference Between A Chord And A Voicing

    Although the term chord and voicing can be used interchangeably, the difference between both of them is this:

    A chord is a harmonic entity while its rearrangement is called a voicing.

    Kindly give me your undivided attention so I can give you a proper explanation to that.

    “A Chord Is A Harmonic Entity…”

    A chord is just what it is — a product of three or more related notes (agreeable or not) played or heard together.

    Therefore, you can’t possibly create chords and this is because chords are existent harmonic entities.  For example, you can’t claim to be the creator of the D minor ninth chord:

    The D minor ninth chord is an already existent harmonic entity and cannot be attributed to any musician – small or great.

    “…While A Voicing Is Its Rearrangement”

    The voicing of a chord is basically its rearrangement.

    Voicings can be created because it’s possible for any musician to come up with his unique approach to the the rearrangement of the notes of a chord.

    This voicing of the D minor eleventh chord:

    …is known as the so what voicing and was first played in Miles Davis’ album in the early 60s by Bill Evans.

    Although Bill Evans didn’t create the D minor eleventh chord:

    This particular voicing of the D minor eleventh chord using fourth intervals (known as the so what voicing):

    …is attributed to him.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    Final Words

    It’s one thing to know chords and another thing to know several voicings of that chord and when they can be applied.

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll go beyond learning chords into learning intermediate and advanced voicings for major, minor, and dominant chords.

    See you 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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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