• Play it the way YOU want to play it: Exploring Chord Voicings!

    in Chords & Progressions

    chords101picbig.jpgSince this post about seventh chords has been resurrected from the dead by various students (via new comments that appear on the side menu), I’ve decided to expound on the concept of that lesson a little more.

    Basically in that post, I showed you how to spice up seventh chords by changing the way you voice them.

    A voicing is simply a representation of a chord.
    • How the notes in a chord are spaced.
    • What notes are being played twice.
    • Where the root of the chord is placed.
    • What feeling a particular order gives you.

    These things are all important when it comes to understanding voicings.

    And believe me, some musicians need a lot of help in this area. Just because you’re playing the same notes as the next musician doesn’t mean you’ll make that chord sound the same way the next musician does.

    For example, Jason White and Michael Bereal (from our advanced dvds) both do this well. They can take the same ole’ major chords we’ve been playing for years and make them sound like something we think we’ve never played before. And when you find out what they’re doing, you’re often times blown away because it’s so simple.

    The key is how you voice your chords and where you place them.

    Voicing + Placement = Uber Nice Musician :)

    So in that lesson I referred to above, all I did was take regular seventh chords and alter the order and number of notes I played.

    Step 1: I started with the regular root inversions.

    C major 7: C + E + G + B

    Step 2: I took out the fifth interval.

    Example: The fifth interval in this chord is ā€œGā€ (ā€Gā€ is the fifth tone in the C major scale).
    C major 7: C + E + B

    Step 3: I chose to only play the root on my left hand bass.

    C major 7: E + B on right /// C on left hand bass

    Step 4: I chose to double up on the “third” (doubling up means playing octaves).

    Example: The third interval in this chord is “E” (“E” is the third tone in the C major scale).
    E + B + E

    Step 5: Once I established my voicing (which is basically “3 + 7 + 3 over the root bass”), I used this same voicing all the way up the piano.

    You already know the seventh chords that correspond to the major scale. The trick is this: Just slide over your fingers one note and that will give you the voicing for the next chord in the scale.

    C major 7 = C + E + G + B = new voicing (E + B + E on right / C on left)
    D minor 7 = D + F + A + C = new voicing (F + C + F on right / D on left)
    E minor 7 = E + G + B + D = new voicing (G + D + G on right / E on left)
    F major 7 = F + A + C + E = new voicing (A + E + A on right / F on left)
    G dom 7 = G + B + D + F = new voicing (B + F + B on right / G on left)
    A minor 7 = A + C + E + G = new voicing (C + G + C on right / A on left)
    B half-dim 7 = B + D + F + A = new voicing (D + A + D on right / B on left)
    C major 7 = C + E + G + B = new voicing (E + B + E on right / C on left)

    Note: What you see in the first group of notes is what the chord normally looks like in root position. Then you see our voicing in parentheses.

    You may be thinking… “wow, that seems too easy. I just move my fingers over and I can learn all these new voicings!”

    Well, it’s because these voicings all have the 3rd and 7th in them and quite frankly, that’s all you need in order to play a chord (along with the root, of course). The 5th doesn’t really tell you much about the chord because major, minor, and dominant chords all have perfect 5th intervals. What really matters in a chord is what the 3rd and 7th are doing.

    (Even when you’re trying to figure out what kind of chord you’re playing, the third and fifth should be able to tell you. Any extra notes may hint at it being an extended or altered chord but the 3rd and 7th will tell you what kind of underlying chord you’re playing, in most cases).

    So try making up your own voicings.

    Maybe you won’t use “3 + 7 + 3” like I did. Maybe yours is the reverse: “7 + 3 + 7.” That sounds pretty good, too! And you can even take it all the way up the scale too because it has the 3rd and 7th and that’s all you need in order to form the seventh chords of a major scale.

    EXERCISE: Can you help me play the “3 + 7 + 3” voicings of the seventh chords of other keys? I’ll start this exercise off in the key of C and I’ll even do an extra one in the key of F major. I’ll need 10 students to help me with the rest. Let’s do this!
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    Until next time —

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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