• Exposed: The Alto Voice In A Chord And What To Do With It

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

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    You arrived at this page because you want to learn about the alto voice in a chord.

    I’ll not only show you the alto voice in this lesson, I’ll also show you a voicing technique for the alto voice that will revolutionize your playing overnight. This technique is suitable to all, irrespective of your musical orientation – classical, gospel, or jazz.

    Before we get into our goal in this lesson, let’s have a brief discussion on chords.

    A Quick Review On Chords

    Attention: If you already know about chords, kindly skip to the next segment.

    There are so many ways to define a chord. According to Jermaine Griggs, “…a chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not) that are played [or heard] together.”

    A breakdown of the following keywords:

    • Three or more
    • Related notes
    • Agreeable or not
    • Played together

    …would give you a better understanding of the term chord.

    “…Three Or More…”

    There are two relationship types that can exist between notes – melodic and harmonic relationship. A chord is a product of the harmonic relationship between at least three notes.

    Although intervals are a product of the harmonic relationship between two notes, according to Jermaine Griggs, “they should be considered as the building block of chords and NOT as chords.”

    In a nutshell, three is the minimum number of notes in a chord.

    “…Related Notes…”

    A collection of notes can only be considered as a chord if they are related by a given scale and a class of harmony. The notes of the C major triad (which are C, E and G):

    …are related by the C natural major scale:

    …and tertian harmony (a class of harmony based in third intervals.) C, E and G are the first, third and fifth tones of the C natural major scale.

    The notes of the C natural major scale are also related by third intervals (aka – “tertian harmony”.)

    From C:

    …to E:

    …is a third interval.

    From C-E:

    …to G:

    …is also a third interval.

    “…Agreeable Or Not…”

    When a collection of notes are played together, there are two possible outcomes – consonance and dissonance.

    Consonance is the outcome when a chord sounds pleasant and agreeable, while dissonance is the outcome when a chord sounds unpleasant and harsh.

    “…Played Together…”

    A chord is a product of the harmonic relationship between notes. Consequently, the notes of a chord are designed to be played together.

    Did I also mention that the term chord is derived from accord – which is an old English word that means “together.”

    A Short Note On The Concept Of Voicing

    Voicing is the consideration of the notes of a chord as voices or voice parts.

    In chorale music, there are four main voice parts:

    The first voice is the soprano voice

    The second voice is the alto voice

    The three voice is the tenor voice

    The fourth voice is the bass voice

    In a four note triad like the C major triad:

    …the notes are considered as voice parts thus:


    …is the soprano voice.


    …is the alto voice.


    …is the tenor voice.


    …is the bass voice.

    Exposed: The Second Voice Part

    The second voice part is the alto voice. The alto voice lies immediately below the first voice (aka – “soprano”), which is the highest voice in every chord. It’s easy to identify the alto voice in a chord because it’s the second to the highest voice.

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …the highest sounding voice is the B:

    …followed by G:

    …which is the alto voice.

    “The Same Thing Is Obtainable For Other Triads And Seventh Chords…”

    In the D minor triad:

    …the highest voice is A:

    …followed by F:

    …the alto voice.

    In the A major seventh chord:

    …the alto voice is E:

    Now that you know what the alto voice is and how to find it in triads and seventh chords, I’ll be showing you how to rearrange a chord using its alto voice.

    The Drop-2 Voicing Technique

    Voicing is the consideration of the notes of a chord as voice parts. The consideration of chord tones as voices leads to the rearrangement of the voices using voicing techniques.

    We’ve covered several of these voicing techniques in the past – “part-over-root” voicing technique, upper-structure voicing technique, A&B voicing technique, polychord voicing technique and so on.

    In this segment, we’ll be learning the drop-2 voicing technique, which is the octave transposition of the alto voice in a chord.

    “What Is A Drop-2 Voicing?”

    The drop-2 voicing of a chord is the re-arrangement of a chord in such a way that the alto voice is played an octave lower that it’s position.

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …where the G note:

    …is the alto voice, playing the alto voice an octave lower (as this G):

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

    It’s called a drop-2 voicing technique because the second voice in the chord is literally dropped by an octave.

    “The Octave Transposition Of The Alto Voice…”

    The octave transposition of the alto voice produces the drop-2 voicing of a chord. However, the alto voice MUST be transposed an octave lower.

    The alto voice in the Ab major seventh chord:

    …is Eb:

    The octave transposition of Eb (the alto voice):

    …to this Eb (on a lower octave):

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

    Final Words

    The knowledge of the alto voice in a chord and the drop-2 voicing technique is for every serious pianist.

    In subsequent lessons, we’ll be learning more about the drop-2 voicing and it’s use in chord formation and voicing.

    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.



    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Elijah Mukoro

    I’m grateful for the sacrifices you put in to see that pianist improve on their playing skills. My name is Elijah Mukoro from Nigeria.
    I have a question.
    From what I understood you taught, the alto note varies depending on the second highest sounding note. Like in the first example you gave of c major chord, what if the triad is played without adding the c note on the next octave, would the soprano note change to G and the alto change to E note? Just like you did in the case of D minor chord. Thank you sir. You can please reply by email. Thanks


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