• Voice Leading Principles For Triads: Less Hand Movement, More Harmony [Plus Free 176-pg Ebook]

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    voice leading image

    In this lesson, let’s turn our attention to voice leading.

    Attention: There is a free 176-pg Quick Guide associated with this lesson

    In the key of C, there are seven scale degrees.
    voice leading
    The first, fourth and fifth scale-degree chords are major. These major chords are called primary chords and are principal chords that have the same quality (major) with the prevalent key.

    Chord 1 (C Major):
    voice leading C E GChord 4 (F Major):
    Chord 5 (G Major):

    If left alone, it will take a considerable amount of effort to keep up with the demands of moving from chord 1 to chord 4 and vice-versa:

    Chord 1 to Chord 5 and vice-versa:

    At a very fast tempo, it becomes very challenging to keep up with the technical demands of playing primary chords. In this article, I’ll show you, step by step, how to minimize these hand movements and move smoothly from one primary chord to another, irrespective of the key you’re in. Let’s get started.

    Voicing

    Chord comes from an old English word that means together.

    We often associate chords with a combination of notes being played on the piano or guitar. However, the notes of a chord can also be seen as voices – soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

    There are basically two perspectives to playing chords – the chorale style and the keyboard style.

    In this article, we won’t delve into the chorale style completely, but we’ll learn some important guidelines from the chorale style of voicing.

    The highest voice in choral music is soprano, followed by alto, then tenor. In the C major chord below:

    The chord tones below can be seen as voices. G is the soprano, E is the Alto and C is the tenor. Guess you’re asking for the bass note now. Well, the root of the chord (C) is usually duplicated as the bass. These four notes can be seen as voices even though we’re representing them on the keyboard.

    If we move these voices to chord 4, we’ll have:

    In the chorale style practice, it is difficult for voices to move like this because of range, difficulty and smoothness. Let’s cover principles that can help us move smoothly from one chord to another.

    Voice Leading

    The smooth movement of voices from one chord to another is possible and there are guiding principles to it. These principles are called voice leading principles. The basic thing you should know about voice leading as it relates to this post is:

    When two successive chords share one or more notes in common, these notes [they have in common] will remain constant while other voices will move to the nearest note possible.

    In voice leading, we are concerned with two things:

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

    Attention: There is a free 176-pg Quick Guide associated with this lesson

    Voice Leading Example – Chord 1 to Chord 4

    Application of the voice leading principle to a chord progression in the key of C, from Chord 1 (C Major) to Chord 4 (F Major).

    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 Major has C-E-G as its chord tones.

    F Major has F-A-C as its chord tones.

    The common voice in both chords is C. Therefore, C will be retained.

    Step #2 – Movement of different voices to the closest note possible. Considering that C is retained in both chords, we’ll have to move the remaining voices to the closest note possible.

    C major is left with the notes, E and G.

    F major is left with the notes, F and A.

    If you had to choose between F and A in chord 4, which is the closest to the E from chord 1? The answer is F. F is closer to E than A is. Therefore, E moves to F as its closest note. This will imply that G will also move to A as its closest note.

    If we put everything together:

    C is retained as the common voice.

    E moves up to F as its nearest voice.

    G moves up to A as its nearest voice.

    Voice Leading Example – Chord 1 to Chord 5

    Application of the voice leading principle to a chord progression in the key of C, from Chord 1 (C Major) to Chord 5 (G Major).

    Step #1 – Retention of common voices between two successive chords. What are the chord tones that are identical in both voices?

    C major has C-E-G as its chord tones.

    G major has G-B-D as its chord tones.

    It’s crystal clear that the common chord tone in both chords is G. Therefore, G will be retained.

    Step #2 – Movement of different voices to the closest note possible. Now that we’ve retained the common voice (which is G), the remaining two notes will have to move to the closest notes possible.

    C major is left with C and E (G is retained).

    G major is left with B and D.

    If you had to choose between B and D in chord 5, which is the closest note to the E from chord 1? The answer is D. D is closer to E than B is. Therefore, E moves to D as its closest note. By implication, C will move to B as its closest note.

    If we put everything together:

    C moves down to B as its nearest voice.

    E moves down to D as its nearest voice.

    G is retained as the common voice.

    Voice Leading Example – Chord 4 to Chord 5

    Chords 4 and 5 are adjacent to each other and I don’t intend taking you any further into voice leading principles for chords that are right next to each other. However, just know this:

    When two triads are adjacent to each other, they don’t share any note in common. Consequently, there won’t be retention of voices. I’ll strongly recommend that in such situations, voices should move to the nearest notes possible.

    Having explained the principles, let’s see how we can play primary triads in ALL inversions using voice leading principles.

    Voice Leading From Root Position Tonic Chords

    In the key of C major, the tonic chord below is in root position:

    Chord 4: Voices in chords 1 or 5 will move to the nearest voices in chord 4 while common voices will be retained:

    Chord 5: Voices in chords 1 or 4 will move to the nearest voices in chord 5 while common voices will be retained:

    Below are primary chords (Chords 1, 4 and 5) connected smoothly according to the voice leading principles taught in this lesson:



    *There are voice leading reasons for choosing “B D G” instead of “D G B” that have to do with the direction the chords are moving in. These will be covered in a subsequent post.

    Voice Leading From First Inversion Tonic Chords

    In the key of C major, the tonic chord is given below in first inversion:

    Chord 4: Voices in chords 1 or 5 will move to the nearest voices in Chord 4 while common voices will be retained:

    Chord 5: Voices in chords 1 or 4 will move to the nearest voices in Chord 5 while common voices will be retained:

    Below are primary chords (Chords 1, 4 and 5) connected smoothly by the voice leading principle.



    *There are voice leading reasons for choosing “D G B” instead of “G B D” that have to do with the direction the chords are moving in. These will be covered in a subsequent post.

    Attention: There is a free 176-pg Quick Guide associated with this lesson

    Voice Leading From Second Inversion Tonic Chords

    In the key of C major, the tonic chord is given below in second inversion:

    Chord 4: Voices in chords 1 or 5 will move to the nearest voices in chord 4 while common voices will be retained:

    Chord 5: Voices in chords 1 or 4 will move to the nearest voices in chord 5 while common voices will be retained:

    Below are primary chords (Chords 1, 4 and 5) connected smoothly by the voice leading principle.

    *There are voice leading reasons for choosing “G B D” instead of “B D G” that have to do with the direction the chords are moving in. These will be covered in a subsequent post.

    Final Words

    These voice leading principles have helped us to minimize movement by retaining common voices and looking for the nearest voices possible for our next chord.

    Now, it’s your duty to practice these techniques for the different inversions of the tonic chords in the key of C. When you are comfortable with it, transpose it mentally to other keys. It may prove challenging initially, however, it will pay off. Knowledge of the inversion of chords is an extra advantage.

    Until next time.

    Attention: There is a free 176-pg Quick Guide associated with this lesson

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.




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