Chord Voicings: What Are They?

Enhance Your Style With Chord Voicings

Chord voicings can add pizzazz to your playing!I felt inspired to write this because there are a good number of cocktail pianists who enjoy success utilizing just basic triads and 7th chord structures. There’s a lot to be said for a performer who can be creative using simplicity.

That said, the use of chord voicings  can really add some dimension to your playing, especially when performing jazz standards. This makes the subject worth investigating.

If you are totally new to the concept of chord voicings, let’s explain what they are. In simple terms, a chord voicing is a chord structure that has been rearranged in a way that gives the original, simple chord a different texture. Some examples of how a simply chord can be voiced can include:

  • opening a chord
  • doubling (or even tripling) certain notes in the chord
  • eliminating certain chord tones
  • adding extensions (or color tones) to a chord
  • spreading a chord beyond one octave

A chord voicing can result from doing any one or all of the above. Voicing chords is truly an art form that you can dig into very deeply as you discover more and more “gold” during the process. As a cocktail player, you can enjoy adding tasteful dimension to your renditions even with just a little basic knowledge of voicings.

A Very Simple Chord Voicing

Essentially, you can consider any “manipulation” of the members of a chord as a chord voicing. For example, here is a C Major triad in its basic root position:

C Major triad in root position

If we make a very simple modification to this by moving the E to a position that is one octave higher, we arrive at a chord voicing for C Major:

C Major triad in open position

The technique we just used is called opening the chord. This is a C Major triad in open position. You see, the original chord was a simple C Major triad in root position. It is said to be closed because the chord tones are as close to each other as they can possibly be. Also, there are no chord tones in between any of them that are not being played.

7th Chord Voicing

Let’s create a voicing a Cmaj7 chord. Here it is in root position (also closed):

Cmaj7 chord in root position

If we take two of the chord tones and move them up one octave, we arrive at this voicing:

Cmaj7 chord voicing

Again, this voicing is said to be “open.” As you can see, that there actually are chord tones in between those being played. Can you see how this voicing can be effective if you are playing a ballad where the melody is the 7th of the chord?

Let’s take a look at another voicing. This particular chord voicing is presented in Lesson #1 of ProProach  (If you are a cocktail player and would like to explore how to enrich your playing, this is a program that can have some significant impact on your playing):

Cmaj9 chord voicing

This voicing can be used if the melody is the 9th of the chord.

Chord voicings can be used to add life to a melody. They can even be used to create great sounding fills within your ballads. This short clip demonstrates the above voicing being used to create such a fill:

(excerpt from Cocktail Piano Secrets #1)

The topic of chord voicings is one I love talking about. The day I first discovered them, my entire harmonic world opened up. I just know that you will enjoy this journey, too.

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