When it comes to harmonizing tunes, it’s amazing how many people never get beyond playing chords in the same basic, textbook manner they learned in the beginning. I’m face to face with a number of adult students on a regular basis. Many of them will let me know right off the bat their intention is to be able to play their favorite songs in a way they can feel good about.
During the course of learning about their experience, nine times out of ten, they’ll play chords in their basic position with their left hand and the melody with their right and that’s where it stops. For example, their left hand will be playing a Cmaj7 this way:
Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not. However, when it is established as a player’s only way, it’s a bit of a trap. Your harmonic creativity is stifled when you limit yourself to this chordal approach. The chord described above is a closed position chord. In other words, you could say the tones of the chord are as close to each other as they could possibly be. Again, it’s one way to play.
However, when we rearrange these chord tones, we have many other interesting possibilities. A very common arrangement of these chord tones is an “open” the chord, as shown here:
Voicing A Chord
What did we do? We simply manipulated or rearranged the tones of the original chord by moving the E (3rd of the chord) to the top, or furthest to the right. Now, you will notice that there is an E in between the C and E not being played. Therefore the chord “open” which means the chord tones are no longer as close as they can possibly be to each other.
When we rearrange chord tones, such as what we have done above, this is known as “voicing” a chord. The result is a piano chord voicing (also referred to as chord voicing, jazz piano voicing, or just plain voicing). The result above is an open chord voicing for the reason stated above.
The Voicing/ Melody Connection
Since the E is at the top of the voicing, it becomes clear that if you are playing a melody note that happens to be an E over a Cmaj7 chord, this chord voicing will serve you well. This particular chord voicing is the first one that is presented in my book entitled Pro Piano Chord Bytes (available on Amazon). Additional commentary is also given to take the voicings you’re learning and make more of them from a creative standpoint.
Go ahead and find a standard tune that you know which uses a major 7 chord and the melody is the 3rd of the chord. Then use this voicing and listen to the result. Look for more and more places in your music where you can apply this chord voicing. Eventually, it becomes a habit to look for these opportunities. You are becoming a chord voicing master!