Voice Leading


One of my favourite techniques is voice leading. This is where you move between chords in a progression with only a very slight alteration in notes from one chord to another.

For example, think about the chord a chord vamp C to Am to Dm to G:

You could play that using chords all of the same inversion, but it won't sound too easy on the ear because of the amount of movement from one chord to another. Check out the positions marked at the side of the chord diagrams and see how much the shapes move around the neck.

By using different inversions, you can keep the chord shapes (and the notes in the chords) closer to each other. This is another way of playing the same chord progression, but voice leading makes it sound a lot smoother - notice how much less movement there is up and down the neck between the chords:

You don't always have to have a lot of notes in the chords to be able to voice lead - there are only two notes in a powerchord, but you can still invert them. For example, instead of playing B5 to E5 like this...

...try playing it like this:

Here instead of playing both chords as 1-5-1, the second chord is inverted and the notes are 5-1-5. This keeps the harmony the same, but there is a lot less movement between the two chords. The two B notes (the root notes) of the first chord are functioning as fifth degrees of the second.

You can also 'engineer' smooth voice leading by adding notes to chords, creating 'passing' extended chords. In the next example, the progression moves from Am to Bm, but passes through Am add 9 and Bm7:

The 9th added to the Dm is the E which occurs in the Em chord. Instead of going straight to an Em, there is an Em7 (the D from the previous chord appearing as the b7 of the minor 7 chord).

Experiment wih chord progressions that you're already familiar with - look for altenative ways of playing chords, different inversions. You can get by with using chord theory and working out chord shapes as you go along, but you'll find it a lot easier if you practise hard and learn shapes for inversions of the more common chord types. Good luck!

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