Tip #242 – Changing a Voicing Midway

Most people when writing or performing music tend to stick to one chord voicing for a harmony. While this is perfectly okay to do, this can lead into having trouble to voice leading because there is a limit to possibilities.

Often, composers don’t practice re-voicing a harmony. For example: if you have an A major seventh chord that lasts a measure long, try a different voicing at the halfway point.

Here is another example of it in action:

Try it out and see if it makes transitions sound smoother and give the piece more interest/variety!

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Tip #236 – Squishing Down Voicing Possibilities

Say you have a harmonic progression like this:

There is an unlimited amount of possibilities in regards to how you can voice them to have good voice leading.

A quick two rule for harmonic voicings is to determine the bottom and the top by:

  1. Keeping the root/bass note at the bottom
  2. Make a roughly stagnant melodic line at the top.

This is because the chord voicings are to give harmony and nothing else; not to give a counter melody that will interfere.

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Tip #233 – Expanding to Give a Neo-Soul Sound

There are many aspects that define a music genre. The kinds of harmonies, rhythms, lyrics, chord progressions, fashion, etc. all help classify a piece of music.

Before we get into a debate of whether labels are good or bad, it is skill for composers to know what makes a genre to draw direct inspirations from.

We are going to talk about how simply expanding the harmony of your chord choices and voicings can give your piece of music an interesting neo-soul feel.

Take a look below at some common chord types (never mind the key):

Typically, you would use some major chords, minor chords, dominant seventh, and diminished chords to write a song. To give it a neo-soul flavor, try expanding the harmonies this way:

  • Major Triad -> Major Ninth Sharp Eleventh
  • Minor Triad -> Minor Eleventh
  • Dominant Seventh -> Dominant Thirteenth Sus 4
  • Diminished Triad -> Altered Dominants

Also, taking inspiration from modal harmonies are re-voicing in quartal harmonies (of stacked fourth), can give your piece a neo-soul sound. Basically, jazz harmonies will be your best friend in this.

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Tip #232 – Root-less Chords

By default, when you eliminate the root from being at the bottom of a chord, it becomes an inversion of itself.

This can become a useful tool when constructing a bass line by avoiding the root in order to give an unstable feeling or imply a different harmony.

So, now the question is, how does the bass move?

Before, we talked about the root of one chord harmony move to the root of the next. What does one do when it is either the third, sixth, or seventh in the bass.

Above anything else: experiment. However, it might be wise to connect similar notes or move stepwise. Meaning, if the third of one chord harmony is the same as the seventh of the next, keep on that note.

Play with these ideas and see how they can improve with building bass lines.

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Tip #231 – Reducing to the Essentials

If you could only play two notes to suggest the harmony, which ones would you choose? How can you choose the right night to imply the right harmony without making it ambiguous?

Previously, we have talked about making harmonic accompaniment ambiguous by playing only octaves and fifths. What if we want to do the opposite.

Well, instead of the fifth, what other notes of the chord impact its quality? That would be the third (telling us if it is major of minor), the seventh (tell us what kind of seventh chord it is), and sixth (for extra color).

Some people have been known to call this “shell voicing” when you limit your harmonic voicings down to two notes: the root/bass and a tone that tells us the quality of the chord.

NOTE: if the chord was diminished, playing the flat fifth would be more of a priority, but not when it is a perfect fifth.

Try it out. When building a bass line, an accompaniment, or whatever, challenge yourself by only playing 2 notes.

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Tip #184 – Unique Use of Dominant 13 (b9 #11) Chord

Some jazz performers, arrangers, and composers have the inclination to add tension tones and various extensions on top of simple triad chord harmonies. Not that it is a bad thing, but it can become mundane if used too often or too frivolously.

With that out of the way, one chord that I have noticed some people using is the dominant 13 chord with alterations of a b9 and #11. Usually, this is recognized as a V 13(b9 #11) in the jazz tune – but here is another use of it:

Let’s first start by separating the dominant 7 from the upper extensions. That gives us the V7 chord and the (b9 #11 13) above.

If we reharmonize the (b9 #11 13) be their enharmonic, we get a minor triad a tritone above the root of the chord.

Typically, there is no major or natural minor key that has both a V7 and bii. However, who said that the dominant chord has to function as a V7 chord? Instead, we can think of it as a tritone substation making it a bII7 in a minor key with the minor triad acting as a v. In which case, both the bII7 and v chords resolve to the minor tonic triad of i.

Try it out for yourself!

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Tip #166 – Using sus4 Chords for Inner-Voice Movement

Say that you an “out-of-the-ordinary” progression that involves a bunch of major triads going up by whole steps.

So, that would be: C – D – E – F# …

This parallel movement is irregular because there is no “standard” key that has more than two major chords a whole step apart in a row.

However, you can make the progression sound really amazing by using sus4 chords in between.

To remind: a sus4 chord is when you replace the third of a triad with a P4 interval above the root.

By altering each chord to become a sus4 voicing, you create a chromatic line ascending upwards that makes the chord progression become more interesting and flowing:

Try it out on your own with different major chords.

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