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#1028474 - 07/26/05 12:06 PM Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
I saw a question concerning voicing chords in another thread (Sudnow Method) and felt that this was a big enough topic to warrant its own thread. This is really only relevant to improvisation and playing from lead sheets but I thought the AB ers would find it interesting.

From what I have read, every non-classical method (Play by Ear, Play piano Today, Learn to Improvise, Play from Lead Sheets/Fake Books, etc) are based on playing chords using a specific voicing technique. They all contain the same redundant information on how to select the notes to create a chord (Basic music theory which can be found for free on the Internet) and the secret ;\) voicing method that will allow you to be playing like the pros in no time. While chord construction information is easy to find, it is actually VERY difficult to find information on the various voicing methods (short of purchasing the method books/tapes/CDs/DVDs which I have done much to the angst of my wife) so I thought I would share what I have learned and hopefully save someone a few bucks.

I'll call the following information the "Rodney Method" and it can be had for the very low price of......... a few minutes of your time. \:D

Here's what I think I know. ;\)

The piano/keyboard is used in the following ways:

1) Solo (Piano plays both harmony and melody)
2) Accompaniment to a lead instrument including a vocalist (Piano play harmony but no melody)
3) Accompaniment - Part of an ensemble (Similar to solo but limited to a specific range for example a specific voice in a choral)
4) Accompaniment - Part of a band that including a Bass and Lead (Piano plays harmony but no bass and no melody)

I'm sure there are others so hopefully someone else can expand on the list.

Here are the voicing techniques I currently try to use.

1) CLOSE VOICING is the one that seems to be taught first. This essentially requires that the entire chord (in any inversion) is voiced with one hand and typically within one octave. The chord may be played blocked or apregiated. One rule I've found is that the Soprano and Tenor MUST be no more than an Octave apart.

1a) One example of its use is to improvise/solo from lead sheets by having the left hand play harmony (chord) while the right hand plays melody. This technique is very common when playing on arranger workstations as the keyboard can create a complete, multi instrument accompaniment from the left hand chord.

1b) keyboard style is to play the chord in the right hand with the root bass note being played in the left (i.e. Harmony only). This allows the chord to span a greater range than an octave and allows chords up to an 11th or 13th to be played. This is seen a lot in Rock and POP music.

1c) Drop voicing is created from a close position voicing by dropping one of the notes down an octave. If the second note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 2 voicing; if the third note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 3 voicing. For a C7 chord in root position, "C E G Bb", the corresponding drop 2 voicing is "G C E Bb". The second note from the top, G, has been dropped down an octave. The corresponding drop 3 voicing would be "E C G Bb". Drop 2 and drop 3 voicing can be constructed from any of the inversions of the chord as well. On the piano, the dropped note must normally be played in the left hand, so these are almost always two handed voicing. drop voicing are effective when used to harmonize a melody, particularly in a solo setting. Each melody note may be harmonized by a different drop voicing, with the melody note on top.

2) OPEN VOICING is used to spread the chord across more than one octave (Soprano and Tenor must be more than an octave apart) with some (at least 2) chord tones played in the left hand and the rest of the tones played in the right. If playing solo, the Melody note should (must???) always be played on top. This can be used for both pure harmony as well as playing solo.

2a) Here are some typical examples used in modern music:

LH = Root + Octave, RH = 3rd , 5th , 7th, ... (Melody note on top if playing solo "POP/Rock/Ballad voicing")

LH = Root + 5th, RH = 3rd, ... (Melody note on top if playing solo "Good Voicing for POP")

LH = Root + 7th, RH = 3rd, ... (Melody note on top if playing solo "Typically used in Jazz")

NOTE: Color tones (5th, 7th, 9th, etc) are only played in the RH if there is room between the 3rd and the Melody note if playing solo.

2b) Chorale or SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) voicing is used to play chorals where the Soprano and Alto voices are played with the right hand and the Tenor and Bass are played with the left. The range for each voice should be as follows: Soprano C4 - A5, Alto F3 - D5, Tenor C3 - G4, Bass C2 - C4

2c) Bill Evans voicing ( also called 3/7 ) The basis of these voicing is that the left hand contains both the third and seventh of the chord, usually with at least one or two other notes as well, where either the third or the seventh is at the bottom. Because the third and the seventh are the most important notes that define the quality of a chord, these rules almost always produce good sounding results. Other chord tones may be added to the right hand but the Melody note is always placed on top. Since the root note is missing, this voicing technique works best when accompanied by a Bass player.

2d) Quartal Voicing is a style of voicing made popular by McCoy Tyner is based on the interval of the fourth. This type of voicing is used most often in modal music. To construct a quartal voicing, simply take any note in the scale associated with the chord, and add the note a fourth above, and a fourth above that. Use perfect fourths or augmented fourths depending on which note is in the scale.

2e) Polychord voicing is to play two different chords at the same time, such as one in the left hand and one in the right on a piano. The relationship between the two chords determines the quality of the resultant chord. The simplest style of polychord voicing is to play two triads and produces a very complex sound. Since a melody note would get lost on all those tones, you don't typically use this voicing technique to play solo although it may be used during gaps (rests) in a solo.

2f) Mantooth voicing for Jazz Keyboard developed by Frank Mantooth using perfect fourths: (added Aug 6, 2005)

3 notes in the right hand
2 notes in the left hand
thumbs near middle C (especially left hand thumb)

Minor 7th chords - 3rd on top
Dominant 7th chords - root or 5th on top
Major 7th chords - root or 5th on top

These voicings may omit a member of the 7th chord, but always include a 9th, 11th or 13th.


The following are some general guidelines to follow when forming your voicing:

Doubling chord tones - You can double the Root, unless Root = leading tone of the key. The 5th can be doubled, unless the 5th is dissonant. The 3rd can be doubled, unless 3rd is the leading tone of the scale. NEVER double the 7th and never double the leading tone when the chord proceeds to the I chord.

You can usually leave out the 5th of the chord

There you have it, the "Rodney Method" in a nutshell. You'll still have to browse the Internet or read a basic theory book to find the rules to chord construction (perhaps another thread).

Corrections and additions to the above techniques is not only welcome but encouraged!!! \:\)



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#1028475 - 07/26/05 12:30 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Bob Muir Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/01/03
Posts: 2653
Loc: Lakewood, WA, USA
Nice overview Rodney, thanks!

#1028476 - 07/26/05 05:26 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Ok, so I just couldn't leave the "Rodney Method" without the obligatory chord construction tutorial. I'm sure this has been duplicated in other posts but just in case,.... ;\)

Intervals are often abbreviated with a P for perfect, m for minor, M for major, d for diminished, A for augmented, followed by the diatonic interval number.

Major chords are constructed by stacking the Root, with the intervals of a Major 3rd, and Perfect 5th in any order (inversions). (See bottom for definition of intervals)

A minor chord simply replaces the Major 3rd with a minor 3rd (one semi-tone lower).

A dimished chord has both a minor 3rd as well as a dimished 5th (one semi-tone lower than a perfect 5th).

Augmented chords use the Major 3rd and and Augmented 5th (one semi-tone higher than a perfect 5th).

Finally the suspended chords replace the 3rd with a major 2nd (SUS2) or perfect 4th (SUS or SUS4).

A Major 7 chord simply adds a major 7 to a major chord (see table below) while a minor 7 adds a minor 7 tone to a minor chord. The dominant 7th is a major triad with a minor 7th added.

The half dimished 7th (sometimes written as m7b5) is a minor 7th stacked on a dimished chord, while a dimished 7th is a dimished chord with a flatted m7 stacked on top (the m7th tone is flatted one more semi-tone).

Finally the Augmented 7th is simply an augmented triad with a minor 7th stacked on top.

maj7 : R M3 P5 M7
7 : R M3 P5 m7
m7 : R m3 P5 m7
m7b5 : R m3 d5 m7
o7 : R m3 d5 o7
+7 : R m3 A5 m7

Table of Major 7th chords

R M3 P5 M7

Cmaj7 C E G B
Gmaj7 G B D F#
Dmaj7 D F# A C#
Amaj7 A C# E G#
Emaj7 E G# B D#
Bmaj7 B D# F# A#
Gbmaj7 Gb Bb Dd F
Dbmaj7 Db F Ab C
Abmaj7 Ab C Eb G
Ebmaj7 Eb G Bb D
Bbmaj7 Bb D F A
Fmaj7 F A C E

Table of minor 7th chords

R m3 P5 m7

Cm7 C Eb G Bb
Gm7 G Bb D F
Dm7 D F A C
Am7 A C E G
Em7 E G B D
Bm7 B D F# A
Gbm7 Gb Bbb Dd Fb
Dbm7 Db Fb Ab Cb
Abm7 Ab Cb Eb Gb
Ebm7 Eb Gb Bb Db
Bbm7 Bb Db F Ab
Fm7 F Ab C Eb

Table of Dominant 7th chords

R M3 P5 m7

C7 C E G Bb
G7 G B D F
D7 D F# A C
A7 A C# E G
E7 E G# B D
B7 B D# F# A
Gb7 Gb Bb Db Fb
Db7 Db F Ab Cb
Ab7 Ab C Eb Gb
Eb7 Eb G Bb Db
Bb7 Bb D F Ab
F7 F A C Eb

Table of half dimished 7th (m7b5) chords

R m3 d5 m7

Cm7 C Eb Gb Bb
Gm7 G Bb Db F
Dm7 D F Ab C
Am7 A C Eb G
Em7 E G Bb D
Bm7 B D F A
Gbm7 Gb Bbb Dbb Fb
Dbm7 Db Fb Abb Cb
Abm7 Ab Cb Ebb Gb
Ebm7 Eb Gb Bbb Db
Bbm7 Bb Db Fb Ab
Fm7 F Ab Cb Eb

Table of dimished 7th chords

R m3 5 bm7 (o7)

Cm7 C Eb Gb Bbb
Gm7 G Bb Db Fb
Dm7 D F Ab Cb
Am7 A C Eb Gb
Em7 E G Bb Db
Bm7 B D F Ab
Gbm7 Gb Bbb Dbb Fbb
Dbm7 Db Fb Abb Cbb
Abm7 Ab Cb Ebb Gbb
Ebm7 Eb Gb Bbb Dbb
Bbm7 Bb Db Fb Abb
Fm7 F Ab Cb Ebb

Table of Augmented 7th chords

R M3 +5 m7

C7 C E G# Bb
G7 G B D# F
D7 D F# A# C
A7 A C# E# G
E7 E G# B# D
B7 B D# F## A
Gb7 Gb Bb D Fb
Db7 Db F A Cb
Ab7 Ab C E Gb
Eb7 Eb G B Db
Bb7 Bb D F# Ab
F7 F A C# Eb

There are many other chords but these are really just extensions (additional color tones) to the above chords (eg: 9th, 11th and 13th) or removing specified tones.


When you see a note displayed with a "bb" after it, that simple means play the flat (one semi-tone below) of the specified note. eg: Gbb = Gb - 1 semi-tone = F. Another way to read this would be to play a flatted G flat.

Table of Intervals:

First Number represents the number of semi-tones above the root note.

0 perfect unison
1 minor second
2 major second
3 minor third
4 major third
5 perfect fourth
6 augmented fourth/diminished fifth
7 perfect fifth
8 minor sixth
9 major sixth / dimished 7th
10 minor seventh
11 major seventh
12 perfect octave


#1028477 - 07/27/05 08:52 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
hgiles Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/05
Posts: 736
Loc: Charlottesville Virginia
Rodney, that's an awful lot of work! I hope someone can appreciate it.

#1028478 - 07/27/05 02:47 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
I'm on a roll here so I thought I'd just keep going with a discussion of filling in the melody and improvising over the chords described above.

Generally, melody improvisation is done by playing repeated rhythms/riffs using one of the scales (there are MANY scales) in the key of the song. It's almost impossible to provide a complete set of rules regarding what sounds good or bad. Generally the ear recognizes a melody by repetition so going completely free form will not necessarily sound good to everyone.

The following are considered to be notes to avoid, unless they are being used as passing tones. (i.e. Don't end a phrase/riff, or hold one of these tones for more than a beat.)

1) A 4th over any major chord (unless it is an 11th or sus 4)

2) A major 3rd on a minor chord

3) A minor 3rd (#9th) or minor 7th on a major 7th chord

4) A root note as a sustained note over a major 7th chord

5) A b9th on a major 7 or minor chord

6) A b6th on a major 7 or minor chord

7) A major 7th on a minor 7th or (dominant) 7th chord


Licks are short musical phrases used in jazz, blues and rock improvising. (Drummers often call Licks "Fills" as that is how they are used) Riffs, on the other hand, are usually licks or phrases that are repeated as part of a tune or improvised backings.

Andrew D. Gordon has a couple of GREAT books available full of keyboard Riffs in different styles to get you started.



#1028479 - 07/27/05 03:12 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
This thread wouldn't be complete without some discussion of Chord Progressions.

Suppose you want to experiment with some of the voicing techniques described above but don't know what chord progressions will sound good. The obvious answer is to open ANY non classical music book and simply use the chords laid out in your favorite pieces. What if you really want to make your OWN music?? There are some common chord progressions which you'll find in most theory books or you can experiment on creating your own.

Using standard roman numeral notation (scale degree), the following are a set of guidelines that will help ensure that your progressions will sound good in any major key:

(Often) - (Sometimes) - (Less Often) (revised 15-Aug-05)

I: (IV, V) - (vi) - (ii, iii)
ii: (V) - (IV, vi) - (I, iii, viio)
iii: (vi) - (IV) - (I, ii, V)
IV: (V) - (I, ii) - (iii, vi, viio)
V: (I) - (IV, vi) - (ii, iii)
vi: (ii, V) - (iii, IV) - (I)
viio: (I, iii) - () - ()


The first number represents the chord of the scale degree that you are playing, and to the right of it is the chords that can be moved to.

Upper case denotes a Major chord, lower case denotes a minor chord and "viio denotes the diminished of scale degree 7.

(Updated 18-Aug-05)

Here are some common chord progressions in various styles:

I IV - Basic
I bvii IV I - Classic Rock
I V - Folk
iim7 V7 I - Jazz
I VI7 II7 V7 - Ragtime
I vim7 iim7 V7 - Standard

Anybody want to list some progressions for the following styles?:



#1028480 - 08/02/05 10:57 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Here are a couple of more rules concerning when to play 6ths instead of 7ths:

A 6th is an alternative to the major 7th on chords I and IV. This usually occurs when either:

a) the 6th is the melody note,
b) when the root is the melody note (to avoid a semitone interval between melody note and 7th. Note: this semitone interval is fine when it is between inside parts of an inversion of a chord)


#1028481 - 08/02/05 03:21 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Bob Muir Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/01/03
Posts: 2653
Loc: Lakewood, WA, USA
Thanks Rodney! I appreciate the time you're taking to post.

#1028482 - 08/02/05 03:25 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
kidblast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/25/05
Posts: 258
Loc: Leominster Mass.
Rodney,, DUDE! That's a TON of thought, editing and writing,

well done

people should mark that post.

(been studying theory on gutiar for MANY years,, you wouldn't believe how many halfway decent players, DON'T get any of this, or the hows and whys.. if they did, they'd be WAY better!)

good job..

#1028483 - 08/03/05 09:32 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
markb Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/29/04
Posts: 2593
Loc: Maryland
Someone brought up comping on the non-classical thread, and I was about to ask for a more basic, step by step approach. Voila! Rodney to the rescue! I've printed out the Rodney Method and look forward to future Rodney lessons.

markb--The Count of Casio

#1028484 - 08/03/05 12:27 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Since I wrote about using scales to improvise melodies, I thought I'd expand on the concept of scales and hopefully give some insight as to which scales to use. You generally improvise using scale tones with the occaisional passing (non-scale) tone therefore it's important to decide on a scale before you start. Deciding on a scale has a lot to do with the type of music your trying create.

Some scale theory:

o Major Scale - 7 notes = most common diatonic scale. (Ionian mode) Common to all popular music.

o Natural Minor Scale - 7 notes = the same as the major scale, except the 6th degree is used as the tonic (Aeolian mode). Common to all popular music.

o Harmonic Minor Scale - 7 notes = a natural minor scale with the interval of a Major 7th (a 7th degree 1 semitone behind the tonic). Not often used.

o Melodic Minor Scale - 7 notes = a harmonic minor scale with the interval of a Major 6th. More common to Jazz, but also found in other popular music forms.

o Major Pentatonic Scale - 5 notes = build from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th degrees of a Major scale. Common to Country, folk, and rock and roll.

o Minor Pentatonic Scale - 5 notes = build from the 1st, b3rd, 4th, 5th, and b7th degrees of a Major scale. Common to Country, folk, and rock and roll.

o Blues Scale - 6 notes = a Minor Pentatonic scale with the flat 5th added. You can also look at this scale as the scale that uses the flat 3rd, flat 5th, and flat 7th to harmonize with a major chord or a 7th chord. Mostly used in Blues and Rock and Roll.

NOTE: (Updated 20-Mar-08)

While technically the Blues scale is 6 notes, it is seldom used this way. Blues licks (the foundation for all Blues music) will generally include the 2nd, 3rd and 6th notes as well for greater variety. You can think of an extended Blues scale as:

Root, 2nd, b3rd, 3rd, 4th, b5th, 5th, 6th, b7th

o Half-Step Whole-Step Diminished Scale - 8 notes = made up of alternating ? steps and whole steps. Mostly used in Jazz.

o Bebop Scales - 8 notes. Mostly used in Jazz & Bebop. There are 3 main bebop scales

o Major Bebop = a Major scale with the Augmented 5th (see below) added.

o Dominant Bebop = a Major scale with the flat 7th added

o Minor Bebop = the Dorian Mode (see below) of the Major scale with the Major 3rd added (see below)

o Half-Diminished Bebop = the Locrian Mode of the Major scale with the P5 added. Note: this equals a Dominant Bebop scale up an Augmented 5th\flat 6th.

o Whole Tone Scale - 6 notes = all separated by a whole step.

o Plus many, many more which are less popular or used exclusively by experimental composers or composers looking for exotic sounding scales.


Major scale Modes are special applications of the major scales where the same scale tones are played but with a different scale degree as the starting note. Each mode has a unique feel (invoked emotion) to it. Try playing a simple rhymthic motif using each of the modes to get a sense of how they change the emotional character of your tune.

1) Ionian - Happy (Major scale)
2) Dorian - Bluesy/Minor
3) Phrygian - Eerie/Minor
4) Lydian - Spacey/Happy
5) Mixolydian - Bluesy/Upbeat
6) Aeolian - Sad (Natural minor scale)
7) Locrian - Dissonant

Playing in different modes should not be confused with shifting keys (modulation). For example, a motif played in the key of G (with an F#) will sound different than the same motif played in the Mixolydian mode of the key of C (F natural). A perfect example of this can be found in Bach's 2 part invention #1 where the motif CDEFDEC (Ionian mode in key of C) in the first bar is altered to GABCABG (Mixolydian mode in key of C) and then modulated to GABCABF# (Ionian mode in key of G) in bar 7.

Hope this helps,


#1028485 - 08/06/05 04:00 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Kidblasts, post above had me thinking about guitar players (the campfire sing-along type and not the screaming rock guitarists who play in front of thousands of adoring fans). These people seem to have the ability to harmonize (create an accomaniment) just about any melody,....sooooo how do they do it???

Now that we've gone over forming melodies from scales if given a key and chord progression, the next topic is to go in reverse and harmonize a melody (decide on chordal accompaniment) to which we can apply our new found voicing techniques.

Here are the basic rules for harmonizing a major scale melody using cadence form (I, IV, V). Harmony is a really HUGE topic so I'm only going to cover this basic form in this post but this should get anyone started.

Melody Note on Scale Degree - Harmonized chord inverted so melody note is on top.

1, 3, 5 - I Chord or IM7
2 - ii Chord (minor) or iim7
2, 4, 5, 7 - V Chord or V7
1, 4, 6 - IV Chord or IVM7

for example:

In the key of D major (just because everyone uses C for examples and I have to be different) ;\)

If the melody note is:

D - harmonize with the D or G chord
E - Em, or A
F# - D
G - G or A
A - D or A
B - G
C# - A

As you can see there are several choices of which chord to choose in many cases, and of course these are simply the basic chords. You are free to add color tones (6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, etc) or alterations (b5, +5, etc) depending on the type/genre of music being played.

Don't forget that no matter what type of voicing you choose (open, close), use a chord inversion that ensures that the melody note is ALWAYS on top.


Most melodies will end with a cadence pattern (typically an authentic cadence V or V7 to I).

In many bars of your music, you will only need one harmony chord unless there is an obvious shift in tonal center. Non-chordal tones in the melody are simply treated as passing tones.

When more than one chord can be used to harmonize a melodic phrase, then simply let your ears be the judge as to which one to use.

When the melody is an arpeggiated chord then you have nothing to do since the chord has already been selected and you can choose to voice it in another manner or simply play the melody without any additional harmony. Polychord voicing would be the exception (stacking one chord on top of another) but this is really hard to get right.

For practice, I suggest that you use Bach Chorales, treating the Soprano (highest note) as the melody line. The melodies in these are extremely simple giving the opportunity to focus on the harmonizing exercise and not learning to play the melody correctly.


#1028486 - 08/09/05 02:06 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Eins Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 748
Loc: Utah
This thread is a keeper for sure.
I've only been together with a piano for four months now and am just about to finish a semester of harmony and composition (about to pass with an A but knowing nothing), but it lets me appreciate what you are compiling here. I'll save it for future use as I hope this will all make more sense to me not too far in the future.

Thank you!
One of the funny things about the stock market is that every time one person buys, another sells, and both think they are astute.
-William Feather

#1028487 - 08/09/05 02:26 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
This thread is quickly evolving from its original intent (chord voicing) into something much more broad, so I guess I'll just keep going until someone tells me to stop. \:\)

I'd like to expand a bit on forming melodies or improvising over a chord progression.

Creating a melody is much like writing an essay or short story. You begin by forming musical ideas using small phrases or motifs. (A phrase is a group of scale notes "plus the odd passing tone" being played together to form a musical "idea"). These phrases come in two forms:

1) Comma
2) Period

A comma phrase expresses a small musical idea but isn't complete or final while a period phrase ends a musical idea. Essentially any phrase that DOESN'T end with the root note is a comma while any that DOES end with the root note is a period. Ending on the root note has a finality about it that seems to close the musical idea. (Similar to the concept of a cadence where resolving back to the root chord seems to finalize a harmonic section.)


It really doesn't matter what note a phrase starts with; only which note it ends with. You can stack many comma phrases together and then finally end with a period phrase to create a melodic fragment (musical sentence/theme).

Give it a try!!! Phrasing (building musical sentances from comma and period phrases) is a lot of fun and a big part of composing melodic form music. Start small,... create a simple comma form motif and repeat it 2 or three times and then add a slightly modified version of the same motif that ends on the root note of the key you're working in. Expand on this by adding/replacing some of the comma phrases with others (remember to work within the same key). Once you've found a musical sentance you like, repeat it several times. Now create a new sentance and try playing them together, repeating one or the other as you feel like it. Add one or two more sentances and then harmonize the whole thing,.... You're well on your way to writing a song!!!

Obviously one sentence leads to another until a music section (verse, bridge, chorus, etc) is complete. These sections are then linked together using a musical form (I see another post ;\) ) with an introduction and ending to form a complete song.


The language center of the brain is very adept at interpreting concrete concepts from even simple sentences. The musical brain on the other hand is kind of slow, and often needs to hear a theme/sentence several times before it "gets-it". Generally musical ideas/sentences are ambiguous and need to be repeated several times before the musical brain will recognise it as a complete idea. In other words, don't be afraid to repeat your musical sentences several times within a section (but not too many times or your melody will be boring!!! This mistake can be seen in MANY POP compositions.)

Clearly this isn't the only way to create melody form music (melody with harmonic accompaniment) but it should be good enough to get most of us AB'er going.

As always, corrections and additions (or just about any thoughts) would be greatly appreciated,


#1028488 - 08/09/05 02:56 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
I wanted to be sure that there was no confusion as to where, how or why I'm writing these posts.

Please keep in mind while reading these posts that I am NOT a composer, improviser or even a good pianist (my son holds those titles within the family), but I am a music theory and piano playing method junkie. All of the ideas expressed in these posts are actually derived from material I've collected from MANY sources.

Writing this stuff down is as much for my benefit (to organize my thoughts and cement the ideas in my brain) as it is to share ideas that may potentially be useful to other (Beginner or otherwise) members of this forum.


#1028489 - 08/09/05 03:15 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Bob Muir Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/01/03
Posts: 2653
Loc: Lakewood, WA, USA
Oh yeah, you can learn a LOT from teaching others!

Thanks for the posts Rodney. In one of your posts, or perhaps a separate thread, could you cover this chord progression cycle of fifths I keep hearing about in jazz?

#1028490 - 08/09/05 05:34 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada

Not sure if I understand your specific question but I'll give it a shot.

I think what you're interested in is the "Diatonic Cycle" used to harmonize a scale which shouldn't be confused with the circle of fourths/fifths (circle of keys) althought they are both related.

The diatonic cycle of chords progresses through a major key in fourths (perfect fourths are used because they are the interval between the 3rd & 4th harmonic overtone which simply means that each tones strongly resolves to the next) until it returns to the tonic.

It is as follows:

I -> IV -> viio -> iii -> vi -> ii -> V -> I

or in the Jazz world

IM7 -> IVM7 -> viim7b5 -> iiim7 -> vim7 -> iim7 -> V7 -> IM7

This corresponds to the following order of modes:

1) Ionian
4) Lydian
7) Locrian
3) Phrygian
6) Aeolian
2) Dorian
5) Mixolydian

Since the diatonic cycle is the strongest order of resolution, it just makes sense that most common chord progrssions will be built from it. Take a close look at the last 3 chord movements and see if they don't look VERY familiar...(ii - V - I or iim7 - V7 - IM7) how about (IV - V -I) or (I - IV - I - V - I : it is a circle after all) or (vi - ii - V - I).

Now if you use secondary dominants and tri-tone substitution, you have a huge number of progressions that are guaranteed to just work. If you get bored with that, then you can always modulate to another key and start all over again.

(Updated 18-Aug-05)

For a minor key, the progression would be:

i -> iv -> VII -> III -> VI -> iio -> V -> i

I hope this helps,


#1028491 - 08/09/05 06:01 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Bob Muir Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/01/03
Posts: 2653
Loc: Lakewood, WA, USA
What I was talking about was what Haywood mentioned over in the non-classical forum best way to practice thread where he said:


I would probably practice like this:

C Am7 Dm7 G7 | Em7 A7b9 Dm7 G7,C7| F Dm7 Gm7 C7 | Am7 D7b9 Gm7 C7|...

this will get you all the way around the cycle without breaking the pattern.

A lot of II-V exercises you have to do in two sets, not this one.
Is that what you were talking about or is that a different thing?

#1028492 - 08/12/05 11:35 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Ok this isn't making any sense to me. \:\(

Have you tried PM Haywood? I'd be intersted in this as well.


#1028493 - 08/12/05 12:53 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
pianokeys1000 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/18/05
Posts: 83
Loc: Upstate NY
Great job on the all of your above posts! I too am a beginning jazz pianist (I've been taking lessons for about 2 years focusing on classical).

I printed out this thread and added it to my archives (I'm becoming a "junkie" for Jazz theory and practice techniques myself)

Anyway thanks!

#1028494 - 08/12/05 01:06 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Roy123 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/04
Posts: 1778
Loc: Massachusetts
Good stuff here. If anyone wants more advanced info, the "Jazz Piano Book" by Mark Levine is very good (best I've seen).

#1028495 - 08/16/05 10:00 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
wfred Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/27/05
Posts: 42
Loc: pocahontas AR
From Bob Muir 08/09:
"What I was talking about was what Haywood mentioned over in the non-classical forum best way to practice thread where he said:


I would probably practice like this:

C Am7 Dm7 G7 | Em7 A7b9 Dm7 G7,C7| F Dm7 Gm7 C7 | Am7 D7b9 Gm7 C7|...

this will get you all the way around the cycle without breaking the pattern.

A lot of II-V exercises you have to do in two sets, not this one.

Is that what you were talking about or is that a different thing? "

Any feedback on this post? Haywood, Rodney, or Bob--Help! This is tooo good a thread to die w/o resolution(lol! no pun intended!). Thanks Guys!

#1028496 - 08/16/05 11:48 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Basically Haywood was showing that you can walk the circle of keys by using any chord progression that begins on the I chord and ends on either the IV or V chord.

For example:

IMaj7 vim7 iim7 V7 progression

Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7
Gmaj7 Em7 Am7 D7
Dmaj7 Bm7 Em7 A7
Amaj7 F#m7 Bm7 E7
Emaj7 C#m7 F#m7 B7
Bmaj7 G#m7 C#m7 F#7
F#maj7 D#m7 G#m7 C#7
Dbmaj7 Bbm7 Ebm7 Ab7
Abmaj7 Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7
Ebmaj7 Cm7 Fm7 Bb7
Bbmaj7 Gm7 Cm7 F7
Fmaj7 Dm7 Gm7 C7

As you can see from the example above, you simply play the progression in one key and then modulate to the next key by altering the dominant chord (V7) to the Tonic (IMaj7).

Haywood's example looks strange because he is using common chord substitutions, alterations and extensions. (Yet another future post!)

The advantage of the above progression is that you can move smoothly from one key to the next all the way through the circle. This isn't the case with other progressions.

For example the common ii V I progression would require 2 groups of modulations to complete all the keys:

iim7 V7 IMaj7

Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7
Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7
G#m7 C#7 F#maj7
F#m7 B7 Emaj7
Em7 A7 Dmaj7

Am7 D7 Gmaj7
Gm7 C7 Fmaj7
Fm7 Bb7 Ebmaj7
Ebm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7
C#m7 F#7 Bmaj7
Bm7 E7 Amaj7

Or the vi ii V I progression (which requires 3 groups):

vim7 iim7 V7 IMaj7

Am7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Cm7 Fm7 Bb7 Ebmaj7
D#m7 G#m7 C#7 F#maj7
F#m7 Bm7 E7 Amaj7

Em7 Am7 D7 Gmaj7
Gm7 Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7
Bbm7 Ebm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7
C#m7 F#m7 B7 Emaj7

Bm7 Em7 A7 Dmaj7
Dm7 Gm7 C7 Fmaj7
Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7
G#m7 C#m7 F#7 Bmaj7

Using these chord progressions in all keys is a great way of getting the various voicing methods described in the first post under your fingers. Especially with close voicings, remember to use appropriate voice leading (ie. use inversions that require the least number of notes to change from one chord to the next).

(Updated 18-Aug-05)

Four note voicings for C might be:

Cmaj7: C-E-G-B
Am7: C-E-G-a
Dm7: C-E-f-A
G7: b-E-F-A

(lower case notes indicates changes from the previous chord.)

For a complete exercise, consider using the Diatonic Cycle as a progression in all keys:


I -> IV -> viio -> iii -> vi -> ii -> V


i -> iv -> VII -> III -> VI -> iio -> V


#1028497 - 08/16/05 06:32 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
wfred Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/27/05
Posts: 42
Loc: pocahontas AR
Thanks Rodney! Heads up to serious beginners--don't let this info fall on deaf ears!--it's your chance to progress a whole whole bunch real real fast!

#1028498 - 08/18/05 10:01 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Bob Muir Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/01/03
Posts: 2653
Loc: Lakewood, WA, USA
My ears aren't deaf, my grey cells are just a tad slow. \:o But I'm going to go over the thread again until that last post makes more sense and I can actually put this to use. \:\)

#1028499 - 08/18/05 11:45 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
syzygy Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/12/05
Posts: 4
Loc: Charlottesville va
One can write a book about improvising but in my opinion (Jazz trumpet for years and a beginner on piano and fighting all the way - LOL)But when starting to improvise -

"Just play the changes" - i. e. play the notes indicated by the chord you are basing your improvisation on and play away - play your passing tones rapidly and hang on to the ones that sound good. Play in quarters to start and quickly go to eighths - play play play - then play again.

The above isn`t couched in formal theory terms but that`s the way many jazz players started and obviously unless it is based upon written tune changes play your circle or whatever as your change.

If you are having trouble getting an improv melody down - don`t wory about bridges etc -you are playing choruses in a jazz setting anyway - One good way is to make up a few idiot lyrics - doesn`t matter - "I like eggs for breakfast" or "I hate piano" is OK and then as you improvise use these idiot lyrics to keep you on track and compose a short melody as you sing `em.. Four bars is OK to start.

Memorizing short standard jazz phrases is OK but don`t get married to them or you will sound like a guy doing technical exercises over changes rather than "making music".

Just my short way of talking about beginning improvisation - Jamey Aebersold taught me and that`s the way we started.

Learning piano is a real b. - but I love a challenge - and this board altho a newbie..

PS don`t forget my tag.
Appropriate silences help create beautiful music.

#1028500 - 08/18/05 03:51 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Chord Substitution

You have probably heard the term chord substitution many times and have wondered how to know which chords to substitute with what and when. Generally we can we say that two chords with many notes in common may substitute each other. This can be done for a number of reasons including: change of musical character, direction, modulation, etc.

For example, it is very common to substitute a major chord for a minor chord that has two common tones: CMaj can be substituted with Em (E & G are common) or Am (C & E are common).

Another type of substitution is called "Tri-Tone" because it involves playing a dominant 7th chord exactly 3 (tri) tones below/above the original dominant 7th chord.

For example:

In the key of C, the iim7 V7 IMaj7 progression would be

Dm7 G7 CMaj7

but we can use tri-tone substitution to replace the original dominant chord (V7) G7 with Db7/C#7 (Db is exactly 3 whole tones below G and C# is exactly 3 whole tones above G "remember that C# and Db are essentially the same thing"). Our new progression is now:

Dm7 Db7 CMaj7


Notice how we our progression is simply moving down in half steps towards the tonic (D Db C) instead of up in fourths!!! This results in smooth voice leading.

So why can Db7 be a valid replacement for G7? The chords are interchangeable because the tritone interval pitches are identical in each (G is a tritone above Db and G is a tritone below Db).

Here is a list of the possible Tri-tone substitutions:

A7 <-> Eb7
B7 <-> F7
C7 <-> Gb7
D7 <-> Ab7
E7 <-> Bb7
G7 <-> Db7

There are many other types of substitution (huge topic).


#1028501 - 08/18/05 10:25 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
ignorant kid Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/03
Posts: 333
Loc: Poquoson, Virginia
Thanks, Rodney for all of your well though-out posts. It's a whole lot of material worthy of a lot of attention.

#1028502 - 08/19/05 11:09 AM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 740
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
It has occured to me that I've been using terms like "Tonic" and "Dominant" without actually explaining what they mean.

Both the Major and minor scales are made up of 7 notes, and returning on the 8th to the first note of the scale. Each note is a "degree" of the scale and we've used Roman numerals to represent chords whose root notes begin on those scale degrees. The roman numeral scheme is just a short form for the proper name of the scale degrees which are:

I Tonic
II Supertonic
III Mediant
IV Subdominant
V Dominant
VI Submediant or Superdominant
VII Leading tone

Notice that all of the roman numerals above are in upper-case. This is because we are only talking about scale degrees and not the actual chords. I have been using the mixed case roman numerals as a short form to indicate if a chord of a given scale degree is major or minor.

The proper names of the scale degrees are often used to describe the chords as well. For example, you may see the following perfect cadance:


or see it described as

Dominant to Tonic

Both translate to the following:

Play a chord whose root note begins with the dominant scale (degree) tone and then play the chord whose root note begins with the tonic scale (degree) tone.

The scale degrees for the C scale are as follows:

C - I - Tonic
D - II - Supertonic
E - III - Mediant
F - IV - Subdominant
G - V - Dominant
A - VI - Submediant or Superdominant
B - VII - Leading tone

But the actual chords (for the C Major scale) are expressed as:

C - I - Tonic chord
Dm - ii - Supertonic chord
Em - iii - Mediant chord
F - IV - Subdominant chord
G - V - Dominant chord
Am - vi - Submediant or Superdominant chord
Bdim - viio - Leading tone chord

As you can see, the (upper and lower case) Roman numeral scheme makes the most sense when talking about the chords of a scale, but you should know the proper names of the scale degrees from which those chords are derived as this terminology is very common.

Just to be clear, hear are the scale degrees of the D scale:

D - I - Tonic
E - II - Supertonic
F# - III - Mediant
G - IV - Subdominant
A - V - Dominant
B - VI - Submediant or Superdominant
C# - VII - Leading tone

But the actual chords for the D Major scale are expressed as:

D - I - Tonic chord
Em - ii - Supertonic chord
F#m - iii - Mediant chord
G - IV - Subdominant chord
A - V - Dominant chord
Bm - vi - Submediant or Superdominant chord
C#dim - viio - Leading tone chord

One last note to clarify terminology. When we talk about a scale like the C scale, we can also say: the scale in the "key" of C.


#1028503 - 08/19/05 03:39 PM Re: Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)
hgiles Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/05
Posts: 736
Loc: Charlottesville Virginia
Wow, Rodney, you should write a book on the subject! This is a crash course!

Your efforts are appreciated.

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