Fretboard Harmony 2
By Peter Altmeier-Mort
The Voicing of Chords
Voicing – from “voice,” a technical term meaning an individual part of ‘strand’ within a composition. The word is used in discussing instrumental music because writing for instruments originally imitated similar writing for human voices.
For now the notes of a triad may be terms as follows:
In harmony, “voicing” refers to the notes of a triad and the way in which its 3 essential notes can be rearranged at different pitches on the staff (and therefore on the instrument). It is the various combinations of distances (intervals) that can be set up between the notes of a triad that become the subject of the voicing of chords. This practice gives a chord and its harmony either an “open” (wide spread) or “close” (compact, dense) sound, depending how the writing of a chord is treated.
Play and compare the sound of these voicings of some of the chords from the C major key.
So in these examples, the middle voice of each basic triad has been relocated an octave higher to create the open voicing version of the chord. The basic triad with its root, 3rd and 5th notes appearing in this strict succession is actually in close voicing.
A chord is said to be inverted when its lowest note is Not the root note. This manipulation of the harmony of a triad opens up further voicing possibilities for any given chord. Any of the three essential notes of a triad can be written as the lowest note in a writing of the chord.
The inversions of the C major triad in close voicing:
Again, to create the open voicings of these inversions, place the middle voice of each up an octave higher
- Write out, in close voicing, the chords of G major, A minor, D minor and B diminished, each with its accompanying 1st and 2nd inversion form.
- Rewrite all of these in open voicing.
- Play through the following progression of chords and then state under each one, its name, its inversion, its voicing (open or close). (see example one)
To add more interest to this progression, now play through it using this right hand arpeggio pat- tern. (see example two.)
Taking a 2/4 time signature, and giving each chord one bar in the above voicings, another musical variation could assume this form. (see example three.)
It should be noted that the chord progression examples with its mixture of close and open voicings and inversions, definitely takes on a feeling of harmonic movement. One should play the progression a few times listening each time to the movement of just one particular voice – the bass voice first, then the middle voice and then the treble. This latter part will appear as a melody and is the easiest voice to hear amongst the notes of the chords because it is positioned on the top of the harmony. This progression could be treated in many ways, the two given examples being simple but effective ways to show how a composer might expand the harmony and voicings.
The main point is to become familiar with the chords of a key, both in theory and on the fingerboard. It is sufficient to finger these anywhere between the 1st and 5th positions of the guitar for now, and there are not really many alternatives to the fingering of these chords within this range. Using open voicings and inversions with the C major scale chords will take the left hand fingerings much higher up the guitar neck if one follows through with a particular voicing for an entire octave. This type of movement occurs rarely in classical guitar repertoire (Turina’s Fandanguillo is a good example of its use though) so extended practice of it is of doubtful use, but it certainly has value for the ear and left hand technique in changing chords legato style. Knowing how voicings/inversions work together and being able to identify them on guitar and the effect they create is important. If your technique or note readings is limited beyond the 5th position, do not sweat over the following voicings of the chords in the C major key. Play what you can, and listen to the character of the different inversions.