Tag Archives: voice leading

Voice Leading – Breaking a Few Rules

Voice leading is the method you use to create smooth transitions between chords. Often it is described with voice-leading rules that determine how we move specific notes in a chord move to specific note in the next jazz chord. In this video I will explain voice-leading quickly and then give some examples of how you can actually be very creative and create some interesting sounds and new chord voicings by using voice-leading.

The lesson also illustrates how you can create some great progressions by breaking some of the rules. There is no reason to be tied down and not be creative

Jazz Harmony quickly becomes a science and research, but it is better to be a little free and also just try out the opposite of what is expected once in a while. In the end it is not about music theory but about what sounds good. 

Basic Voice Leading 

The most basic voice-leading rules in jazz are probably the movement of the core chord tones. In general voice-leading is about taking the closest route to a note in the next chord.

Below in the example I have Shell voicings for a II V I in C major.

Notice how the 7th(C) of Dm moves to the 3rd(B) of G7 and stays there as the 7th of Cmaj7.

The same goes for the 3rd(F) of Dm, stays to become the 7th of G7 and then resolves to the 3rd(E) of Cmaj7.

In this case the chords are moving in a smooth way from one to the next and in all changes one note stays while the other descends.

Opposite Voice-leading from II to V

In the example below I am voice-leading the 7th of Dm7 in the opposite direction, namely up to Db.

This means that the Dm7(11) chord is moving to a G7(b9b5) with no 3rd. The 5th of Dm7 naturally moves to the b9 (Ab) of G7. The G7 resolves to the C6/9 quartal voicing.

Against the rules on V I

In example 3 I have written out a II V I that resolves the 7th(F) of G upwards to a #11(F#) on Cmaj7.

The transition from Dm7 to G7 is pretty straight forward with G(11) moving to Ab(b9), E(3rd) and C(7th) lead to Eb(b13) and B(3rd). The F remains.

When the G7(b9b13) resolves to Cmaj7 it is moving the F up to F#, B stays and Eb resolves to the 3rd(E). The b9 is also surprisingly resolving up to an A that in this case is a 13th on the Cmaj7.

Suspensions and Surprises

An advantage of starting to explore thinking of the individual voices is that it can free up how we think of chords as vertical blocks that can’t be changed.

This example is showing how you can use voice-leading to create some interesting suspensions in your playing and blur the lines between the chords.

The basic II V in this example is pretty straight forward with a bit of contrary movement in the top-voices. The G7(b9b13) is resolved to Cmaj7(9) also in the way you would expect, but the b9 is left hanging. This creates a suspension of the b9 and gives us a #5 sound on the Cmaj7 that is then resolved down to the 5 on the 3rd beat. 

Not Getting Stuck in Drop2 

Often when you think in voice-leading it keeps you in one type of voicing, so “strict” voice-leading will take a triad to another triad or a drop2 voicing to a drop2 voicing. 

But once you start going in other directions you open for getting other results. In the example here below I am voice-leading the Drop2 Dm7(9) into a G7(b5b13) and then back to a Cmaj7.

Voice-Leading for new Voicings

Thinking in moving voices is also a great way to come up with completely new voicings. In the example below I am creating a G7(b9b5) voicing that I actually didn’t know before preparing this lesson. 

The voicing is a little tricky to play but really sounds great and resolves perfectly to the C6/9.

More Drop 2 voicings in Action!

Of course if you want to dig a little deeper into using Drop2 Chords in comping then check out this lesson on using Drop2 voicings and adding Chromatic Passing Chords:

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Modern 3 note voicings and voice leading – How to find new voicings

In this video I am going to explore the type of modern jazz chords that you can hear players like Lage Lund, Gilad Hekselman and Nelson Veras use. These compact 3 note voicings are very practical but also very beautiful. 

This lesson will give you some insight in this type of voicings and also a look at how I work with new types of jazz chords and use one voicing to find more options and get the most out of and example.

High register incomplete 3 note voicings

To demonstrate the type of voicings I will first go over a few examples of cadences to demonstrate the sound of these chord types.

In the first example here below you see a Dm7 voicing that consists of the notes E, F and G. Since these are hard to play next to each other the E is placed an octave higher.  As you can see there is no 7th(C) in the chord, so even though it is used as a Dm7 it is not a complete 7th chord.

The G7 chord is  a G7b5. This chord is complete with F,B and a Db. The Cmaj7 is an Esus4 triad so in fact it is an C6/9.

The 2nd example is using a complete Dm7 voicing. The chord consists of E, F and C (low to high) so it is a DM7 with and added 9.

The G7 is a G7b13 which low to high is Eb, F and B. 

On the Cmaj7 the voicing is again a C6: E, G and A. As you can see from this and the previous example I will use the Cmaj7 term quite loosely to mean anything that is a C tonic chord in a C major cadence, whether it is a C6 or a Cmaj7.

Finding other Diatonic voicings

In the next part of the lesson I will focuse on the first Dm voicing in example 1.

All voicings are of course diatonic to some scale, and since we are using it on a Dm7 in a cadence in the key of C major then the C major scale seems a good place to start.

Here in eample 3 and 4 I have written out the voicing taken through the C major scale on first the top and then the middle string set:

Extracting some more Dm7 chord options

The voicings that are the most obvious choices for a Dm7 are the ones that have an F in them.

SInce there are three notes in each chord we have three options. For the two that I didn’t already have an example. The first one is shown below in example 5 and the other one you can see in example 10 a bit further in the lesson.

Other ways of making variations of these voicings

Probably the biggest advantage to three note voicings is that they only have 3 notes and therefor are flexible and it is quite possible to add inner-voice movement and change other notes in the chords.

Two examples of this is shown here below in examples 6 and 7.


Other scales: Using the voicing in Melodic minor.

Another option is to look for other scales where you can find the voicing. For this lesson I will use the G altered scale/ Ab melodic minor scale as an example. In general it can be a good idea to also think about pentatonic, harmonic minor, diminised and other options that might be possible.

Below in example 8 I have written out two examples of where the voicing could be placed in Ab melodic minor.

Examples of using these two G7alt voicings are shown in the examples 9 and 10 here below.

In the context of a cadence we can be quite liberal with what is in the chord in terms of having a complete harmonic sound with 3rd and 7th, Because the chord for the rest will contain alterations that are not found int the scale then it is easier to get away with in complete versions. The 2nd G7(b9#9) is a good example of this.

Diatonic voicings in Ab melodic minor

Similar to what I did with the Dm7 voicing we can also explore the options that are found by moving the chord through Ab melodic minor. This is shown in the example here below:


As I mentioned in the previous paragraph here will be a lot of voicings that will work as G7alt voicings in the context of a cadence because the voicings for the biggest part consist of altereations. 

Of the examples that work I have made cadences for three of them: 


I hope you can find some useful voicings and that you get some ideas on how to generate more material with the voicings you already know from this lesson. The idea of using a scale as a back drop for generating more voicings that we can then try to put to use is always a great way to explore the chords and since we are using the rest of the information that is surrounding the chord (ie. the scale) it will mostly give you some useful jazz chord ideas.


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Get the PDF!

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Modern 3 note voicings and voice leading

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Instagram,Twitter Google+ or Facebook to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.