You Don’t Need That Many Chord Voicings, It’s How You Use Them

In this lesson I will take a look at 4 very common chord voicings and expand on them in several ways to demonstrate how flexible they are and how much you can get out of them!

Most Jazz guitarists are trying to constantly expand their chord vocabulary and learn new chord voicings. Of course it is important to have a lot of options, but it can be an even better idea to sit down and go over what you can actually do with what you already know. 

The basic chord voicings

In the lesson I will take 4 very common chord voicings that I expect you already know and then approach using them in a few different ways so that we can really open up what we get from them while relying on what we already know.

To keep it simple I have taken a turnaround in the key of C major and will use this progression throughout the lesson as a progression.

The 4 chord voicings in their basic form is shown here below both as tab and diagrams

Loose the root and gain another voice!

The first thing to do is of course to convert them into rootless voicings which should also give us some more options because we then can play something else with that finger.  This is shown below again both in tabs and diagrams.

Using the smaller rootless voicings for great melodies

Now that we have some  smaller more flexible voicings we can start making more varied melodies with the top notes of the chords.

The options we have available by just changing the top note to another note on the same string gives us these possibilities for top note melodies on the turnaround:

With these variations we can make the following comping example:

The Expanded set of top note choices

The next step could be to start using top notes not only on the same string (which is the B string in this example) but also on the next string.

If we extend the top notes by adding the ones on the high E string we have these options:

And this could be turned into this example:

Thinking in layers of harmony

With all these options it is possible to make a lot of different melodies, but everything is still played as a complete chord all the time. One way of breaking this up is to split the chord in a melody and a chord part. This is in many ways what we already did in the previous examples, but only in the way that we thought about the melody. 

Now we can also try to use that when playing the chords so that sometimes the chord is played alone, sometimes with the melody and other times just the melody.

An example might be like this: 

They are also arpeggios!

Taking the layer concept a bit further would be to start using the chords completelyas single notes and arpeggios. An example of this is shown here below:

Putting all the ideas together

The best way to finally use this is to take all the different approaches and mix them up and make use of all the things combined in your comping (or soloing) An example of this might be something like this:

I hope you can use some of these ideas to re-invent and expand what you can do with your chord voicings. I often find that it can be a great idea to take a step back and lock at what you can make of what you already know instead of starting to explore something completely new.


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You don’t need that many chord voicings, it’s how you use them

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