Why do chord voicings matter?

When I refer to ‘voicings’ on my site I’m not talking about singing, but the way you choose to play the chords in a song.

It can make all the difference to a song’s feel what version or inversion of a chord you use. Getting the right mix of notes with additional notes (ie the numbers after the chord’s key) can strengthen the lyric or make its nuance come out very differently.

Try this (with thanks to Leonard Bernstein)…

Play a straight major chord like an A on the guitar or C on the piano and say the words ‘John loves Jane’.

It sounds like you’re saying ‘John loves Jane and everything is straightforward with their relationship’.

Now do the same with a minor version of the chord, and there’s definitely something not going well with with John and Jane.

Try a Major 7th and it feels like John and Jane are besotted.

Try a diminished 7th (normally called A7 for guitarists) and it feels like you’re about to hear more about John and Jane as it’s not as straightforward as it might at first seem.

Try a minor 6th and there is good reason to question the relationship… or a diminished chord will let you know it’s really going wrong with John and Jane (personally I suspect John’s fidelity…)

In general the voicing is telling you something more about the story even though the words remain the same.

Or if you say the same thing with bigger chords stretching across a keyboard (not 3 notes near each other) you start to open up the size of the story… you’ve gone widescreen.

In general the scale of the chords and the choice of their extra notes alongside the 1st and 5th all start to build your story.

That’s why a big open chord on a guitar like when you move a shape up the neck but leave bottom and top strings ringing will often inspire a different lyric – because you’ve set the tone for a different feel of song. Matching these voicings to the lyric can add to its intensity for the listener and if you get it right you have created impact without having to add more instruments or strum louder!

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