chord theory part
4 we looked at extended chords which
brought us nicely to the end of the core elements of chord construction.
Now it's time to focus on how to construct alternate voicings
of those same chords,
using your chord and fretboard knowledge. This will allow you to
experiment with a wider choice
of chord harmonies, giving you options outside the same old
open chord forms.
A voicing is a particular
expression of a given chord, based on the order in which the tones are
stacked. For example, playing E major in the open position is one
voicing. Playing E major using an A form barre chord at the 7th fret is
another voicing of that same chord. Both offer different expressions of
the same chord.
Think of it like repeating something you
have just said, but using different words. The meaning is the
same, but the expression
Each chord voicing is
unique because of the order of tones from the low to high strings in
the chord shape (e.g. R
3 5 vs R 5 3).
Knowing several voicings of the same chord gives you several options
when writing a chord progression. Instead of relying on one chord
position, and therefore one voicing,
you'll notice that connecting certain alternate chord voicings in
different positions creates
more meaningful, intricate harmonies through the progression.
So, quite difficult to explain! The best way to understand is to play
and hear it, so let's get to it...
13th chord voicings
4 we looked at dominant 13th chords and how they consisted of the root,
5th, minor 7th
(b7), 9th and 13th.
So they are very full sounding
chords as they stack up more than four notes.
Below are a some ways
you could play this 13th chord. The key thing is to play one after the
other and hear the difference...
You don't have to include the 5th as it's a neutral tone and the
overall chord flavour won't be lost without it. In fact, you don't have
to include the root either, especially if the bass player has it
Now a different voicing of the same chord using the same root
Although the same chord, both forms offer
expressions of the same chord because the order of tones is different
(from low to high: 1 5 b7 3 6 2 vs 1 b7 2 3 6)
Now, comparing the two, the only
voiced 2 (9th) in the
second chord form.
But it gives it a different sound
actually prefer that lower sounding 9th, but this is where your
creative side comes in - what do you want to hear?
What sounds best as part of the chord progression you're
does the voicing connect to the previous and next chords in the
Here's another 13th chord
voicing (without the 5th), this time in the A string position (A string
So again, same chord as the two before, but notice how the major 3rd is the second
lowest note in this voicing, whereas in the other two it was voiced
This is enough to change its sound. It's subtle, but your ear will
gradually become more sensitive to these differences.
Aside from the difference in sound, knowing several voicings for the
same chord means you have several positions you can play that chord on
the fretboard. This in turn means more economical finger movements - no
more jumping from one end of the fretboard to the other!
Back in part
3 we looked at 7th chords - four note
and the first extensions of the basic major/minor triads.
If you followed that lesson,
you'll know that a major
chord includes all the chord tones stacked up
to the major 7th - Root, 3rd, 5th
So, let's look at a couple of
different voicings for this chord...
Standard E string root voicing there. But
if you wanted a higher voicing, there is the
option to build the chord on a D string root...
A very conveniently stepped
pattern there - easy to memorise.
and 7th are
higher in the second voicing.
So, same chord, two very
different voicings, and only you know which one
will fit best in your song/chord progression.
Minor 'added 9th'
We looked at "add" chords in part
Basically, the number referenced in the chord name is
the highest tone used in the chord. But because
there is no 7th
in the chord, it
becomes an add chord. To summarise:
= Minor 9th chord (e.g. Cm9, Dm9, Em9)
= Minor added
9th chord - no 7th (e.g. Cmadd9, Dmadd9, Emadd9)
Let's look at a couple of
voicings of this madd9 chord...
It's a bit awkward to get that
added 9th in for those of us with smaller hands/fingers, so let's try a
descending form on the same root position as an
in the second voicing.
in the second voicing (the b3
is what makes it minor).
Easier to finger - here we see another benefit
of learning multiple chord voicings. Some are physically easier to play
sharpen the b3
to a major 3rd
and you get a nice voicing for the major
added 9th chord (e.g.
Cadd9). Always be thinking about how sharpening/flattening tones will
alter the chord.
We could also get a higher voicing of this chord by referring to a D
string bass/root note...
So if you took all three voicings and made sure the root note was the
for each one (e.g. D), you'd technically be playing the same chord (and
they'd all be compatible with each other), yet
they sound different. That's the beauty of chord voicing!
Building your own chord voicings
Use this process to find alternate chord voicings...
Play the chord in a position/form you know
(e.g. open position, barre chord etc.).
Identify the root note of the chord.
Find that same root note on the E, A and D strings, giving you three
Use your knowledge of the major
scale's patterns on those root strings to build the same
chord in different positions on those bass root notes.
Add/remove notes, sharpen/flatten notes and
just have fun discovering new chords.
Want to cheat?
Use this free Chord Finder.
Click on the note on which your chord's root lies, and then the type of
want to build (e.g. "maj9") and then click "variations" to see
where it can be played.
However, don't just learn it parrot fashion! Try and test your
knowledge and see if you can find the variations without any help
before you get the answers.
As time goes on, you'll discover more interesting and unusual chords.
For example, what on earth is
this jazzy-bluesy chord (you can always trust jazz to
throw up unusual chords)?
It's probably not what you thought - Ebaug7#9
(that's E flat augmented 7th sharp 9th) - what a mouthful! A
big stretch for the fingers as well, so more accessible higher up the
fretboard where the fret spacings are narrower.
Let's just try to deconstruct
this to understand it more...
Root note is on Eb
(A string, 6th fret).
The sharp 9th (or sharp
2nd) is actually
in the same position as the minor 3rd would be, but because the chord
consists of the root, 3rd and #5 (and augmented triad), the minor 3rd
takes on the role of an extension
tone - the sharp 9th. The b7 is also
an extension of the augmented triad as we learned in an earlier part.
In other words, identify the most likely triad first
followed by any extensions.
You should now
be fairly confident about finding alternate chord voicings
up and down the fretboard. Soon, if you really get to know the major
scale patterns you'll be able to experiment like this without referring
to a scale diagram.
You'll just see intervals in relation to a root note, whether it be a
b3, #9 or b6.
You'll eventually know where
the "6th/13th" lies in relation to the "5th" on more than one string.