Introduction to voicings

Recall, that we defined a chord as 3 or more (distinct) notes and their octaves.

Recall, that we've previously looked at the following chords:
major = 1,3,5
minor = 1,b3,5
5 = 1,5,8(1)

This lesson will be taking an introductory look at voicings. I've previously given more extensive lessons on voicings. They can be found at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/archive.html

Recall, that we've been learning various things about chords and the fretboard by looking at open major chords (E,D,C,A,G). We will continue to do so, but our discussion could extend to other chords as well.

Let's start by saying that a voicing is the particular way a chord is played. Specifically, it is a specific arranging of the intervals of the chord.

Often when we learn a particular chord starting out, we think that the chord has only one way of playing it. Some people become confused when they see a second way of playing a chord. we should just understand that there are many ways a chord can be played, and try to develop some context to fit new versions into our vocabulary of chords.

Todays voicings will come from the shapes we've been studying, but there are other ways to come up with voicings.

Let's look at "E-shape" chords (root note, on 6th, 4th, and 1rst strings), open and moveable positions.

Starting with open E major (E = 022100)

O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |-O-|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|

We need to know which notes we can omit, and which ones we need, so it is better to understand what intervals those dots are.

E major

1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |-3-|---|---|
 |---|-1-|---|
 |---|-5-|---|
1|---|---|---|

If we want to play the type of chord in question, we need at least one of each note. looking at the E major chord above, we should play the 3rd string since it is the only 3 in the chord shape. we have choices for the 1 and 5 ( and can play as many of them as we choose).

Here are some voicings in TAB of the open E major chord (if you know which note is the root, then you can make moveable shapes out of these).

|--0-0-0-0-------0----|
|--0-0-0-0-0---0------|
|--1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1--|
|--2-2-2---2-2--------|
|--2-2-------2---2-2--|
|--0-----------0---0--|

Looking at Em (Em=022000)

O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|

E minor

 1|---|---|---|
 5|---|---|---|
b3|---|---|---|
  |---|-1-|---|
  |---|-5-|---|
 1|---|---|---|

|--0-0-0-0-------0----|
|--0-0-0-0-0---0------|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--|
|--2-2-2---2-2--------|
|--2-2-------2---2-2--|
|--0-----------0---0--|

and also E5 (E5=022X00)

O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|

E minor

1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|
 |---|-1-|---|
 |---|-5-|---|
1|---|---|---|

|--0-0-0-0-------0------|
|--0-0-0-0-0---0--------|
|-----------------------|
|--2-2-2---2-2-------2--|
|--2-2-------2---2-2-2--|
|--0-----------0---0-0--|

Switching to "D-shape" chords (root notes on the 4th and 2nd strings).

D major (D = 200232)

 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|


 |---|-3-|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|-5-|---|
5|---|---|---|
1|---|---|---|
 |---|-3-|---|

Here we have options on all notes (1,3,5). So to fully play the chord, there is no specific string that must be played regardless of voicing.


|--2-2-2-2-2-2--------|
|--3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3----|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--|
|----0-0-0-0-----0-0--|
|------0-0------------|
|--------2-2-2-2-2-2--|

D minor (Dm = 100231)

 |-O-|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |-O-|---|---|


 |b3-|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|-5-|---|
5|---|---|---|
1|---|---|---|
 |b3-|---|---|


|--1-1-1-1-1-1--------|
|--3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3----|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--|
|----0-0-0-0-----0-0--|
|------0-0------------|
|--------1-1-1-1-1-1--|

D5 (D5 = X0023X)

X|---|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
X|---|---|---|


 |---|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|-5-|---|
5|---|---|---|
1|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|


|------------------|
|--3-3-------3-3---|
|--2-2-2---2-2-----|
|--0-0-0-0-O-------|
|----0-0-O-----O---|
|------------------|

Looking at "C-shape" chords (root notes on 5th and 2nd strings).

C major (C = 032010) (C = 332013)

O|---|---|-O-|
 |-O-|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|-O-|


3|---|---|-5-|
 |-1-|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |---|-3-|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
3|---|---|-5-|


|--3---3-3-------0-0---0-0--------|
|--1-1-1-1-1-----1-1-1-1-1-----1--|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0---0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2---2---2--|
|--3-3-3---3-3-3-3-3-3-----3-3----|
|--3-3-----3-3-3-0-----------0----|

C minor (Cm = 331013)

 |---|---|-O-|
 |-O-|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |-O-|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|---|-O-|


 |---|---|-5-|
 |-1-|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |b3-|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|---|-5-|

|--3---3-3-------------3--|
|--1-1-1-1-1-------1-1-1--|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0---0-0------|
|--1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1--|
|--3-3-3---3-3-3-3--------|
|--3-3-------3-3-----3----|

C5 (C5 = 33X013)

 |---|---|-O-|
 |-O-|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
X|---|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|---|-O-|


 |---|---|-5-|
 |-1-|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|---|-5-|


|--3---3-3-------------3--|
|--1-1-1-1-1-------1-1-1--|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0---0-0------|
|-------------------------|
|--3-3-3---3-3-3-3--------|
|--3-3-------3-3-----3----|

Looking at "A-shape" chords. (Root note on 5th and 3rd strings).

A major (A = 002220)


O|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|


5|---|---|---|
 |---|-3-|---|
 |---|-1-|---|
 |---|-5-|---|
1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|


|--0-0---0---0------|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2------|
|--2-2-2-2-2---2----|
|--0-0-0-------0-0--|
|--0-------------0--|

A minor (Am = 002210)

O|---|---|---|
 |-O-|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|


5|---|---|---|
 |b3-|---|---|
 |---|-1-|---|
 |---|-5-|---|
1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|


|--0-0---0---0------|
|--1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1--|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2------|
|--2-2-2-2-2---2----|
|--0-0-0-------0-0--|
|--0-------------0--|

A5 (A5 = 0022X0)

O|---|---|---|
X|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|


5|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|
 |---|-1-|---|
 |---|-5-|---|
1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|


|--0-0---0---0------|
|-------------------|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2------|
|--2-2-2-2-2---2----|
|--0-0-0-------0-0--|
|--0-------------0--|

And the "G-shape" chords. (Root note on 6th, 3rd, and 1rst strings)

G major (G = 320003)

 |---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
 |---|-O-|---|
 |---|---|-O-|


 |---|---|-1-|
3|---|---|-5-|
1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |---|-3-|---|
 |---|---|-1-|


|--3-------3-------3--|
|--3-3-----0-0-0-0-0--|
|--0-0-0---0-0-0-0-0--|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--|
|--2-2-2-2-2-2-2------|
|--3-----3-3-3--------|

G minor (Gm = 310333)

 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|---|
 |-O-|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|


 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|---|-5-|
1|---|---|b3-|
5|---|---|---|
 |b3-|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|


|--3-------3-------3--|
|--3-3-----3-3-3-3-3--|
|--0-0-0---3-3-3-3-3--|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--|
|--1-1-1-1-1-1-1------|
|--3---3-3-3-3--------|

G5 (G5 = 3X0033)

 |---|---|-O-|
 |---|---|-O-|
O|---|---|---|
O|---|---|---|
X|---|---|---|
 |---|---|-O-|


 |---|---|-1-|
 |---|---|-5-|
1|---|---|---|
5|---|---|---|
 |---|---|---|
 |---|---|-1-|


|--3-------3---3--|
|--3-3-----3-3-3--|
|--0-0-0----------|
|--0-0-0-0-0-0-0--|
|-----------------|
|--3---3-3-3-3----|

So that's a smattering of voicings for the major, minor and 5 chords.

It should be noted that the groups of voicings come from the same shape. Sometimes voicings are played by altering the strumming or picking while playing a larger chord.

The general idea that should be gleaned from this lesson is that, given a chord (even a chord in a specific shape), there are a great variety of possible voicings. If one doesn't suit the occassion maybe another will. Also given a moveable chord ( a barre chord), it's not neccesary to play every string ( or require a barre). You can play up the neck with voicings that are fewer than 5 or 6 strings.

Next lesson is an intro to arpeggios.

Peace,
Christopher Roberts


How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated March 7, 2002.
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