Good chord voice leading on guitar, especially fingerstyle guitar, can elevate your playing to the next level and set you apart from other guitarists. While the idea of voice leading may seem daunting, or perhaps you don't even know what voice leading is, don't worry! Today on Fingerstyle For The World, my lesson series that strives to help guitarists around the world become better musicians, I will break down some simple steps that will enable you to apply good voice leading in your own guitar playing immediately.
Before You Begin:
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Musical Concept: What is Voice Leading?
In a traditional Western choir you'd normally find four individual parts or voices: the soprano, alto, tenor and bass (or SATB). These four voices are comprised of individual melody lines in different registers, and the combination of each note sounded by each respective voice at any point in the music gives rise to the sensation of harmony.
Voice leading is the nature of how each individual voice moves from one note to the other. If the note moves by small steps, it is said to be smooth, and this is generally aesthetically pleasing. The opposite would be moving by large intervals called leaps. While there are many other factors that determine 'good' voice leading such as direction of motion and avoiding voices crossing one another, today we'll simply focus the size of each intervallic step.
The concept of voice leading is more commonly discussed in Western classical music, but it's applicable to all genres of music, even fingerstyle guitar! Incorporating this idea into your guitar playing will be one step in setting you apart as a good musician as opposed to a mechanical guitarist.
Musical Example: 'The Solid Rock'
An example of good voice leading can be seen in my arrangement of 'The Solid Rock' below. Notice how my left hand stays at the same position for most of the song, as opposed to jumping around the fretboard.
By navigating chord shapes around the same fretboard position, the individual notes naturally move to the next by smaller intervals.
In this simple exercise derived from the above musical example, you will be able to play a series of chords while keeping your left hand in the same fretboard position (8th position). In doing so, you automatically achieve smooth voice leading!
After you've tried out the exercise on good voice leading, try playing the same chord progression using different chord shapes (check out my chord position guide), jumping up and down the fretboard. Notice how the notes sound like what your hands are doing - jumping around in large intervallic leaps!
While at times these leaps can be an aesthetic choice, for the most part you will want to keep your voice leading smooth. Keep your chord shapes relatively around the same fretboard position and you're good to go!
That's the magic of the guitar - you don't need to know exactly how each note moves to the next. You simply choose chord shapes that are close to each other, and in doing so achieve stepwise motion of voices resulting in smooth voice leading. Enjoy leveling up your guitar arrangements and chord progressions with this simple trick!
Do leave a comment with any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them. Follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website neilchanmusic.com as I share new music videos and lessons on those very music videos, each and every week, to help you along your own musical journey.
Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan