Sing. Play. Edify.

Playing From Charts, Part 3: More Basic Chord Voicing

October 4, 2018

Previous posts

Part 1: Introduction and stylistic function
Part 2: Basic chord voicings

Since this series of posts on playing from charts is actually written for the benefit of my students, I’m changing the format to a series of letters. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.


Dear Nigel,

I’ve been thinking a great deal about our lesson time, and what our goal really is. I keep reminding myself that what we’re after is acquiring a repeatable skill, not just understanding a concept. Skills are acquired through regular practice, and I’m afraid there’s no way around that.

I’ve heard that, as part of their training, bank tellers handle real money all day, so they can spot a fake bill easily when it hits their hands. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a good principle for learning to voice chords. Rather than listening to me drone on about principles, for now, you’re better off playing lots and lots of examples of basic voicings.

So voilà, 12 examples for you below! Click on the button below. Three things you should observe as you play through them:

  1. No complicated rhythms yet – mostly one event per chord change. Voicing chords is the vertical component (“Which notes should I use?”), and rhythm is how they stretch out over time, horizontally (“When should I play these notes?”). The vertical needs to come first.
  2. The harmonies are pretty simple, and they sit in the same register. You won’t be jumping around much at this point. Enjoy that while it lasts.
  3. ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION TO THE SOPRANO AND BASS. By “soprano,” I mean the highest note of the right hand, and “bass” is the lowest note in the left hand. I even recommend playing through each example once or twice using only those outer notes. We’ll talk about this more in later lessons, but for now, just get used to hearing the relationship between those two voices.
  4. Sing while you play! I can’t recommend this highly enough. Don’t worry about how you think you sound. Trust me, it’s incredibly helpful.

That’s it for now, Nigel. As you play, remember to listen carefully. You’re training your ear to become accustomed to basic voicings that are clear and balanced. Thoughtful repetition is the path forward!

Yours, etc.


12 basic voicing examples


PIANISTS: If you have suggestions about how to present this material, or if you have specific questions, I’d love to hear from you! You can add a comment by clicking on the link below (it’ll take you to the post on the Grace Music Facebook page).