Sing. Play. Edify.

Playing from charts, part 4: Basic and alternate voicings

October 21, 2018

Previous posts

Part 1: Introduction and stylistic function
Part 2: Basic chord voicings
Part 3: More basic chord voicings


Dear Nigel,

I’ve written out basic voicings for 19 more songs, for a total of 31—one for every day of the month. These 31 songs will form the core of our curriculum from this point forward. As we discuss a new concept, I’ll write it out in all 31 examples, which will hopefully be enough material to help you not only understand a concept, but be able to use it effectively.

For starters, spend some time playing through all the basic voicings, which you can find here (in alphabetical order):

1. Basic voicings


Next, play the same 31 examples with slightly altered voicings (same song order):

2. Altered voicings


I’ve notated the alterations as they appear in the score. Here are the most common ones I use:

  • no3 – omit the 3rd to make a 5 chord
  • add7 – add a 7th, usually in an inner voice
  • add2 – an added 2nd makes the chord thicker and warmer
  • sus2 – a sus2 chord leaves out the 3rd and adds the 2nd instead. It’s thicker than a no3, but sparser than a full triad. Helpful if you want to avoid the muddiness of the 3rd, especially when playing with a guitarist.
  • add4 – a surprisingly nice addition to a V, ii, or vi chord! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it…

I added a lot of these altered voicings in the examples because there was no melodic or rhythmic motion, so I tended to make the harmonies a little more colorful than I might if there were other things happening. Still, it’s a good way to acclimate yourself to these expanded color options and get used to how each alteration changes the sound. Next we’ll talk about basic melodic movement in the right hand.


Yours, etc.