Voice-leading

Suppose in a particular tune C chord is followed by F chord. Then you could play it like this:

C to F, no voice-leading

However, that’s quite a big jump. As a result, the music sounds disconnected. Another way to play this chord progression:

C to F, with voice-leading

Now only two tones change — the C remains in the same place — and they jump only a very small distance (a half-step and a whole-step, respectively).

The result is a much smoother sound. This principle is called voice-leading.

The key to voicing-leading is playing inversions. We started with C chord in root position and then played the F chord in first inversion.

We also could have done it like this:

C to F, alternative voice-leading

Now C is in first inversion and F is in second inversion. Again, one note remained in the same place and the other two only jumped a small distance.

We always try to keep the tone (or tones) that the two chords have in common in the same place. When C chord is followed by Am, only one tone moves:

C to Am with voice-leading

However, in the progression F – G, all three tones must change because the F and G chords don’t have any tones in common:

F to G, no voice-leading

Unless, of course, we make G a four-tone chord, G7:

F to G, with voice-leading

Note that I played the chord root in the bass this time.

Another four-tone chord example, Dm7 to G7:

Dm7 to G7 with voice-leading

Here, two notes remain stationary while the other two move a small distance downward.

That’s really all there is to it. To do proper voice-leading, find the inversion of the next chord that requires the fewest changes.

Common uses for voice-leading: playing accompaniment, playing with string sounds (violins), and playing organ and electronic keyboard — these instruments have no sustain pedal, so voice-leading is needed for smooth changes.

Time to practice your inversions!

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory


Chords and Harmony


The Circle of Fifths


Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition


Reading Music and Sheet Music


How to Record Piano


Software and Virtual Instruments


Scales and Exercises


Digital Pianos


Links and Other Stuff


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