Voice Leading

By Tutor Ed Watkins

Hey guys, it’s Ed. So, Voice leading.  I’ve been thinking recently about what I would consider to be one of the bigger breakthroughs for me when it came to writing music/arranging. I thought some more, then a bit further.. but I could only really put my finger on one particular element when dealing with taking a selection of my productions to the next level. And here it is:


Now in this blog section, I’ll cover the basics of what voice leading is, what proper voice leading entails and where you would be best off implementing it. So off we go.. It all starts with the first chord in your progression (could be your track opening, middle 8 etc), and lets say in this instance that is a C major. So, C major is built up of three notes: C, E and G. These notes are the chords ‘voices’. Ed1 At the moment, with only one chord, we’re very much looking at the chord in a vertical sense; but once you introduce the rest of your chord progression, things start to unfold in a more horizontal manner. ed2 Voila, so we now have our majestic progression written out. C, F, Am, G. Ok, so all these chords share a common trait; they are ‘triadic’, or comprising of three notes. And as shown below, you can begin to pick out the horizontal movement between the voices of the chords. ed3 As the chords progress, the different voices lead into the next. And that, quite simply is voice leading. BUT

Is it good voice leading though?

Not really. See how the voices jump and skip across the stave, sometimes in intervals of over an octave. Now, there’s quite a simple trick to making sure your voice leading is as good as it can be: Try and avoid moving the notes wherever possible. This is easily achieved if you check adjacent chords for matching notes. So, for example: C and F both share a C. That C stays where it is. ed4 F and Am both share F AND A. They both stay where they are. ed5 Am and G don’t share any notes; in this situation, aim for the shortest possible journey. So our example means we move: C to D, E to G & A to B. ed6 The finished progression: ed7 The resulting progression is much, much smoother compared to the original. This is a great technique to remember when arranging some strings for your pop record, programming some ambient synth pad so thicken out your chords etc. It’s really worth taking that extra time to make sure your voice leading is as good as it can be. Experiment as well, see how well you can blend and tie together unusual chord progressions simply with good voice leading. You never know when inspiration might strike.

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