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In musical composition, voice leading is the term used to refer to a decision-making consideration when arranging voices (or "parts"), namely, how each voice should move in advancing from each chord to the next.

Contents

Voice Leading

Voice leading refers to the way individual notes move from chord to chord. The goal of voice leading is to make each voice (part) move the smallest amount possible.

Think of a song in four parts. Each part is a voice; soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
This is the easiest way to think of voice leading. 

Obviously, some songs will require less than four voices, and some will require more than four voices. A voice is more than literally a voice. A voice can be any type of instrument. For purposes of learning, four voices is the easiest way to start. In my opinion, the best way to learn voice leading is to practice. I will provide an example, and you can expand on this example to practice.


Example: Two Chords

Picture a G7 chord moving to a C chord. The notes of a G7 chord are G, B, D and F. The notes of a C chord are C, E and G.

Imagine the G7 chord being voiced like this    G
                                               B
                                               D
                                               F

The easiest way of moving the G7 chord to a C chord is:

                                                      G- G
                                                      B- C
                                                      D- E
                                                      F- G

There are a few other ways of doing this. Another way is:

                                                         G- C
                                                         B- G
                                                         D- C
                                                         F- E

To practice this, write the G7 chord out on paper and practice moving to the C chord using the smallest amount of movement possible. The only ground rules I'm going to give are: use as much movement by step as you can, and don't make a movement larger than a fifth (five notes up or down). You can move the notes up or down. Technically there is a "right" and "wrong" way of doing this, but explaining that would mean moving to another composition topic called counterpoint. Practice voice leading the way I've shown you for a while. Add more chords to make the progression longer. For example, C, Am, F, G7, C. Do this in multiple keys- every key if you can. After you can do this, start to study counterpoint.

Music Theory.net is a great place to practice this and other aspects of music theory.

  • This is just a basic idea of what voice leading is, also I am just a student. I am by no means a professional musician. Finally, the best way to learn is to get a book or take a class. Good luck!*

See also

Sources

  1. ^  Schoenberg, Arnold. Theory of Harmony, trans. Roy E. Carter. Belmont Music Publishers, 1983, 1978 (original quote 1911). Page 39. ISBN 0-520-04944-6
  2. ^  Hisama, Ellie M. (2001). Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon, p.153-154. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64030-X.

Further reading

  • McAdams, S. and Bregman, A. (1979). "Hearing musical streams", in Computer Music Journal 3(4): 26–44 and in Roads, C. and Strawn, J., eds. (1985). Foundations of Computer Music, p.658–98. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Voice Leading Overview
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In musical composition, voice leading is the term used to refer to a decision-making consideration when arranging voices (or "parts"), namely, how each voice should move in advancing from each chord to the next.

Contents

Details

Voice leading is the relationship between the successive pitches of simultaneously moving parts or voices. For example, when moving from a C triad in the root position (a chord played, from the lowest pitch up: C–E–G) to an inverted F chord based on the same lowest pitch (C–F–A), one might say that the middle voice rises from E to F while the highest voice rises from G to A, this being a way to "lead" those voices. Instead of considering the two successive chords separately, one focuses on the "horizontal" ("temporal" or "linear") continuity between notes in each voice. (Similar considerations apply to homophonic as well as polyphonic music.) When arranging in the Baroque, Bach-like style of harmony, the parallel movement of voices in octaves, in fifths, or in unison is to be avoided. However, popular and jazz music often contains voices moving in parallel octaves. A concern for easy voice-leading (easy, that is, for singers to read and follow) often leads to a predominance of stepwise motion and may assist or replace diatonic functionality.

In traditional contrapuntal Western music, voice leading is generally derived from the rules and patterns typical of counterpoint.

Voice leading may be described as parsimonious if it follows "the law of the shortest way"[1] moving as few voices as few steps as possible and thus often retaining "common tones." Anti-parsimonious or circuitous voice leading is "voice leading between trichords that avoids double common-tone retention, thus requiring at least two instrumental voices to move to different pitches."[2]

An auditory stream is a perceived melodic line, and streaming laws attempt to indicate the psychoacoustic basis of contrapuntal music. It is assumed that "several musical dimensions, such as timbre, attack and decay transients, and tempo are often not specified exactly by the composer and are controlled by the performer." An example of one law is that the faster a melodic sequence is played, the smaller the pitch interval needed to split the sequence into two streams. Two alternating tones may produce various streaming effects including coherence (perception as one unit), a roll (one dominates the other), or masking (one tone escapes perception).

See also

Sources

  1. ^ Schoenberg, Arnold. Theory of Harmony, trans. Roy E. Carter. Belmont Music Publishers, 1983, 1978 (original quote 1911). Page 39. ISBN 0-520-04944-6
  2. ^ Hisama, Ellie M. (2001). Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon, p.153-154. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64030-X.

Further reading

  • McAdams, S. and Bregman, A. (1979). "Hearing musical streams", in Computer Music Journal 3(4): 26–44 and in Roads, C. and Strawn, J., eds. (1985). Foundations of Computer Music, p.658–98. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Voice Leading Overview


Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

A chord progression is a group of vertically-placed, simultaneously-played melodies. A chord's vertical placement results from the smooth direction of each of the lines. Traditional notation often hinders the perception of the linear aspects of a chord progression. Play the example above several times and try to correlate both the horizontal and vertical aspects of the progression with your ears and eyes.

After seeing and hearing the example as it occurs in real time, you will see its traditional notation in Example A below. Although the linear aspects of the progression become less apparent, the concept of watching and listening for the direction of individual voices in a chord progression is important in all musicmaking!


EXAMPLE TRADITIONAL NOTATION

STYLE  

Chord voicing is a reliable indicator of style. Left-hand piano voicings, for instance, can provide a reliable harmonic blueprint for the entire jazz tradition. In Example B below, the C7 chord is portrayed in various jazz styles and examples of variations of each style can be heard by pushing the "play" buttons.


EXAMPLE . HISTORICAL LEFT HAND PIANO VOICINGS

1. Ragtime and stride piano left-hand voicings often are defined, as notated above, with octaves on the root on beat one, on the fifth on beat 3, with the same voicing of the chord on beats 2 and 4. In reality, however, the early stride pianists also played left-hand octave melodies, chord melodies (one of the notes of the chord, usually the highest, supplying a countermelody with a line in the right hand, meter changes (usually from 2/4 to 3/4), and complicated rhythm and accents--all which require advanced control and techniques. 2. BoogieWoogie patterns are usually played over the 12-bar blues. In contrast to stride playing, the boogie-woogie pianist maintains the same left-hand shuffle rhythm pattern (played on the I, IV and V chords of the blues progression) while showing the independence between the two hands in managing intricate interlocking accents and rhythms. The upper voice of the left-hand pattern is a good example of step-wise voice leading providing the harmonic momentum within the same chord--as the 5th (G) moves through the 6th (A) up to the 7th(Bb) and back down again of the C7 chord.

3. During the bebop period, beginning in the 1940s, the right hand provided harmonic sophistication by running extensions of the chord members as part of the melodic line. The left hand provided punctuation, as much as a harmonic backdrop. (The harmonies also changed much more frequently during this period.) The roots of the left-hand chords began to be left out on occasion, but the resolution of 3rd and 7th of the dominant 7th chord usually were handled carefully in any voicing toward the tonic. (For example, if an F Major chord were to appear in the next measure, the E and Bb of the C7 chord above, would most likely resolve to an F and A.)

4. Voicings gradually became more harmonically ambiguous. After adding extensions and alterations, and by leaving out the chords' roots, pianists soon found that a certain "sound" could be obtained by stacking specific interval combinations. (In fact, for some players the term, "voicing", implies only a specific relationship of vertically-stacked intervals rather than the "voice leading" of individual chord members with both horizontal and vertical implications.) A dominant 7th chord, for example, can be voiced by stacking a tritone plus a perfect fourth above either the 3rd or the 7th of the harmony. Thus, the first chord in the example is built on the third of the C7 chord," E", and the next chord is built on the 7th, "Bb". The altered extension in the first chord, "Eb", (enharmonically spelled as "D#" in a C7 chord extension) sounds like a sharped 9th and the "A" in the 2nd chord is the 13th of the C7 chord.

5. Quartal harmonies, stacked fourths, often occur in modal compositions. Thus, a C7 chord is entirely appropriate for a composition written in C mixolydian. However, it would be played as a sus. 4, thus leaving out the 3rd and omitting the specific tension of the tritone (E to Bb) for the desired ambiguity of quartal harmony. The example above uses pitches from an extended C7 chord, but in no way emphasizes either the root of the dominant 7th quality. With a bass player playing pitches based around C, the notes in the example above can be heard as being derived from C but (depending on the bass player) could just as easily be interpreted as belonging to A or D dorian. Voice leading in this context relies on the frequent stepwise motion of the stacked chords.


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