Voice Leading For Guitar – How To Make Simple Guitar Chords Sound Awesome
by Tom Hess
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The secret to playing incredible chord progressions for guitar comes down to a musical device called:
Voice leading for guitar.
And even though “voice leading for guitar” may sound like an advanced concept...
... the good news is - it’s not.
You can understand (and use) voice leading for guitar without being an advanced guitar player.
(I’ll show you how in a moment).
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… you have an arsenal of simple ways to make easy chords sound better in ways most guitar players only dream about.
So, what is voice leading for guitar?
And how do you use it to write better chord progressions for guitar?
Watch this video and I’ll show you:
Now that you know the basics of voice leading on guitar, here are 5 important guitar playing skills that help you make simple guitar chords sound awesome:
How To Make Simple Guitar Chords Sound Awesome Tip #1: Get Better At Changing Chords Quickly And In Time.
One of the ways to make easy chords sound better is to train your fretting hand to switch between chords cleanly and in time.
And here are the steps for doing that as you practice chord progressions for guitar:
Step 1. Separate your hands. This is the fastest way to make your technique better for voice leading chords on guitar. Simply change between chords with your fretting hand only.
This lets you isolate the hardest motions of your chord progressions for guitar and master them.
Step 2. Practice forming each chord of the chord progression by putting all fingers down together and picking them up together – NOT one finger at a time.
If your fingers fret the notes of the chords one at a time, you’ll make more mistakes when playing chord progressions for guitar.
And the melody (that you can usually hear when doing voice leading chords on the guitar the right way) won’t be heard.
Do this step many times to get used to fretting the individual chords of your chord progressions for guitar.
Question: “Tom Hess, do I do this step of practicing chord progressions for guitar with or without a metronome?”
Answer: Do this step without a metronome, because you are focusing on the raw motions of your technique.
Step 3. Practice switching slowly from one chord to the other. Focus on making the motions of the chord change smooth and tension-free.
Begin this step of practicing voice leading for guitar without the metronome.
Then, once you can switch between chords smoothly, begin to practice with a metronome. (Start at a slow tempo and gradually get faster.)
Step 4. Add the strumming hand into the mix. But remember: while you are mainly focused on the fretting hand motions of voice leading chords on the guitar, keep the strumming rhythm as simple as possible.
As you learn how to change chords smoothly, gradually make the strumming motions more elaborate.
Here is a demonstration of how to practice chord changes:
After your fretting hand is in shape, you’re ready to learn new ideas for how to make simple guitar chords sound awesome.
Which takes us to…
This is one of the easiest ways to make simple guitar chords sound awesome and practice voice leading chords on the guitar.
(It deals with only one chord. But it develops the skills you’ll later use for creating chord progressions for guitar.)
Here is what to do:
Find as many ways as you can to play any minor chord. For example: A minor. Its notes are A C E.
You probably already know this chord’s voice leading for guitar in the open position (open high E string, B string 1st fret, G string 2nd fret, D string 2nd fret and A string open).
But here is the real fun you can have with this chord when you practice voice leading on guitar:
Step 1: Play the chord on the top 3 strings (G, B and high E) in root position (the root as the lowest-sounding note),
Then play it in 1st inversion (the 3rd of the chord is the lowest-sounding note)
Then play it in 2nd inversion (the 5th of the chord as the lowest-sounding note).
Then do the same on the middle 3 strings (D G and B).
And the bottom 3 strings (low E, A and D).
Why learn these shapes?
Doing this gives you more options for voice leading chords on the guitar when you start putting together (multi) chord progressions for guitar.
Step 2: (This is one of my favorite things to do when practicing voice leading on guitar). Play your minor chord by skipping 1 string.
For example: play it on strings 6 4 and 3. Find all the inversions on that string set.
Then do the same on strings 5 3 2; 5 3 1 and 4 2 1.
Question: “Tom Hess, why skip a string? How does this help me make simple guitar chords sound awesome?”
Answer: Skipping a string leaves a wider interval between the 2 lowest notes of the chord. That separation gives the low notes more clarity (which makes for better voice leading on guitar).
Step 3: Play your chord by skipping 2 strings. (For example: on strings 6 3 and 2.) Then 3 strings. (For example: 6 2 and 1.)
Then start over and do this assignment with a major chord (and then a diminished chord and an augmented chord) to continue practicing voice leading on guitar.
This assignment for voice leading chords on the guitar can keep you busy for a very long time.
And it helps you learn the guitar fretboard the way few guitar players every do.
Best of all: the more ways you can play a chord – the more creative you can be when writing chord progressions for guitar (that can turn into songs).
Here is a good example of how to practice voice leading chords on the guitar using these ideas:
How To Make Simple Guitar Chords Sound Awesome Tip #3: Write A Melody First And Then Harmonize It.
One of the reasons voice leading chords on the guitar sounds so awesome…
… is because it forces you to think about melody when putting together chord progressions for guitar.
When you do voice leading on guitar the right way, all the notes of all the chords in your chord progressions for guitar connect into melodies.
And that is what enables you to make simple guitar chords sound awesome.
Here is how to practice this skill as you practice voice leading chords on guitar:
Step 1: Write a short melody. (4-8 notes long.) You’ll use it as basis for writing your chord progressions for guitar. You can either hum the melody or create it on an instrument (your guitar or piano, for example).
Step 2: Write out on paper a list of guitar chords that contain the notes of the melody. This is what allows you to put together chord progressions for guitar and make simple guitar chords sound awesome.
If your melody notes are: C B A G F E D C (the C major scale), some of the chords that contain the notes of this melody are:
C major (it has the note C), G major (note B), F major (note A), E minor (note G), D minor (note F), A minor (note E), B diminished (note D), F major (note C).
The above is one possible way to harmonize your melody.
This is of course just one example. Create multiple chord progressions for guitar in this step of the assignment.
Step 3: You’re now ready to practice voice leading chords on the guitar. Take one of your chord progressions for guitar (from the previous step) and begin to make those easy chords sound better.
Arrange the chords in a way where the notes of your melody are the highest sounding note of each chord.
Here is an example of how to do this using voice leading on guitar.
Play the note C major chord with the C note (the melody note) as the highest sounding note.
Play the G major chord with the B note (the melody note) as the highest sounding note.
Play the F major chord with the A note (the melody note) as the highest sounding note.
As you continue this way, you’ll be using voice leading on guitar to make simple guitar chords sound awesome. And you’ll be creating chord progressions for guitar, like a real musician – not just a guitar player.
See this video where I show this in more detail:
How To Make Simple Guitar Chords Sound Awesome Tip #4: Rewrite Your Favorite Songs Using Voice Leading On Guitar
Set aside some practice time to go through some of the chord progressions for guitar from your favorite songs.
First, make a list of such chord progressions for guitar…
… and then rewrite them using the ideas you learned in this article (about voice leading chords on the guitar).
Create a melody the chords will harmonize.
Then, rearrange the notes of the chords in the original chord progressions so they harmonize the melody you created.
(Follow the guidelines throughout this article about voice leading on guitar to do this.)
Note: Don’t change the order of the chords in your chord progressions for guitar.
But do change the arrangement of the individual notes inside the chords (using the principles of voice leading chords on the guitar.)
This is one of my favorite ways to make simple guitar chords sound awesome.
It’s really fun, it can be done quickly and there is a never-ending stream of chord progressions for guitar you can use for this assignment.
On top of training you to make simple guitar chord sound awesome, you can use this exercise to improve your songwriting.
Go through your own guitar riffs and song ideas (anywhere you’ve written chord progressions for guitar)…
… and create variations of them using the techniques you just learned for voice leading chords on the guitar.
That will help you break out of songwriting ruts and turn “pretty good” songwriting ideas into great ones.
How To Make Simple Guitar Chords Sound Awesome Tip #5: Practice Extending Chords.
So far we’ve only been talking about how to make simple guitar chords sound awesome using voice leading on guitar.
And “simple” chord progressions for guitar typically only involve major, minor and diminished triads.
But you can have a lot more fun voice leading chords on the guitar when you use slightly more advanced chords.
For example: 7th chords and extended chords. Adding these notes to your chord progressions for guitar is another way to make easy chords sound better.
You can also imply modes using exotic notes (it’s easier than you think). All you do is add notes from outside the original key to spice up your chord progressions for guitar.
Example 1: F “Lydian chord”.
Sounds complicated, right?
But it’s just a F major chord with an added B note (the #4 note of the F major scale). This chord creates the exotic “floating” of the Lydian mode.
If you play this chord by itself, you are in the key of F Lydian. You can play a F Lydian (C major) scale over it.
Example 2: G major add 9 add b6 – this is a G major chord with added notes A and Eb.
(This chord implies the 5th mode of melodic minor.)
Watch this video to see and hear how to play these chords in your chord progressions for guitar:
These extended chords give you many more options for using the principles of voice leading on guitar.
The deeper you go, the more ideas you come up with that help you make simple guitar chords sound awesome!
Now that you know how to use make easy chords sound better, what’s next? The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing – starting with your fretting hand.If you want to build more guitar speed with your fretting hand, you’ll love my new free eGuide called: mastering fretting hand finger independence for guitar players. It’s free and it shows you easy ways to build a lot of guitar speed in your fretting hand without a lot of practice. Download your copy today and discover guitar speed secrets few guitarists will know.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Improve your guitar playing fast with online lessons for rock guitar.
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