Chord Progressions: Voice Leading

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Voice Leading refers to the arrangement of chord tones within a chord progression such that each tone moves horizontally through the chord changes as a single voice.

Consider, for example the chord progression I-V-I in the key of C…

Without Voice Leading, this chord change could be played like this:

piano-ology-chord-progressions-voice-leading-example-without-300

where each chord is conceived as a separate, self-contained vertical structure.

With Voice Leading, this chord change could be played like this…

piano-ology-chord-progressions-voice-leading-example-with-300

where each chord consists of three individual voices that flow horizontally through the chord progression.


Voice leading has two important features:

  1. Tones that are common to each chord typically remain stationary.
  2. Tones that are different typically move to the nearest note.

Voice leading is used in a wide variety of musics and highlights the practical importance of knowing how to play your chords in a variety of inversions.

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