Thinking voicing

Someone called earlier today asking questions about the courses she had purchased and I thought I would pass on what I told her to you guys as well.

The issue regarded voicing. I have said this a zillion times I know but here it is one more time: voicing is what will make or break your sound on the piano. And when I say voicing, I am referring to how you position the notes in a chord on the keyboard.

So how do you voice? I will tell you how I think about it and how I learned to do it. Let’s consider an example. You are playing something and you see this:


This assumes you are playing a lead sheet that only gives you the melody and the chords. However, when I accompany these days, this tends to be the way I see all music even if there are a lot of notes written in under that melody. I ignore everything except that melody note (D) and the chord (Cmaj7)

Now, here is my process:
1) D is the 9th of a Cmaj7 chord.
2) Here is a legitimate voicing for a major 7th chord when the melody note is the 9th: playing 1 and 7 in the left hand and 3, 5, 9 in the right hand.
3) Those numbers translate to these notes: C and B in the left hand, E, G, and D in the right hand.

So I play this:


Not so bad is it? It is just a formula I have learned. Except for one problem. This has to be done almost instantaenously. When you are playing, you don’t have time to think through those three steps. You just have to do them.

Some of you are thinking at this point that it is impossible to think that fast. Technically, you are right… Some of you are thinking that you could never do this. And you are wrong…

So how do you play that way in real time with no awkward pauses while trying to keep all this straight? It is simple really. You practice this stuff until it is as natural as breathing. You don’t have to really think about it once it becomes natural.

This is just theory of course. But just because you know theory does not mean that you can play this way. The woman who called earlier told me that she has a masters degree in music performance. I quizzed her just a second and then recommended that she start with my course Theory for Church Pianists (she had purchased them all).

I send 90% of all the people who ask me to that course first because so few people know theory at a level that they can actually use it in their music in the way I described above. That particular course is designed to get musicians drilling theory to the point where it becomes as natural as breathing.

It takes an awful lot of work. I used to carry around drill cards and I would spend up to 30 minutes a day practicing boring drills. For example, I would play that voicing above around the circle of fifths like this (here are the first four chords out of the 12).

I wish I knew of shortcuts but I just don’t. You learn this stuff and then drill it until you get it beaten into your head. At some point, it starts to get easy.

I can’t promise you won’t get bored and want to quit. I can’t promise this kind of work will be done within a week. This takes real time and real effort. But if you put in the time and effort, it will pay off handsomely.