Texture series: Drop voicing

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I am going to do a series over the next several weeks on texture. For those that don’t know, when arrangers and writers refer to the term “texture,” we are referring to ideas of an arrangement outside of melody and harmony decisions. In other words, we are referring to decisions such as how to voice, what general patterns (like arpeggios) to use, rhythm choices, and the overall motion or “busyness” of the piece.

To start this off, today I am going to show you a voicing strategy often referred to as drop voicing. Here is the simple way to explain it. Basically, rather than playing a thick chord with the notes clustered together, we choose rather to drop a middle note of the cluster down an octave.

In this example of a C triad, note that the only difference between the two voicings is the location of the 3rd (E) of the chord.

If you play both voicings, you hear an obvious difference. The first sounds thick and clunky and the second sounds more open and elegant. Note that drop voicing will very often change the inversion of the chord. In this case, drop voicing creates a first inversion.

You might wonder why drop voicing would not always create inverted chords but it is a little more complicated than that. Think of it this way. Sometimes (based on the melody note), the chord you would be playing is already inverted. In those cases, when you drop the middle note of the voicing, you might create a different inversion or even return a chord to root position. In other words, sometimes, the middle note might be the root, fifth or even a seventh. Whatever note you drop defines the inversion of the chord.

Look carefully at this example from a recent arrangement I wrote of “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”dv3

This entire line is built with drop voicing. You can tell that because if you raised the left hand line up one octave, practically every one of those notes would complete a closed three note voicing. For example, raising the A in the first chord would create a simple closed F major triad. Raising the Bb in the second chord would create a Bb major triad in 2nd inversion.

Sometimes, you will the terms drop 2 voicing and drop 3 voicing. Those are jazz-oriented terms that refer to which specific note is dropped when you move to more sophisticated chords that have at least four notes. For example, here is a CM7 chord with drop 2 voicing and drop 3 voicing.

dv2

Drop 2 voicing means to drop the 2nd note (from the top) which means the G in this example. Drop 3 voicing means to drop the 3rd note which in this case means the E.

In the overall scheme of voicing, drop voicing is considered sort of elementary but it is still very effective and should be part of your toolbox.