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--- Aug 14 2001 Go to category
Subject: Chord Voicings
Category: Improvisation/Soloing
From: Steve Beck (Bethlehem,Pa./U.S.A.)

I'd suppose that next to George Van Eps, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, and Lenny Breau, you are my all-time favorite player of chord voicings. Like Hall and Breau, you seem to be able to alternate between more advanced voicings (fourths, - 7ths w/a natural 9 in them,etc.) with more "traditional" voicings (first inversion elevens or major 9s) in a very BALANCED way. How do you achieve a balance between advanced and stock voicings? Is there such a thing as being too harmonically complex too often?

In addition, thanks for changing the way I hear music.

Pat’s Answer:

hi steve,

thanks for the compliments. the area that you are talking about is one that isn't really discussed much, it is a fairly esoteric and subtle issue, and in fact one that i am pretty obsessed with, that being one that addresses the whole issue of touch in general - particularly when applied to the kinds of harmonic choices that one makes when playing chords.

i have to admit that i am largely influenced by my five favorite piano players in this regard; glenn gould, bill evans, keith jarrett, paul bley and herbie hancock. there is a certain way that all five of them have of blending notes together to create a sonic event that is singular in effect, even while achieving some kind of specific melodic or harmonic function. of course, it is much easier to do on the piano than it is on guitar :) - even for me - i can sit at the piano and balance chords with a kind of precision that i can't quite do on the guitar - it is a challenge to get the quality that i am looking for to happen on this instrument, particularly the electric guitar. but i think that all of the players you named have made serious arguments in favor of the idea that it CAN be done on the guitar.

specifically, regarding voicings - i would say that for me, i try to always keep at least the illusion of the kind of traditional voice leading that i would easily be able to do on a keyboard instrument in effect on the guitar, even if i have to "cheat" in order to accomodate the natural fingering limitations inherent in the axe. as far as note choices go, i would say that the particular qualities of which voicings i use are detirmined mostly by the context - for instance, if i am playing in a trio, i could use fuller voicings than i might if i were blending in with a piano player in a larger setting. on the other hand, in a duo setting like with charlie h. -- i might use just a single note or two to define an entire chord and then follow that later with more full kinds of voicings to create the sense of orchestration. in fact, that word - orchestration - may be the key word here - i always try to imagine each string as being almost a separate entity in this little 6 piece ensemble that is sitting there, each one with its own strenghths and sound.

as far as there being such a thing as being too harmonically complex too often - i would say, generally speaking, no. however, i do think that at a certain point "complexity" becomes a relative thing. in other words, i can think of instances where i have heard music that hangs in a certain vocabulary to a point where it no longer seems complex - it just seems the same as what i have just been hearing, and it gets boring -- there is not enough contrast. on the other hand, this could be the desired effect, and could even be a viable one if executed well. again, the issue of balance becomes a dominant term in the success of most of the music that really holds my interest.

thanks for writing in from pat