How To Write For Guitar So That Your Guitarist Loves You - Part 4
Last week, we talked about triads and triad arpeggiations. Let's have a look at seventh and higher chord voicings today and how to score them for guitar, so that they sound gooood.
Compared to the piano, playing chords on the guitar is easier and more difficult at the same time. Once you have a well-functioning chord voicing, you can change the key simply by moving the finger shape around the fingerboard - way easier than on the piano. But to find a well-functioning voicing can be a challenge. Things don't work in such a nice, linear fashion on the guitar, there are limitations for what is playable and what isn't.
Firstly, only six notes can sound per voicing at any given time, since (standard) guitars only have six strings. However, these will almost never be six different pitches in a guitar voicing but rather four or five of them with a) one or more notes repeated in various octaves or, more common, b) one or more strings omitted (when plucking or playing arpeggios) or muted (when strumming across all six strings).
And secondly, it is often very difficult or even impossible to play the traditional, closely-spaced big piano voicings on the guitar. When there are too many consecutive intervals equal to or smaller than a major 3rd, the chord will likely be unplayable, unless open strings can be used. That means that the playability of certain close position voicings varies from key to key. In general, only the close position voicings of major 7, minor major 7, and augmented major 7 chords (without tensions) are playable without any problems in all keys. If you score a close position voicing for any other type of a seventh chord or of any higher chord, you'll likely run into playability problems.
If you want to be safe, rather than close position chords write drop 2 or drop 3 voicings. What does that mean? Well, it's easy! To obtain a drop 2 voicing, take the close position chord and simply transpose the 2nd note from the top an octave lower. Similarly, for a drop 3 voicing, transpose the 3rd note from the top. These voicings are generally easily playable and sound great on the guitar. Let's have a look at an example:
The 4-part drop 2 voicings work great when there is a bass instrument in the arrangement playing the roots. We can even omit the root and play the 9th instead, or similarly omit the fifth and play the 13th. The drop 2 voicings will still be playable (the latter is not ideal in a minor 7 chord that I'm using as an example here though, since the 13th would be an avoid tone).
Nevertheless, drop 3 voicings work great even without any bass instrument playing along. Either in root position (see picture below) or as an inversion (see previous photo).
However, in order to play the accompaniment without any bass instrument to support the chords from below, we can easily create 5-part voicings out of many drop 2 or drop 3 voicings by adding the root in the bass. There are exceptions but while fretting one of the drop voicings, very often we can reach the root as well. Examples:
Another way to find a playable seventh chord voicing is by omitting the fifth. So, unless you need a chord the has the altered fifth in it (e.g. a half diminished or an augmented seventh chord), these voicings will work great. An example of a G7 chord follows:
And one more example, this time with a D7 chord:
The moral of the story is the following: try to avoid close position voicings and use drop 2 or drop 3 voicings, or their 5-part version with the root (or any desired inversion) at the bottom instead. Alternatively, omit the fifth of the chord and use one of the omit 5 voicings. That way, your chords should always be easily playable in the studio at the rehearsal, or anywhere really. :-)
As always, if you are unsure about whether or not your guitar arrangement is playable or if you'd like to simply get a guitarist's feedback on a guitar part that you have written, make sure to sign up for our free one-on-one guitar playability feedback! Also, please let us know how you like this series or what you would like us to cover by sending us a message on Facebook or Instagram.