When a chord is written such that the chord tones are as close together as possible, like this...

[CEG] | [EGc] | [Gce] |

...what is the correct term: "Close position" or "Closed position"?

  • While we're at it, is "close" in this case pronounced /kloz/ (like "close the door") or /klos/ (like "close to you")? If it's /kloz/, then in my dialect at least, "closed position" and "close position" are nearly homophones due to the elision of /d/ before /p/.
    – Theodore
    Jan 14 at 20:26
  • @Theodore as in “the pitches as close together”.
    – Aaron
    Jan 14 at 20:49

Close position is the correct term.1

  1. See, for example, Wikipedia: Voicing (music): Vertical placement.

  2. Also, from "The Complete Musician" by Steven Laitz:

The third and the fifth of each triad are arranged directly above the root. This tight spacing ... of chordal members is called close position.2

  1. From The Oxford Companion to Music:

position. ... (2). Chords may be described as being in 'close' or 'open' position, depending on their layout.3

  1. In a variation, The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music combines "close position" and "close harmony":

Close position [close harmony] The spacing of a chord in such a way that the upper voices lie as close together as possible or the interval between the highest and lowest is relatively small.4

  1. And from Aldwell and Schachter's Harmony and Voice Leading:

Of the many [possible chord voicings], two general types are commonly distinguished: open position and close position.5

  1. Finally, one source (and the only one cited here) that mentions "closed" position:

People often mishear [close position] as "closed" position because the meaning seems somehow logical, and you may by now even see it written that way in some sources.

1 One possible source of confusion is that "close" and "closed" sound very similar, and "closed" makes intuitive sense, being the opposite of "open". It can be helpful to think of "open" in its meaning as "spacious" (the open prairie).

2 Steven G. Laitz, "The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening", 2nd ed. (2008, Oxford University Press), p. 117.

3 The Oxford Companion to Music, ed. Alison Latham (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 986.

4 The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, ed. Stanley Sadie (Macmillan Press Ltd., 1994), p. 172.

5 Edward Aldwell and Carl Schachter, Harmony and Voice Leading, 2nd ed. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), p. 67.

  • 1
    It's probably pronunciation. In English English, close is pronounced 'cloce', whereas closed is pronounced 'clozed'. Close being the adjective not the verb (it's 'cloze' then). So, not sounding dissimilar, but but easy to tell apart.
    – Tim
    Oct 7 '20 at 11:27
  • I think it's misguided to think that this question is best answered by looking at the sources where each term is used, evaluating which sources are "more definitive," and then picking only one answer based on the foregoing analysis. This opens the door to bias and doesn't reflect how language works. The right way to approach the question is to evaluate both terms' usage, ubiquity, meaning, and descriptive accuracy. You appear to reject at the onset the possibility that both are correct, which leaves no room for the reality of the situation.
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 21:07

Both are correct.

  • Both are very widely used.
  • Both convey clear and well-understood meaning.
  • Both terms convey the intended meaning.
  • Both appear in authoritative sources.

Is "close position" more formally used [in Western classical music institutions]? Probably, but that's a very long way from making "closed position" incorrect.

First, it's important to point out that this is not analogous to confusing "intents and purposes" as being "intensive purposes." The term "closed" is descriptively accurate and conveys the intended meaning.

The reality of language is that there are often two alternative usages that are both accepted. This phenomenon is common in language, and is even documented in dictionaries. But dictionaries don't define language; new words are added to dictionaries each year because dictionaries lag behind trends. This lag is greater in niche areas like musical terminology, which are not exhaustively covered in general dictionaries and for which universally accepted authorities do not exist. Different genres, regions, and groups have different usages.

We must be cautious about using "authority" in these circumstances and telling a large group that the term they use, intend, and understanding is incorrect because it doesn't appear in a book written by a very narrow cultural/historical subset. Before going down that road, a relevant question to ask is: what defines authority in the domain of language, and how closely is that authority linked to institutions that historically represent white, male, Western classical traditions? (A quick search of the authors/editors you cited shows there might be something here.) You've acknowledged the ubiquity of "closed position." Where does the authority come from to deem this legitimate use of language incorrect. In what sense is the usage "closed position" not legitimate?

It's really not necessary, but here are some examples of the use of "closed position":

Suzanne Davis, associate professor of piano at Berklee College of Music:

If you can learn closed position and spread voicings with tension in your jazz voicings, you can pretty much apply them to any style of music. (Source)


Bill Evans pioneered a technique of using rootless 4-note voicings in his jazz piano playing. Also called closed-position voicings or Mehegen voicings, they consist of two guide tones (3rd and 7th) as well as two other notes (5th/6th and root/9th) and are usually voiced with a guide tone as the bottom note... (Source)

Here are two texts (1 and 2) that refer to "closed position voicings."

Here's an academic paper and a PhD dissertation that refers to "closed voicings" and "closed position voicings," respectively.

There are also many sites online, including these examples: 1, 2, and 3.

IMO the most reasonable position is that both terms are accepted, well-defined, descriptively accurate, and well-understood. In other words, they are both correct.

  • The sources cited are not convincing. It is easy to find many, many uses of "closed", but none in sources widely regarded as definitive.
    – Aaron
    Jan 14 at 1:22
  • @Aaron, tell that to Suzanne Davis. But I think you're missing the bigger point. "Closed position" is extremely ubiquitous; that alone should give someone pause when deeming it incorrect. Its meaning is intentional and well-understood. It's an accepted alternative of "close position," which makes it correct. This is not analogous to confusing "intents and purposes" as being "intensive purposes." The term "closed" is intentional and conveys the intended meaning.
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 1:28
  • @Aaron, the point I'm making about language (and I can make this more explicit in my answer if it's not clear) is that you're not going to find "the true authoritative source" that gives us "the one true answer." The reality of having a second, accepted alternative is that they both are used widely with clear, well-understood meaning. Is "close position" more formally used? Probably. But that is a long way from making "closed position" an incorrect term.
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 1:31
  • You won't find a good enough musical dictionary that, when you look up "closed position," it says "alternative of close position." But despite not being as well-documented in this particular instance, this type of phenomenon is very common in language. The omission in a dictionary of one particular instance from the domain of musical terminology (which is not heavily featured in dictionaries) does not make the term "closed position" incorrect. Dictionaries doesn't define language, and in this case, the sheer ubiquity (combined with its clear meaning & intentional use) is highly relevant.
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 1:34
  • @Aaron, I updated the answer to address your point about authoritative sources. I recommend caution there. Just based on some quick searching, all the authors/ editors you cited appear to be white males born in the mid 1900s trained in Western classical tradition. (Is that correct? I didn't dig too deeply.) A question to consider is: where does the authority come from to tell a group of people that a term is incorrect that (a) they use widely, (b) is descriptively accurate, (c) is very clear and well-understood, and (d) is used intentionally?
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 2:30

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