As per the title. I've seen much about why it's a good thing, and I employ it an awful lot on guitar. I think it can get a bit much and samey. I'd like to read a more learned analysis.

For example, on guitar I am playing triads in the same position through a chord progression and obviously this is voice leading as exactly the same notes are being reused regularly and so often a chord change is almost indiscernible. I know this is the nature of voice leading, but I just want to see someone talk about the benefits of deliberately not playing with the closest possible voice leading, as you never see that angle.

  • 4
    You certainly don't always need to follow classical voice leading rules, but if you say voice leading “can get a bit much and samey” then you evidently haven't explored much of the enourmously wide range of things that can be done with voice leading. Jul 21 at 22:58
  • You can go for smooth transitions, you can go for jagged ones. Both sound like what they sound like! Do whichever sounds like what YOU want at that time in that piece of music. Jul 21 at 23:00
  • 2
    This is a pretty broad question. Perhaps you could give an example of where you feel like you're getting a result you don't like and ask for more disruptive ways of dealing withit.
    – Aaron
    Jul 22 at 0:33
  • This is a broad question. I attempted to answer, but perhaps you may want to 1. learn more about various individual voice leading guidelines (there are plenty of questions on this site about it), 2. if still in doubt, ask questions about specific voice leading guideline. Jul 22 at 14:30
  • I edited to specify "closest possible voice leading", since I gather this question is about music using individual voices less smoothly than traditional voice-leading. If this is not the right interpretation of the question, OP should roll it back and clarify the intended meaning. If I'm right, though, I think the question's narrow enough to stay up!
    – user45266
    Jul 23 at 3:55

Q. What are the disadvantages of voice leading, when is it inappropriate?

For example, on guitar I am playing through triads in the same position through a chord progression and obviously this is voice leading as exactly the same notes are being reused regularly and so often a chord change is almost indiscernible.

You've answered the question yourself, the disadvantage is that it can result in monotony. The solution then, is how to avoid monotony in the accompaniment. As others here have suggested, you can go for:

  1. Exaggerated contrary motion.
  2. Oblique motion by keeping a pedal point or ostinato bass.
  3. Parallel movement.
  4. Change the bass to move quicker than the chords. This can be a walking bass or jumping to other notes to create different roots. This could be as simple as selecting the relative major or minor.
  5. Use differentiated note values to achieve a polyphonic texture. Or just go for true polyphony, even imitation, if you can make it work.
  6. Add non-chord tones or accidentals to make the harmony more interesting. In some cases, the underlying issue may not be smooth voice leading, but a problem with the harmony not being dynamic enough.
  7. Add unique rhythms to the chords, creating a distraction from static harmony
  8. Arpeggiate the accompaniment, putting focus on whatever notes are changing.
  9. Combinations of any of the above or other variations.
  • almost nothing that you list is an alternative to/distinct from voice leading. voice leading encompasses literally every single point you raise except arguably parallel movement (which, voice leading allows for a pretty large subset of parallel movement, but sure i can concede that harmony built primarily around parallelism isn't really voice leading any more even when it technically "follows the rules").
    – Esther
    Nov 23 at 10:06

For example, on guitar I am playing through triads in the same position through a chord progression and obviously this is voice leading as exactly the same notes are being reused regularly and so often a chord change is almost indiscernible.

It's not really obvious unless you give some more detail, ideally notation of some kind. But I don't think we need to know what you're playing to answer.

Voice leading just means to move voices, or parts, to move them melodically. Technically, if you move voices any way it would be voice leading, because the voices moved. "Good" voice leading is usually meant to describe the counterpoint conventions of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. In a nutshell, it's triadic harmony, hold one or two voices, move the others by step, no parallel perfect fifths and octaves.

To literally not voice lead would be harmonically all voices singing a unison or a static chord. To move the voices, but without the independence of parts achieved with "good" voice leading will be parallelism. That is found in a variety of styles: organum, folk music, Impressionism (like composer Debussy), Modernism (like composer Bartok), or rock music.

Why, do some styles not use "good" voice leading? Some possible reasons:

  • To deliberately not sound like Renaissance, Baroque, or Classical style, especially the "learned" or Church styles, which is the actual origin of the voice leading, contrapuntal methods. If you don't want to sound like you're playing a hymn, avoiding "good" voice leading is one way to do it.
  • To "thicken" the texture of a line. Sometimes, even in the context of a symphony, the texture can change to unisons or octaves for a passage, such passages can be thickened, for example, by playing in thirds, if the style were modern, doublings in fourth, fifth, sevens, etc. might be used. Harmonically the passage will be thicker with multiple parts, but it won't involve voice leading.
  • From a linear point of view you might try to make a line more emphatic by moving everything in the same direction. When various parts move by contrary or oblique motion, you could think of that are parts sort of "contradicting" one another by not moving in the same direction. Of course that variety of directions is what creates the special texture of the contrapuntal style. But it is a sort of constant churning of various directions. If you move all parts in the same direction, it would be considered ham-fisted voice leading by conventional standards, but it would give an emphatic, single direction to a line.

There is a particular type of movement that I think should be pointed out: moving across the various positions of a chord. Technically, it isn't quite parallelism. It's similar motion, but the important thing is a single chord is maintained. Debussy did it a lot in the Impressionistic style. You can also hear an example of it in the vocal harmonies of the Beatles song Because. In terms of conventional voice leading all the parts move in one locked direction, but harmonically it's a very rich sound.


Voice leading is a broad term, and depending on the context or music style it may mean different things. The answer I can give will be therefore broad and general as well.

The general goals of voice leading are to:

  • connect consecutive chords smoothly
  • create an impression the chords are composed of voices which move independently of each other
  • allow the individual lines to be easily sung, or performed by an instrument in a way that they feel like belonging to the same voice

Various voice leading "rules" are tools helping to achieve the above. Not following the voice leading guidelines results in the opposite: having consecutive chords disconnected and not creating an impression of voice independence, or maybe even any kind of voice continuity.

As in art there are no rules, there is nothing wrong with following, or not following voice leading guidelines. It's all matter of an effect you want to achieve. In particular, inconsistent applying the guidelines may lead to sharp contrasts.

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