15

I'm a beginner who can play chords on a piano.

If I play a C chord on the keyboard I would play C-E-G, or one of the two inversions (I.E. G-C-E or E-G-C).

I've noticed some people play chords "disconnected". That is, they'd play a C and a G but the E would be to the right of the G key.

I've never thought about trying that before. I wondered, is there a specific name for this type of chord? Why do people do it?

23

In general, chords with the notes closer together are called closed voicings, while chords with the notes farther apart are called open voicings. For simple triad chords like the ones you mentioned, a chord is closed if it occurs within a single octave and the chord is open if it is spread out across more than one octave. More generally though, a chord is closed if it's the most compact voicing of the chord.

There is another technique worth mentioning: the example you've described is called a "drop 2" voicing or drop 2 chord. This is when you take the second highest note from a closed voicing and move it down an octave. The other notes remain unchanged. In your example, you started with a 2nd inversion C Maj triad (G3-C4-E4). Then we take the second highest note (C4) and move it down an octave (to C3). This gives the final drop 2 voicing of C3-G3-E4.

Here's a more elaborate example. The bottom shows the exact same voicings, but with the second highest note dropped down an octave for each chord.

Comparing open (top) and closed (bottom) positions for triads

If you are working with 4-note chords, you still take the second highest note and drop it down an octave. For example, here are some repeating Dmin6 A7♭9 chords. The bottom shows the same chord voicings, but with the second highest note dropped down an octave.

This is done to achieve a more open/spread out sound. Being able to play both increases one's musical vocabulary. That's generally helpful, because variety is a lot of what makes music sound good. Playing just closed voicings for an entire song can become boring for a listener. Using drop 2 voicings adds variety.

Comparing open (top) and closed (bottom) positions for Barry Harris 6th voicings

4
  • @Aaron, I'm not sure that "closed" is incorrect terminology. See, for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    – jdjazz
    Jan 13 at 17:33
  • "Close:" is the correct term, though there are many, many references to "closed". Bizarrely, I've been posting the wrong link in making these corrections. See When the tones in a chord are packed together, is it in "Close position" or "Closed position"?. I believe the text books and music dictionaries cited can be taken as definitive.
    – Aaron
    Jan 13 at 19:53
  • @Aaron, I don't contest that "close" is also correct. Both are used in the same source types, have well-understood meaning, & are correct. FWIW, I don't think online dictionaries are definitive when it comes to musical terms. Textbooks, educational, & academic sources are better. But there's nowhere near consensus. See this book, this book, this paper,
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 1:03
  • and this dissertation, as more examples. One of the original sources I cited is a piano professor at Berklee College of Music--it doesn't get much more authoritative than that. But I think both terms are correct, and I'm puzzled by the suggestion that either is incorrect. Why can't both be acceptable terms?
    – jdjazz
    Jan 14 at 1:05
9

if the notes are close together it is a Close Voicing. If they are spread apart as in your question it is said to be Open Voicing.

More info can be found here.

The note that is lowest determines the Inversion.

A root note (c in your example) that is lowest is said to be in Root Position. E (the 3rd) in the bass is 1st inversion. G (the 5th) is 2nd inversion. if you have a 7th chord with the 7th in the bass it is 3rd inversion.

0
5

Open voicing. For close voicing, the notes (3 in the normal chord called a triad) are as close as possible to each other, as you have been playing until now. Open voicing happens when one at least is moved an octave or more from its close position.

There is also no need to play only the three notes from the basic triad. It's common to double up on one two or all of the notes. You could actually play two close triads, one with each hand, one, say, in root and the other in second inversion. Or - a low 1, a middle 3 and a higher 5, still constituting an (open voiced) chord. An oft used open voiced triad in l.h. is C- G - E, arpeggiated and pedalled.

3

I agree with all the comments. I just want to add that, on piano, open voicing will usually need to be split between the two hands. It doesn't have to be the same number of notes in each hand, but one hand will not normally be able to cover all the notes. The reason why close voicing is used so much on piano is because it makes it easy to move from chord to chord while playing a bass line in the left hand. Playing open voicing would be much easier in a group with a bass player.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.