Audio: voicing (0:05)

Figure: voicing

voicing plays different voicings of a C major chord sung by a choir. The voicing figure shows the score.

Voicing is the vertical arrangement of the notes in a chord in order of pitch.

Close and open harmony are the two terms used in voicing:

  • Close harmony is a voicing in which no chord note can be inserted between two other chord notes.
  • Open harmony is a voicing in which a chord note can be inserted between two other chord notes.

There is no preference between open and closed harmony. Both types of voicing occur in all types of harmony, even within the same chord.

SATB is a good example of voicing. Open harmony often applies when the bass is on its own doing its own thing and the interval between it and the upper SAT voices is an octave or more. The three SAT voices can be in either close or open harmony.

A typical voicing of a triad in SATB from the bass up is root, octave, third, fifth, with the SAT notes in close harmony, as shown in the CCEG chord in the first bar of voicing. Alternatively, the third can be put in the soprano part to make it more prominent, making the voicing root, octave, fifth, third, as in the CCGE chord in bar 2 with the SAT notes in open harmony.

The upper SAT voices can be in closed harmony, as in the ECEG chord in bar 3 of voicing, or in open harmony, typically with a compound interval between tenor and soprano, as in the CGEC chord in bar 4.

Voice crossing occurs when two individual voices overlap in pitch. In SATB, the usual aim is to avoid voice crossing, except occasionally between the alto and tenor, as shown in the ECEG chord in bar 5 of voicing. Some approaches to harmony have more specific rules, for example, when two voices move up by direct motion, the lower voice in the second chord should generally not be a higher pitch than the upper voice in the first chord.

Voicing, together with inversion, significantly changes the sound of a chord. A single triad can be inverted in three different ways and voiced in six different ways, more if some notes are doubled. Chord voicing and inversion provide a significant degree of freedom in the way you write harmony.