Guitar Voicings on the Keyboard

August 28, 2013

As someone who plays both guitar and keyboards, I’ve been able to explore the idiosyncrasies of both instruments. Perhaps the biggest difference between guitar and keyboards is that on the guitar, you can play the same note in many different places on the instrument. Because of this, you can create unconventional voicings that you might not otherwise stumble upon. Exploiting the open strings of the guitar is one way to find unusual voicing structures. Here are five of my favorite guitar voicings transposed to the keyboard, as well as an example of them in action.

1. Fmaj13 #11


Ex. 1 is a very “guitaristic” chord in that it features three open “strings” and sounds a lot darker than
it might if a keyboardist simply played a voicing based on seeing the chord symbol alone.

2. F#7 add4


Ex. 2 is a wonderful voicing that sounds both suspended and not suspended at the same time. This is achieved easily with the guitar by lifting up a finger to utilize an open string. Adding the fourth to a major chord is not usually something that comes to the mind of a keyboardist. It’s more of a guitar thing, and it yields surprising sonic results!

3. Bb6 #11


Ex. 3 illustrates a simple voicing which sounds very complex. The beauty of the guitar is that you can take a simple triadic chord shape and drop in extra notes around it by playing open strings that are not being used. Here we have a simple Bb triad with the open G and E string added to give a sixth and a sharp 11th.

4. D add4 add9


Ex. 4 adds a 4th to the major chord like Ex. 2, but with this voicing we are adding it in a different octave, (as opposed to right next to the 3rd) and as such, we create a more open sounding voicing.

5. Emaj7


Ex. 5 is a somber and bittersweet sounding voicing with not much filling up the middle and a minor second between the top two notes. On the guitar, this voicing would incorporate the open high and Low E strings.

6. Voicings in Action (click thumbnails for larger images)


Ex. 6 demonstrates these structures in action with a piece I wrote that implements all of the above voicings. The first half of the piece uses the chords in a more block kind of way, and the second half uses the chords in a more rolling way. Practice this exercise slow at first and then work your way up to about 80 bpm. The objective isn’t to learn the piece itself but to make these voicings a permanent part of your chord vocabulary.

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