Your choice of chord voicings and thestyle in which you play them is one of the most crucial decisions you can make at the gig or recording session. This is as true for simple rock as it is for complex jazz; perhaps even moreso for rock, because it’s important that over the course of the song, your voicings adapt to the emotional mood or even the lyrics of the current song section. These examples show how I’d approach the problem while keeping to a rock aesthetic — no jazzy chord extensions allowed!
Ex. 1. Intro. 1a grounds the intro with a simple triad in the right hand, and a strong octave in the left. Always listen to the “melody” the top notes of the chords make to see if it fits what other instruments are doing. 1b uses a new inversion, making that melody more pronounced. 1c changes the inversion again, yielding a sound that’s brighter, but not as melodic. Click for audio.
Ex. 2. Alternate voicings. I might change to voicings like this when the singer comes in. 2a simplifies the chording with a voicing that keeps the hands close: fifths in the left hand work nicely. When you move to the G chord, try B in the bass. It’s an interesting sound. The fifth finger of the right hand can hold the A through all three chords. 2b spices things up by rocking the right hand back and forth, and breaking up the left-hand notes rhythmically. Accent the strong beats and you’ll drive the track; play it softly and you’ll blend in. Click for audio.
Ex. 3. Verse. 3a pares down the voicing to two notes in the right hand. Doubling the inner octaves of the D chord makes the D/F# and G chords sound rich. 3b uses the pedal to break up the chords between the two hands, adding an extra level of dynamics. Embellishments like the add9 grace note on the G chord add even more harmonic interest. Click for audio.
Ex. 4. Chorus. 4a accentuates the intensity of the chorus. Playing fifths in the left hand against simple triads in the right is bright and effective. 4b creates a fuller sound via octaves in the right hand, and adding an extra note to the right-hand voicing. The more octavedoubling, the more sound and power. 4c gives the chord added melodic shape via an octave spread in the right hand. Use the pedal to run the chord tones together, then change to the new chord on the downbeat. Click for audio.
Ex. 5. Final verse and chorus. 5a builds the song by accenting right-hand Ds, while also laying a left-hand foundation of octave roots and midrange triads. Don’t over-pedal, otherwise the tones get muddied. 5b rocks out on the chorus with the octave and fifth. Play strong, accented eighth-notes, hitting fuller voicings on the offbeats. Click for audio.