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Voice Leading

When comping you want your chords to flow smoothly from one to another, instead of bouncing around on the guitar neck. Each note of a chord is a voice. Voice leading is moving individual chord voices smoothly from one chord to the next.

Voice leading is not only useful in comping though. In single note improvisations voice leading can function as a skeleton on which you can base your lines on.


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Let's have a look at some examples for voice leadng in 2 5 1 chord progressions. The first one is a possible voice leading for a 2 5 1 progression in C major:


Jazz guitar tabs: voice leading 2

          b3              b7             3              b7              3               7                6


There are 2 voices in this example: the blue one and the orange one:

  • The blue voice starts on the b3 of Dm7
  • Becomes the b7 of G7
  • Goes to the 3 of Cmaj7.
  • The orange voice starts on the b7 of Dm7
  • Goes to the 3 of G7
  • Becomes the 7 of Cmaj7
  • And goes to the 6 of C6.


Fill this example in with some other chord tones and a bit of chromatism and you get this:


Jazz guitar tab: voice leading


The next example starts on the 5 of Dm7, goes to the b9 of G7 and to the 5 of Cmaj7.


Voice leading guitar tabs

             5                                    b9                          5


Here are some voicings you can use with this voice leading:


Guitar chord diagram for Dm9                    Guitar chord diagram for G7b9b13               Guitar chord diagram for Cmaj7

Here's antoher example, this time for a 2 5 1 progression in Gmaj. The voice leading starts on the 9 of Am, goes to the b13 of D7, to the 9 of Gmaj and finally to the 7 via the 1.


Voice leading for jazz guitar

            9                           b13                                   9                          1    7


Here are the voicings for this voice leading:


Guitar chord diagram for Am9                     Guitar chord diagram for D7#9b13                Guitar chord diagram for Gmaj9

All examples until now had a descending voice leading. Of course you can also make an ascending voice leading. The following example is in C major again and has 2 voices.


Guitar tabs

            9           5                   b7          3                    5                                   1


   Guitar chord diagram for Am9                  Guitar chord diagram for D7#9b13              Guitar chord diagram for Gmaj9


Voice leading gives your improvisations more chartacter, it's like your lines have a story to tell. Now try to find some lines of your own.


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