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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Common-Tone Voice Leading

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

In order to explain common-tone voice leading a rudimentary understanding of inversions must be obtained; for our purposes here, 7th inversions.

What are 7th Inversions?

An inversion is a chord with any other note of the chord but the root in the bass. Here is a quick example of the inversions of Bb7:

How are 7th Inversions Used?

One use for inversions is to create smooth voice-leading from one chord to another. If you play a Dmi7 to a G7 the way most guitarists do it, both chords are played in root position, it looks like this on the staff (you don't have to be able to read music to get the concept here). Notice how ALL the notes jump down a 4th; for obvious reasons, this is called parallel voice leading:

Sound-wise, this can be somewhat jarring because every note jumps a 4th down.

However, Dmi7 and G7 have 2 notes in common: F and D. If we voice the G7 chord in 2nd inversion, the D and F notes stay the same:

From one chord to another 2 notes stay the same – thus “common tone.” Of the notes that change, one moves a whole-step and other other moves a half-step, i.e. “smooth voice leading.” There is very little movement and yet the chord has completely changed. It's a much smoother, less jarring sound.

There's also less physical movement on the fretboard; both chords are on the same set of strings, as opposed to jumping from one string group to another, as what happens with parallel voice leading. And less movement means less potential for error.

The guitar lends itself to parallel voice leading. It's inherent in the nature of the instrument. When you move power chords and bar chords around (the typical way most guitarists play), as in the parallel voice leading example above, most of the time you are in parallel mode.

That's one reason why guitarists in general are fuzzy, or worse, when it comes to inversions.

If you want to see and, better yet, hear what I'm talking about, here is a promo video for Unit 5: 7th Inversions, that explains the difference between parallel voice leading and common-tone voice leading:

In order to achieve common tone voice leading, inversions of chords must be mastered. Knowing inversions will take your playing to a whole new level of musicality and open up sounds that set you apart. And yes, Master Guitar School has got you covered!

NOTE: If you have no method for finding any note anywhere on the guitar neck, you need to go through my 5-Lesson Foundational Series before getting into any of the above lessons. All lessons I teach presuppose the 5-Lesson Foundational Series.


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