Enhanced Voice Leading Through Chord Inversion

The way one note follows a previous note can build or resolve tension. And, how skillfully you craft the sequence of notes can make the difference between a piece which flows like water or a piece which stops and starts uncontrollably. Voice leading is the art of using one note in the melody and or the harmony to get to the next. I mention both melody and harmony because voice leading should be a consideration in both aspects of your musical works.

Think about a traditional I – IV – V – I pattern in the overall form   The notes of the bass-line comprise the root tone for each chord. Although the sounds for this common chord sequence function well they don’t allow for much crafting nor creativity. Total reliance on root tones for harmonic support leaves a piece rather dry and un-inventive.

Take the same chord sequence and perform a first inversion on the second chord. I – IV 6/3 – V – I  and the base note now lends variety. In terms of the chordal mass (the entire or bulk sound) not much has changed. But, options for texture and expression begin to open up. I have performed this same operation to establish a pleasing and clear attern within my recent piece ‘Sunset Celebration’ . The use of chord inversion enhanced the overall expression. 

extract_chord_inversionFollowing an inverted supporting tone, the next bass note could go up or down, could include passing tones, could introduce a new rhythmic element, possibly initiate counterpoint, etc. The possibilities are many once you try changing that support tone. And, by inserting distance across the interval you’ve added tension and excitement to a mundane chord sequence! The extract above shows how I used inversion to create a sequential ‘fall’ in the bass-line and then used an interval to create positive tension.

Crafting careful note choices in the bass and middle voices within the arrangement can help the flow of your musical works. It makes the difference between listener apathy and listener engagement. A flowing style is largely governed by used of root tones and or selective use of a particular chord’s inverted form. If you are working through a passage that was bland, you may want to experiment with inversions. The options for notes that follow open up. In doing so you may uncover hidden qualities that evoke a stronger response in the listener. A lot of power of expression can be found by taking some time to find opportunities to replace a root tone with a first or second inversion. Good luck in the development of your own works. May they flow like water to cut through rock over time!