The Mystery Of Chord Voicings

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When I was young and first taking up guitar, I bought a book of guitar chords. This seemed like a logical thing to do. My thought was anytime I saw a chord, I could immediately look it up.

I would spend time going through the book everyday. I experimented with all kinds of chords. I would even write songs based around them.

It was great even if it was a little disconnected.

The Snag

When I started learning other artists songs I noticed something. There was a catch. I didn’t realize that different chord voicings are associated with different styles of music.

That would explain why even though I was playing a chord of the same name, it didn’t sound right for the song.

World Traveler

The idea that all G7 chords are not equal twisted my brain a little. Especially while I was early in my voyage of learning music theory. They shared the same notes. Why do they sound so different?

It has to do with the way the intervals are stacked. Through time, certain stacks are associated with certain genres.

For instance delta blues almost never uses a bar chord for a Dom 7 chord. Jazz uses a lot of 3-4 note voicings. The way you would play a sixth chord for a 70’s acoustic rock song is different then it would be for a Jazz Ballad.

It’s the small nuances like this that make up each genres DNA. Ever try to play jazz changes with open chords? Doesn’t sound right, does it?

For this reason it makes learning chords a little trickier. It means it’s not as easy as looking up a chord fingering in a chord encyclopedia.

It would be helpful if someone wrote a chord encyclopedia that had chapters based on genre. If you were wanting to play some Nile Rogers funk, you would be able to flip to a page and see that style of voicing.


The internet complicates things. Most people learning guitar find their way to the various guitar tab sites. They can be a jump start to learning a song. They can also send you down a path of confusion.

Since there is no quality control, the information you’re getting may or may not be accurate. Sometimes the tabs are made by less experienced players.

This means you may find incorrect fingerings to chords. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I correct when students bring in a song they’ve been learning from a tab site.

In The Papers

Tab sites are not the only place you may find mistakes. I have found mistakes in published books.

How could this happen in a book released by a major publisher? Just because they are a major publisher doesn’t mean they

are hiring a transcriber who is fluent in that genre of music.

I don’t see mistakes all the time from publishes. It’s much more rare then from TAB sites. But, it does happen.

Who do you trust then? 

Finding a teacher who is fluent in the genre you love is the best solution. Chances are they’ve spent a lot of time understanding the dialect of that style.

They will be able to walk you though all the style specific fingerings for chords. If you go to a blues guitar instructor, they will know there shapes frequently used by the masters.

This is where finding a specialist is really important.


When I came to NYC I had quite a bit of knowledge. Or so I thought. I felt pretty good about my knowledge of music theory. I knew how to build any chord. I was ready for my award.

I soon found out that wasn’t enough. I ended up on sessions where they wanted certain jazz voicings.

They would ask me to play a Sus7 or 13th chord. I was like “I got this”. But, they would tell me it’s not quite right. Blue is blue, right? No.

II knew if I wanted more sessions like that ,I would have to go back to chord school. It meant I had to narrow my view of every possible chord fingering option.

I stared with the basic most used shapes and built from there. I would play songs that used those voicing. it’s important to use chord voicing in context.

It’s much easier to remember something if you use it in context. This was my main focus until those shapes became part of my vocabulary.

Next time I hd a session like that, I knew I had to be the character that plays those specific voicings. It was time to temporarily forget about cowboy chord shapes.

If you want to know more about blues, rock, folk, country, metal, pop and punk voicings, feel free to reach out to me. I’m always glad to help fellow guitarists.

G7 chord voicing

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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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