In part 1 of “That’s Easy For You To Play” I wrote about the importance of using efficient voice leading when connecting the chords of your songs. A key component of efficient voice leading is preserving common tones between chords. A common tone is a note shared between two chords.

Check your own voicings to ask yourself if you’re lifting your right hand to a root position voicing. In other words, when playing a common progression like D G Bm A is the root of the chord in the thumb of your right hand, with the 3rd and 5th stacked above it?

If so, you’re not using efficient voice leading. This is especially crucial if you’re playing pad sounds. Scrutinize pad sounds on modern worship recordings and you’ll probably notice something very important: full triads are rarely played. Instead, open voicings are used. Open voicings feature wide intervals like 4ths and 5ths. The opposite of open voicings is block voicings. Block voicings feature lots of stacked 3rds.

Just as efficient voice leading should influence your piano and electric piano parts, creating open voicings should definitely factor into your pad voicings. A simple check you can do to determine whether you’re using open voicings is to look for three stacked chord tones. Experiment with skipping a chord tone. If you’re playing the root, skip the 3rd and play the 5th. Then above the 5th skip the root and play the 3rd.

This might seem way too clinical right now for you, but my goal here is to help you create pad parts that are voiced like those you hear on recordings. Along those lines, the most significant thing I can advise you to do when creating pad parts is to build your parts around 2 essential notes in the key, the 1st and 5th notes of the scale. In the key of D, the 1st and 5th notes of the scale are D and A. Let either of these notes be the top note of your pad voicing and you’re on your way to creating an effect part.

Scrutinize a recording that features conspicuous pad parts and I suspect you’ll hear an important feature. Whether the 1st or 5th note of the scale is placed on top of the voicing, that note is held throughout the chord progression.

If you want to become someone of whom it could be said, “That’s easy for you to play” regarding pad parts, keeping 1 or 5 on top of your voicing will require you to be confident of some modern chord colors commonly used. Remember these terms: 2, 7 and add4.

Let’s say you want to keep the 5 on top in the progression listed earlier. 5 is A in the key of D. Play an open voicing, A on top, D below it. That works well for the D chord. When you reach the G chord, you’ll need to transform the G chord into a G2 chord. G2 is spelled G A D. By choosing the G2 instead of the G, you’re now able to let the A be heard over the G chord. When the Bm chord comes, the A can continue as the top note if you think of the Bm as a Bm7 instead.

So far, this open voicing featuring an A on top and D on bottom has worked for our first 3 chords in the progression. When the A comes around, we have a dilemma. An A chord is spelled A C# E. The A we’ve been holding is a common tone, but the D isn’t. Well, we can transform this chord into an Aadd4. This chord is spelled A C# D E. That C# D interval is very dissonant and beautiful below the A. Your voicing, then, could be A on top with a D and C# below it. If you were to play the C# D and E of the Aadd4 chord, it’s a bit too dense a voicing. Leave out the E and the rich dissonance of the C# and D will be featured. Then when you repeat the progression back to the D, that dissonance is resolved, and you’ve created some nice momentum back to the D. Apply the 2, 7, add4 modifications to the chord when play the D as the top note of your voicing. You’ll end up with:

Deep breath time. This explanation is quite detailed, but give yourself time to experiment with these voicings. Instead of playing pad parts with the open voicings I’m describing, play full triads. You’ll easily hear the distinctly modern sound open voicings bring.

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Director of Worship Studies at King’s University/Gateway Church in Dallas, TX. Masters in Piano performance, songwriter, clinician with Yamaha and Paul Baloche.

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