One of my guitar teachers (Randall Dollahon) had a simple set of rules about "shell voicings" (or as he called them, 3 note voicings):
- Chord consists of R, 3, and 7 only (this goes for any 7th chord; maj7, min7, dom7, half dim., m/maj7, dim7. For maj or min 6th just replace the 7th with the 6th).
- Root on either 5th or 6th string
- 3rd and 7th on two middle strings
From there, of course, you can add upper extensions on the top two strings, but you can get a lot of mileage out of the simple three note voicings by themselves; because they are sort of stripped down to the bare essentials they don't sound "square" because there's nothing extra there to "square-ify" them, if that makes any sense.
I don't think this set of rules should be taken as unbendable law; just a good practical starting point. These rules DO outline a good point about "jazz" type chord voicings; there are sort of three different areas:
- the bass note
- the essential quality defining notes (3rd and 7th, and maybe 5th on something like a fully or half diminished)
- the upper extensions or "color tones" (sort of the "icing on the cake")
Generally speaking, it works well to keep the bass note in the low register (low strings), the "essential notes" in the middle (middle strings), and the color tones in the higher register (but once again, this is certainly not a hard and fast rule by any stretch of the imagination).
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