It always amazes me when I hear different piano players and how they voice their chords. Voicing is one of those skills that is not talked about a lot but in my experience makes the biggest difference in a pianists overall sound.
What does voicing mean exactly? Simply put, voicing is the way chords are played which gives them their timbre or richness. In other words its how many notes are played, the distance between each of the notes and the quantity and quality of extensions.
There are literally thousands of ways to play a single chord. There are also millions of ways to play a chord progression if you consider that each chord can be played a thousand different ways. However, its likely a good idea to start off with a few solid possibilities instead of a thousand.
For example, lets take a Cmaj7 chord. The chord itself is simple enough and is made up of C E G and B. However, depending on how rich you want the chord to sound you can also add D and A to the chord as extensions. Why? Because D and A come from the C major scale and do not clash with the basic chord.
These are what we call extensions. In other words a good pianist will already consider D and A in their chord voicing when they see the chord symbol Cmaj7. It doesnt have to be written Cmaj7 (9 13) for them to understand this.
So, how would a pianist then voice this chord? Well, for starters, that depends on the melody. Whatever the melody note is will become the highest note of the chord. For example, lets say D is the melody note of prominence while the chord is being played. That means that for a pianist our 9th is already understood as part of the chord and is the top note.
Next, its generally a good idea to play the bass note in the left hand which is C of course. Then the next 2 most important notes are the 3rd and the 7th because these notes give the chord its flavor. Consider playing the 7th in the left hand above the bass note. That would mean playing the C with finger 5 (baby finger) and B with finger 1 (thumb).
Then, play the 3rd, 5th and melody (9th) in the right hand with the 1st, 2nd and 5th fingers respectively. Whats left? The 13th or A which, you can cover with the 3rd finger of the right hand. So, from bottom to top you would have the notes in this order; C B E G A and D. That right there is a very rich sounding chord and youd have to go a long way to find one richer.
However, this is only one way of voicing the chord. Like I said before there are literally thousands of ways. My suggestion is this; learn one way at a time until it becomes second nature. Voicing the root and 7th in the left hand and covering the 3rd and the melody in the right hand is a very good system to start with. Then with your left over fingers in the right hand cover the 5th and any other extension thats available. This works for all chords including major, minor, dominant and diminished chords.
Once youve learned this way of voicing chords it becomes much easier to tackle a new formula because this one is already clear and concrete and will help you hear very clearly the difference between the chords. Until next time, keep practicing.