Something Special in the Mail (from Ted)

There were various occasions that Ted sent lesson material through the mail. One such instance is when a regular student moved out of town, Ted would continue their lessons by mail, usually on a monthly basis.

Likewise, many times people would write to him with a question about music or guitar playing and although Ted could not answer all the inquiries, he would provide a reply to as many as time allowed and always with a long, generous response.

I recently received this email:

Ted Greene answered two letters I sent him around 1981 regarding a question about inversions with the 3rd and 7th in the bass. The question’s were about Leavitt’s views of their use (Berklee books). They are third generation photo copies but are still readable and they were helpful to me. If you like I can scan them and send them to you.       Sincerely, George

It so happened that I found a copy of the letter Ted had written (in 1982 –remember) to George, and in the one I possessed Ted had commented on as recently as 2003.  The comments are in red.  When Ted wrote the original letter, he used both the front and back of the paper, hence the ink shows through.  Taking this into consideration, I have typed out the letter and it is presented after the posts.

This is the letter I share with you:


Sat. Apr. 3, 1982

Dear George,

Voice leading in its purest sense means that each line moves to the CLOSEST tone in the next chord. But in practice composers & performers have never adhered to this one principle. For instance E7 can move to many sounds

[here we have the written musical notation –  in the original between the staves Ted wrote: And when the top melody moves around, still more options are available]

I just try to make the melody (top voice in most cases) musical, not necessarily only small movements, and I like a smooth or leaping bass line.  The inner voices are less important to me unless 1) I’m really hunting for smooth lines or 2) When I occasionally like to move them twice (or more) as fast as the other parts.

[here we have the 2nd example]

I take it back, one other time I concentrate on an inner voice is when the other voices (or at least one) are moving fast, and the middle contains a smooth slow singing line. Actually, it gets down to a matter of CHOICE: Does one wish to voice lead the bass, or a middle voice, or both, or neither. Again, for me, the melody is free, I don’t (Ted crossed out usually) often just move it by step.

And remember in various styles people adhere to certain guides that are part of that particular language in music.  For instance, most harmony books & such when referring to “no parallel 5ths” or similar are describing the type of sound in favor between 1650 & 1850.  But this does not make it right for blues or rock & roll or jazz.  I might suggest you study my Modern Chord Progressions book to see the diversity of voice leading possible in 20th century sounds.  I don’t use rules for now because they would end up making a quite long list.  Like I said, it’s mainly a matter of choice: I like leaps, I like small moves (2nds & 3rds), I like holding one or more voices while the other(s) move, I like moving them all at once.  But mainly I like good melody in the top & a sensible and attractive bass line, as you will see in the Progression Book.

Good Luck, Hope Some of this Helps,

Sincerely, Ted G.

Hope you have found this interesting and informative.  Barbara

  1. Paul Vachon
    November 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Barbara and George. Nice to have Ted explain his views on voice-leading.

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