Artist Blog

Gary Lindsay: The Voic[ing]


My fascination with harmony started around age 8. I was shown basic chord structures (major, minor, dominant, augmented and diminished in root position) by my brother David. On a toy organ, I explored the structures of harmony in songbooks (Sinatra was one). By age 11, I was playing saxophone in a big band with mostly high school students. Exposed to the sounds of eight brass and five saxophones, this rich harmony increased my curiosity, and I continued exploration at the piano by harmonizing (by ear) simple tunes and nursery rhymes. Playing in a small jazz ensemble throughout high school provided the opportunity to write for three horns. This experience expanded to writing for big band in college. I was fortunate to study jazz harmony and arranging with a graduate of Berkelee College of Music, Hal Crook, a well know jazz trombonist and jazz composer/arranger. Hal opened my ears and knowledge of jazz harmony through the study of chord scales, line writing, Duke Writing and other techniques he had mastered while in Boston. In 1976 my wife and I moved to Miami for graduate study at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami. As a TA (teaching assistant) I was assigned to teach jazz arranging. Contemplating a method for teaching writing for jazz ensemble, a step-by-step approach seemed the most logical. Elements included rhythm section notation, instrument ranges, registers and transposition, “voicing chords” and much more. After graduating I became a full time faculty member with responsibilities in jazz writing and technology, leading to the creation of the Studio Jazz Writing masters program. Through teaching graduate and undergraduate students my approach to jazz harmony continued to evolve. In 2005 I published a textbook, Jazz Arranging Techniques from Quartet to Big Band.

To show the evolution of my harmonic vocabulary I will first summarize the method I use to teach basic voicing technique (detailed in my textbook), and continue with more advanced techniques based on intervals and chord scales.

Four Note Voicing

The method starts with a 4 way close voicing that is derived by combining one note from each of 4 categories: Root, 7th, 5th, 3rd

Stacked like a chord:

  • Root
  • 7th
  • 5th
  • 3rd

For each of these categories there are many possible substitutions, expanding the number of voicing possibilities with just 4 notes (one from each category)

Substitutions are based on the chord type and category. All chord symbols are derived from the applicable chord scale. For example: Dmi9 is derived from the D melodic minor scale, G7(b13b9) is derived from the auxiliary diminished scale.

Using the same 4 categories a voicing can be modified by moving some notes (categories) an octave lower, using drop techniques.This Available Tension Chart shows that on a minor 7
th chord, a 9th can substitute for the root and an 11th for the 5th. No substitutions are listed for the 7th or 3rd because those notes are necessary to define this chord type.

Five Note Voicing

The next step to enhance voicing structures is to add an additional note so that each voicing contains 5 different pitches (5 part density). Since there are only 4 categories to choose from, it is necessary to duplicate one of the categories with a substitution to create the 5-note voicing. This technique is common when writing for a saxophone section (examine Thad Jones saxophone solis).

The Available Tension Chart (based on the Chord Scales for each symbol) shows that most of the substitutions fall under two categories: Root and 5th.

Using the Root category:

  • On a maj. 7th chord we could combine a root plus a 9th for a 5 note voicing.
  • On a dom. 7th chord we could combine a root plus a #9 or #9 plus b9.

Using the 5th category:

  • On a min. 7th chord we could combine a 5th and 11th for a 5-note voicing.
  • On a min. 7th b5 chord we could combine an 11 and b5 or root and 9.

What defines the character of each voicing: mellow, aggressive, regal, angular or strident, etc.? The sound’s character is a result of one very important element: the intervals created between all the notes in the voicing.

Classifications of Intervals

  1. Mellow: major and minor 3rds and 6ths
  2. Open: perfect 4th, 5th and octave
  3. Dissonant: major 2nds and minor 7ths
  4. Very Dissonant: minor 2nds, major 7ths and augmented 4ths
  5. Most Dissonant: minor 9th (a minor 2nd separated by an octave)

A voicing can be a mixture of many different intervals or a stack of all the same interval resulting in a wide array of sounds from very mellow to very aggressive.

Intervals provide the spices for a (voicing) recipe

  • Spice #1: stacked major and minor 3rd intervals (root position 7th chords)
  • Spice #2: major 7th intervals, mixed with other intervals
  • Spice #3: minor 2nd intervals., mixed with other intervals
  • Spice #4: perfect 4th intervals. (3 or 4 stacked)
  • Spice #5: perfect 4th intervals mixed with 2nds and 3rds
  • Spice #6: perfect 5th (2 stacked)
  • Spice #7: perfect 5th (stacked with other intervals)
  • Spice #8: mix of minor 2nds, perfect 4ths and augmented 4ths
  • Spice #9: mix of intervals that include one or more minor 9ths

The order of the pitches determines intervals throughout the voicing. A Gmi11 chord can sound rather mellow if placed in root position (mostly intervals of a 3rd). Example #7 above is quite different, combining open 5th intervals and a minor 2nd.


A series of voiced lead notes (melody) does not necessarily create great music. Music combines vertical structures (voicing) with horizontal lines (melody and harmony) to create phrases in some mixture of rhythms. The movement from one voiced melody note to the next, i.e. voice leading, is just as important as the voicing structures. Movement from one voicing to the next does not guarantee great inner lines so often “other harmonic structures” are employed to improve awkward linear movement.

These “other harmonic structures” are referred to in my book as “approach techniques.” The technique can provide alternate ways of harmonizing melody that creates improved voice leading. This method also provides alternative harmonizations of notes in the melody that are not chord tones or available tensions of the chord of the moment (referred to as non-chord tones.)

Sketch for 5 saxophones employing all these techniques:

Voicing by Interval

To build voicings beyond 4 or 5 notes it is helpful to start with the Chord Scale so that all the available tensions are on display. For example: the Aeolian scale shows the basic chord tones and all the tensions diatonic to the Dmi7b6 chord symbol. You can now construct a voicing based on extending the 4 or 5-note technique or build a voicing by combining intervals to create the desired sound. Keep in mind that if an interval between adjacent notes is larger than a major 6th the separation between notes can create a less coherent sound. Larger intervals within a voicing become more coherent as overlapping intervals, non-adjacent.

The following examples were created based on chord scales and placement of various intervals within each voicing. Examine the adjacent and non-adjacent intervals within each voicing and listen to their effect. Remember the major 7th and minor 2nd intervals are commonly used to add dissonance and contrasting color.

Although voicing techniques are only a single component of the jazz writing landscape, they contribute to the overall style, mood and character of the music. There does not seem to be an end to discovering new harmonies!


Gary Lindsay


About the Author:

Gary Lindsay is Professor of Music and Director of the Studio/Jazz Writing program and DMA program in Jazz Composition at the highly acclaimed Frost School of Music, University of Miami. He has been teaching at the University for 38 years. He is a recipient of an NEA grant in jazz composition and a University of Miami Technology grant. Gary has served as a clinician at the International Association of Jazz Educators and JEN national conventions, and various high schools and universities. He has served on the Board of Governors for the Florida branch of NARAS and is a member of ASCAP, JEN, ISJAC, AF of M and Pi Kappa Lambda. In 2005 Gary published “Jazz Arranging Techniques from Quartet to Big Band.”

In addition to composing and performing with the Miami Saxophone Quartet, Gary has played with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Mathis, Mike and Randy Brecker, Arturo Sandoval, Jaco Pastorius and others. He has performed as a featured jazz soloist with the Florida Philharmonic and the Naples Philharmonic and performed in pit orchestras for numerous shows including: West Side Story, The Music Man, Porgy and Bess, Hello Dolly, Man of La Mancha, The Fiddler on the Roof and many more.

As an arranger, Gary’s pop music credits in South Florida studios include Jose Feliciano, Gloria Estefan, Jaci Velasquez, Julio Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton and others. Jazz writing credits include the Maynard Ferguson Band, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Arturo Sandoval, the Atlantean Driftwood Band, the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band and Studio Orchestra, the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, as well as commissions for the US Air Force “Airmen of Note.” The Arturo Sandoval album “I Remember Clifford” garnered Gary a Grammy nomination in jazz arranging. Gary’s extensive writing for the Miami Saxophone Quartet includes original compositions and arrangements on the CDs “Take Four Giant Steps,” “The Miami Saxophone Quartet Live,” “Midnight Rumba,” and “Four of A Kind.” Gary’s newest CD was released in July on the Summit Label featuring his arrangements and compositions. The CD is titled The South Florida Jazz Orchestra presents the music of Gary Lindsay “Are We Still Dreaming” and includes performances by many guest soloists.