MUS 111 Study Guide E (Chapter 5)

Tonic and Dominant II

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  1. Part-writing:  the process of connecting a series of chords; requires thinking vertically and horizontally ... at the same time.  Yeow!  But you can do it!  Part-writing principles concern:

How to distribute the various members of the chord among the number of voices, usually four, vertically.

How to move each note in a given voice from chord to chord, horizontally.

  1. Four-part part-writing is used as a foundation, the principles of which may be applied to larger projects as your writing skills develop.  The approach is based on the successful techniques and practices of many composers who flourished during the so-called common practice period (Baroque & Classical eras).  Part-writing will utilize the grand staff with individual parts conforming to the four ranges of the human voice:  soprano, alto, tenor, bass.  When two parts share a staff, stems are up for soprano and tenor; stems are down for alto and bass.

  1. General practical range for the four parts:

  1. Doubling:  Since four notes will be used, one note of the triad must be doubled, i.e., two voices will have to share a pitch of the same letter name, either in unison or in an octave relationship.

Double the tone which is the strongest and most stable in the key.

The most stable tones are the scale steps built on:  tonic, dominant, subdominant.

In tonic and dominant triads, the root is normally doubled.  (It is possible to double the 3rd or 5th, however, there should be some reason, melodically, for this choice.  Doubling the root of a chord in root position is preferable.)

  1. Open and Close position:  Triads may appear in either of these two positions.  Open position is when the distance between the soprano and tenor is more than one octave--this means that one of the voices has been moved down an octave from where it would have appeared had the chord been written in tight block formation.  Close position is when the distance between the soprano and tenor is less than an octave--mean that the three upper voices are written as close together as possible.

  1. Distance between voices:  The distance between any two adjacent voices should not exceed one octave.  Exception:  the tenor and bass voices may be more than one octave apart (up to two octaves apart, if necessary).

  1. Crossed voices:  to be avoided.  Crossing voices occurs, when, for example, the tenor appears above the alto, the alto above the soprano, etc. ... a "vertical" part-writing problem.

  2. Overlap:  to be avoided.  An overlap occurs in two adjacent voices (S/A or T/B) when, for example, the alto goes higher than the soprano was on the previous beat, or the soprano goes lower than the alto was on the previous beat.  Ditto for tenor/bass ... a "horizontal" part-writing problem.


  3. Repeated triads:  When the same chord appears consecutively, you may either repeat the second chord with the same voicings used in the first, or you many change the voicings.  Close or open position may be maintained in the second chord, or you may vary the voicing.  Change of position is usually necessary in three situations:

When an upper voice moves out of its usual range, and a change in position puts the voice(s) in a better range.

When there are large intervals in inner voices, and a change in position produces more desirable small intervals.

When the second triad contains no fifth, and changing from open to close position restores the usual distribution of voices.

  1. Writing the Authentic Cadence:  The following procedures are useful in connecting any two triads whose roots in the bass are a fifth apart (or, a fourth apart, as is implied in the inversion of the fifth) in either major or minor keys.

First procedure:  based on the assumption that if any two chords have one or more tones in common, it is preferable to carry the tone(s) in the same voice into the next chord.  This will create the smoothest possible voice-leading.

Note:  In a minor key, the third of V is the raised leading tone (#7) (g:  V = D F# A).  To indicate this in a part-writing exercise, the figured bass symbol must indicate a major V chord via either a sharp, natural or double-sharp symbol beneath the staff.  (The Picardy third can be indicated the same way.)

Second procedure:  If the common tone cannot be held (e.g., if the tonic chord would be left without a third), move the upper three voices in the same direction (similar motion) to the nearest tones of the next triad.

Alternative procedures:  (1) In a final cadence, the leading tone in V may rise in any circumstance, even if it leave the tonic chord incomplete.  (The third must be present, however the fifth is expendable.)  (2) In any place in a phrase, the third of V may skip by the interval P4 to the third of I.

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