MUS 111-212

Part-Writing Quick Reference Guidelines

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Voice Ranges

Keep the top three voices within an octave of each other.

The distance between the bass and tenor can be of any reasonable interval (never greater than two octaves).

Triad Position

A triad is in close position when the distance between the soprano and tenor is less than an octave--no other chord tones can be written between the soprano and tenor voices.

A triad is in open position when the distance between the soprano and tenor is more than an octave--another chord tone besides the alto voice could be written between the soprano and tenor voices.

Safe Doublings

As a general rule, the tonic, subdominant and dominant tones in a key can be doubled freely.

Usual Doublings

Root position:  Double the root.
First inversion:  Double the soprano note.
Second inversion:  Double the bass note.


Minor triads (root or 3rd in bass):  The 3rd is often doubled, particularly if the 3rd is the tonic, subdominant or dominant note of the key.

Diminished triad (usually in first inversion):  Double the 3rd; when the 5th is in the soprano, double the 5th.

Augmented triad:  Double the bass note.

Seventh chord:  Usually all four voices are present.  In the major-minor 7th chord, root in bass, the root is sometimes doubled and the 5th is omitted.

Altered triad:  Avoid doubling the altered tone unless it is the root.  Otherwise, same as non-altered triads.

Chord Connection

Move each voice the shortest distance possible.

Move the soprano and bass in contrary or oblique motion if possible.

Do not double the leading tone, any altered tone (including the #6 and #7 scale degrees in minor), any nonharmonic tone, or the 7th of any chord.

Avoid parallel 5ths and parallel octaves between any two voices, and the augmented second (A2) in a melodic line.

Triads in Root Position

Repeated Roots:  When roots in the bass are repeated, the two triads may be written in the same position (open or close), or they may be in different positions.  Triad positions should be changed:

when necessary to keep voices in correct pitch range;

when necessary to maintain a voice distribution of two roots, one 3rd and one 5th;

to avoid large leaps in an inner voice.

Roots a Fifth/Fourth Apart (one common tone):

Retain the common tone; move the other voices stepwise; the roots of both chords should be doubled.

Or, do not keep the common tone, especially when the soprano descends from scale step 2 to 1; move all three upper voices in similar motion to the nearest chord tone; the roots of both chords should be doubled.

Or, move the 3rd of the first triad by the interval of a fourth to the 3rd of the second triad; hold the common tone and move the other voice by step.

At the cadence, the root of the final triad may be tripled, omitting the 5th.

Roots a Second Apart (no common tone):

Move the upper three voices in contrary motion to the bass, making sure each voice moves to the nearest chord tone of the next chord; the roots of both chords should be doubled.


In the progression V-vi or V-VI, double the 3rd factor of the vi or VI chord.  Only two upper voices will move in opposite direction to the bass.

Roots a (M/m) Third Apart (two common tones):

Keep both common tones and move remaining upper voices stepwise; the roots of both chords should be doubled.


When it is impossible or undesirable to follow conventional procedures, double the 3rd in the second of the two triads; however, if this third is the leading tone or any altered tone, double the third in the first of the two triads.

Triads in Inversion

When one of the two triads is in inversion, write to or from the doubled note first, using oblique or contrary motion if possible, and then fill in the remaining voices.

When both triads are in an inversion, each triad must have a different doubling to avoid parallel 5ths and/or octaves, or the same doubling may appear in a different pair of voices.

As always, avoid doubling the leading tone or any altered tone.

Approach and leave each doubled tone as prescribed.


Double any factor that facilitates smooth voice-leading.  Favored notes are the soprano (most common) and bass.  As always, do not double the leading tone.

Voice-leading for the viio6:

Double the 3rd (bass note) or 5th factor; bass is preferred.  Move all voices with as much stepwise motion as possible.  Avoid melodic skips of a tritone.

Voice-leading for the iio6 in minor:

Double the 3rd (bass note) or the root, which will be in an upper voice.  When approaching or leaving the iio6, make voice-leading stepwise whenever possible, and avoid melodic tritones.


Except in unusual circumstances, double the 5th (bass note) of the chord.

Approach and depart second inversion with as few skips as possible; only in the arpeggiated second-inversion chord is the bass note approached or left by skip.

Use only the four types of second inversion chords described:  cadential, passing bass, arpeggiated bass and pedal bass.

Nonharmonic Tones

A nonharmonic tone temporarily replaces a harmonic tone.  Approach and leave any nonharmonic tone according to the definition of the NH tone being used.

Consider an accented nonharmonic tone as one of the chord tones, so that when it resolves, the chord displays conventional doubling.

Seventh Chords

The 7th usually resolves down by step.

All four factors of the V7 are usually present, but, for smoothness of voice-leading, the fifth may be omitted and the root doubled.

If the resolution tone is not present (rare), keep the 7th as a common tone, or move it as little as possible.

Stuff NOT to do ...

Avoid parallel 5ths, 8ths or unisons.  (Successive perfect intervals are not considered parallel.)

Avoid doubling the leading tone (7th scale degree).

Avoid the melodic augmented 2nd (A2) and augmented 4th (A4) in all voices.

Do not write pitches out of the range of the given voice.  Keep all four voices within their ranges at all times.

Stuff you can OCCASIONALLY do ...

Avoid crossing voices.  Keep voices in proper order from highest to lowest (SATB).  On rare occasions crossing of voices is justified if it improves voice-leading.

Do not overlap two adjacent voices unless unavoidable.  An overlap occurs between two chords when one voice moves above or below the previous pitch of an adjacent voice.  Overlaps of a half- or whole-step may be employed if it improves voice-leading, and there is no acceptable alternative.

Avoid moving in the same direction to perfect intervals in the two outer voices (S/B).  Such motion creates the effect of parallel perfect intervals.

Unequal fifths, e.g., P5 to d5, or vice versa, are found and may be used sparingly.

Melodic augmented 2nds and 4ths are almost never found in chorale literature of the 18th century, however:

The melodic descending diminished 5th (d5) appears sometimes in the bass voices, but rarely in the soprano.

The diminished 4th (d4) is a diatonic interval in the harmonic minor scale (from the 3rd scale degree down to the 7th), and may be written in isolated situations.

The leading tone should progress upward to tonic when in an outer voice (S/B).  Exceptions are rare.

vii7 and viio7

Resolve the 7th of the vii7 and viio7 (and inversions) down one diatonic scale degree.

Resolve the tritone (root to 5th) inward if a d5, and outward if an A4, whenever possible.

Nondominant 7th Chords

Resolve the 7th of nondominant seventh chords one diatonic scale degree down to the 3rd of the next chord (in circle progressions).  Otherwise, resolve the 7th down one step if its resolution is a part of the following chord.

Secondary Dominant Chords

Resolve the 7th of the V7/? down one scale degree in the same voice.

All four factors of the V7/? are usually present.

Secondary Leading-Tone Chords

For the viio6/?, no established voice-leading pattern exists, but double bass note, avoid skips of a tritone, and move all voices with as much stepwise motion as possible.

Resolve the 7th of the viio7/? or vii7/? (and inversions) down one diatonic scale degree.

Resolve the tritone (root to 5th) of the secondary leading-tone chord inward if a d5 and outward if an A4, whenever possible.

Borrowed Chords

Altered tones are seldom doubled.  Otherwise, follow the guidelines for all borrowed chords as they appear in the parallel minor or major keys.

Neapolitan 6th Chord

Double the 3rd (bass note) of the chord whenever possible.  Move upper voices in contrary motion with the bass, and avoid chromatic voice-leading in leaving the N6.  When N6 proceeds to the tonic chord in second inversion, watch out for parallel 5ths.

Augmented Sixth Chords

Resolve the +6 interval outward (in contrary motion) by half-step to an octave.  Neither of the two tones forming the +6 is ever doubled.  In the Italian 6th, double the 3rd above the bass note.

To avoid parallel 5ths, the German 6th proceeds to the tonic six-four instead of V (the eventual chord of resolution).

In major keys, when the Gr6 progresses to the tonic six-four, the P5 above the bass is spelled as a doubly augmented 4th to avoid chromatic spelling of resolution (upward to the 3rd of the tonic).

9th, 11th & 13th Chords

For V9, the root, 3rd 7th and 9th are usually present.  The 7th and 9th resolve down to the 3rd and 5th of the tonic triad.

For V11, the root, 7th, 9th and 11th are usually present.  The 11th is retained as a common tone (tonic note), while the 7th and 9th resolve down to the 3rd and 5th of the tonic triad.

For V13, the root, 3rd, 7th and 13th are usually present.  The 13th is usually in the soprano and resolves a 3rd downward to the tonic factor of the tonic chord.  The 7th resolves down by step to the tonic's 3rd.

Altered Dominants

Take the 5th in the direction of the alteration:  raised pitches up; lowered pitches down.

Remember to resolve the 7th of the chord downward by step, even if it results in a nonstandard doubling of the tonic triad.

Altered tones are almost never doubled.

Chromatic Mediants

Double the root of chromatic mediants, even if this results in doubling an altered tone.

Resolve as smoothly as possible, even if chromatic voice-leading results.


"Quickie" Rule-of-Thumb Doubling Chart


Root Root Position, M/m triads
(or Bass)
First inversion, M/m triads
Bass Second inversion, M/m triads
Bass First inversion, dim. triads
(viio6 and iio6)


Summary of Doubling Practices

Major keys: I ii   iii   IV   V vi   viio6
Minor keys: i   iio6   III   iv V   VI viio6
1st & 2nd choices: 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2
Root Position

1st Inv.

2nd Inv.

R -


B -

R -


- -

- -

B -

- -

R -


- -

R -


- -

R -


B -

R -


B -

R -


B -

R 3

S 3

- -

3 R

3 R

- -

- -

B -

- -

*Never double the 3rd of V (leading tone).
R=Root, S=Soprano, B=Bass, 3=3rd of triad,  "-" = Either no practice, or does not apply.

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