Part-Writing Quick Reference Guidelines
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Keep the top three voices within an octave of each
The distance between the bass and tenor can be of
any reasonable interval (never greater than two octaves).
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
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.
As a general rule, the tonic, subdominant
and dominant tones in a key can be doubled freely.
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.
Double the bass note.
Usually all four voices are present. In the major-minor 7th
chord, root in bass, the root is sometimes doubled and the 5th is
Altered triad: Avoid doubling the
altered tone unless it is the root. Otherwise, same as
Move each voice the shortest distance possible.
the soprano and bass in contrary or oblique motion if possible.
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
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
when necessary to maintain a voice
distribution of two roots, one 3rd and one 5th;
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.
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
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.
cadence, the root of the final triad may be tripled, omitting the
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.
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
Approach and leave each doubled tone as
factor that facilitates smooth voice-leading. Favored notes are
the soprano (most common) and bass. As always, do not double the
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
Except in unusual
circumstances, double the 5th (bass note) of the chord.
and depart second inversion with as few skips as possible; only in the
arpeggiated second-inversion chord is the bass note approached or left
Use only the four types of second inversion
chords described: cadential, passing bass, arpeggiated bass and
A nonharmonic tone temporarily replaces a harmonic
tone. Approach and leave any nonharmonic tone according to the
definition of the NH tone being used.
accented nonharmonic tone as one of the chord tones, so that when it
resolves, the chord displays conventional doubling.
The 7th usually resolves down by step.
four factors of the V7 are usually present, but, for
smoothness of voice-leading, the fifth may be omitted and the root
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.)
doubling the leading tone (7th scale degree).
melodic augmented 2nd (A2) and augmented 4th (A4) in all voices.
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.
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.
fifths, e.g., P5 to d5, or vice versa, are found and may be used
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.
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.
viiø7 and viio7
Resolve the 7th of the viiø7 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
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 viiø7/?
(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,
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
To avoid parallel 5ths, the German 6th
proceeds to the tonic six-four instead of V (the eventual chord of
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.
Take the 5th in the direction of the alteration:
raised pitches up; lowered pitches down.
resolve the 7th of the chord downward by step, even if it results in a
nonstandard doubling of the tonic triad.
are almost never doubled.
Double the root of chromatic mediants, even if this
results in doubling an altered tone.
smoothly as possible, even if chromatic voice-leading results.
"Quickie" Rule-of-Thumb Doubling Chart
|POSITION & CHORD
||Root Position, M/m
|First inversion, M/m
||Second inversion, M/m
||First inversion, dim.
(viio6 and iio6)
Summary of Doubling
|1st & 2nd choices:
*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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