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Part Writing



Part writing, also called voice leading, is generally taught to students to emphasize the importance of both horizontal lines and vertical


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harmonies.  Studying four-part choral music—that is, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass—helps to address the common problems that arise when writing for different voices.  While learning and analyzing part writing it is useful to review some of the best examples of harmonization: 371 Bach Chorales is a great reference and study tool to have.


Important rules for part-writing are as follows:


1.  The spacing between S, A, and T must not be more than an octave.  The space between T and B can be greater.


2.  Each voice must stay within its vocal range, that is S, C4-G5; A, F3-C5; T, C3-G4; B, F2-C4.


3.  Motion

a.   Move voices in contrary motion to the bass whenever possible, i.e. if the bass moves down, melody moves up.

b.  Avoid parallel motion, such as fifths and octaves moving in the same direction.


4.  Doubling:

a.  double the root whenever possible

b.  try to double the voice in the bass or soprano when possible

c.  do not double the leading tone or the seventh

d.  in a diminished triad try to double the third or fifth

e.  it is okay to leave the fifth out occasionally, but not the third or the root


5.  Try to avoid voices crossing one another if at all possible


6.  Avoid using illegal dissonant intervals such as the tritone


Although the above are some of the most important rules for part writing, to really learn the skill one should try to do all of the following: review Bach and other chorales, get plenty of practice and have a teacher review for mistakes and good writing, and play part writing exercises aloud to hear whether they contain errors or appropriate harmonies.




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