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Voice-leading: 3 parts to 4 parts, and back.

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Stephen Limbaugh, Dec 31, 2021.

  1. Scouring my text resources, I cannot find proper guidance on the treatment of polyphonic textures that expand and contract in the number of voices, particularly in the orchestral medium.

    Frequently observed in canonical scores, a particular voice in a four-voice texture will "jump" to another voice in unison or octaves, reducing the polyphony to three voices.

    Careful inspection of scores like Rota's il Gattopardo shows what appears to be a clever reduction from five voices to four in the first statement of the love theme -- violas and 1sts moving in parallel octaves does not disrupt the natural progression of the parts in the moment this happens.

    On the contrary, arbitrary moves in this manner can produce an unsatisfactory result that frustrates the ear with errant parallel octaves.

    Smart people please advise.
  2. You best option is to post specific examples from your piece - there are a ton of variables and ways to handle this.
    Stephen Limbaugh likes this.
  3. #3 Stephen Limbaugh, Jan 2, 2022
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2022
    Ok cool... thanks Mike!

    The parts in question have to do with the cello/bassoon part moving from accompaniment/harmonic support to joining the bass part an octave up in the 2/4 bar. Then, moving the viola from melody to harmonic support and the "tenor" voice in the 2/4 bar.

    To achieve this, my solution was to have the viola and cello converge on the "C" in measure 3, beat 4, as a pivot to the subsequent stuff, and for added emphasis on the root note of that 1st inversion chord.

    The texture is further altered by a bout of interlocking phrasing on the 2/4 bar in the strings... so the cellos jump out of the bass voice as soon as they've started, likewise with the viola into the bass. (See bassoon part on that bar.)

    (Also note, there is music before and after this... a bassoon solo stating the melody in the subdominant that goes into the part on this page... the whistler is iso booth'd... and that inordinate fortepiano chord is voiced that way because of something happening on screen there.)

    Attached Files:

  4. Here's the strings without the interlocking phrasing. I marked what may appear to be parallel 5ths.... but it's kinda not, or at least doesn't offend my ear as the cello is jumping to the tenor voice (and again emphasizing the root note of the harmony). Does this sound like a "no-no" to your ears?

    That was also part of the rationale behind the interlocking phrasing.. to further mask that jump to another voice, and leave less doubt about the satisfactory movement of the individual voices.

    Attached Files:

  5. Lots of confusion in here. First of all, why this compliment of instruments - is this for full orchestra and you've just trimmed out tacet instruments or is this the instrumentation for some reason? Also, write your intended chord above each measure so I can help guide your most important tones.
  6. K! Here’s the intended chords.
    Also, yes full orchestra with the other instruments tacet. Chords written above strings in attachment.

    Attached Files:

  7. Here is the bare bones stripped down theme with the implied chords. (...different from the orchestrated version which does a deceptive cadence.)

    Attached Files:

  8. Now play the two-handed piano version you'd play to sell me, the director, on the idea.
  9. #9 Stephen Limbaugh, Jan 2, 2022
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2022
    For two hands :)

    *correction—m6/7/8 should have whole note ties in LH just like RH.

    Attached Files:

  10. Play it. It's more important than how you notate it.
  11. @Mike Verta I think I am seeing the unstated point you are making by re-looking at the piano version... I missed some pretty obvious opportunities to bring out the pertinent parts that need punctuation.

    This is like when you play a chess game, and you go back and look at errors/blunders/inefficiencies.
  12. Hmm. Interesting. You know, I personally would never of thought of this as 4 part writing.

    Off the top of my head, Henry Brant's Textures and Timbres has a whole chapter on this. It's a wonderful book. (* This is only off the top of my head, but I believe it is correct. Either way a wonderful book)

    So, I think Mike is giving you good advice as there are indeed foundational composing issues vs. orchestration issues. It's looks like you are starting to to figure out some of the issues based on the two examples you posted. Where (in my opinion) you went off the rails with the orchestration is that you choose to divisi the first violins. I would not do that.

    The reason is the melody is what you want to project the most. The inner voices are for support. So I would have the lower octave of your doubling in violin1 on violin 2
    and start the division from that point on downwards.

    What is also fucking you, in the not so good way, in terms of balance is the tessitura topic we have spoke about before.

    The easiest expiation (of one possible solution) to this problem comes from the Jazz world. Have you ever heard of the terms. "Drop 2" or "Drop 3" ?

    Piano is always going to give you closed (unless you are Rach.) voicing.

    Let's look

    If you are simply - I use my own term "cooking pizza" - assigning one note to each Vln2 , Viola, Cello...... on one hand you are lucky in that the strings are homegenous, and forgiving since they are not dependent on the breath. However this is sort of like piano playing in that the thumb can be too loud. Begin with the musical intention first. If C is our melody and the E and G are support you can see from the example below we are going against the intent of the idea by doing the following


    See how it is going from bad to worse ? Anyway, the term I mentioned "Drop 2". or 3 sometimes, 4 is possible but rare, is a jazz shorthand for saying. - Take the second voice and drop it down one octave.

    The "drop 2" would give you the following

    As you can see the balance is "baked in" more than in the 1st example.

    This is really just one possible solution however.

    This might be enough


    This is why there are chapters on interlocking, enclosure etc.

    Additionally, as Mike alluded to somewhere, it can be very effective to have different rhythmic values and that can fill things in nicely.

    To keep it simple:


    See how the viola is covering the rest of the triad. If there are other long whole notes in other sections sustaining the same pitches it can be a nice contrast.

    This can go on for days:

    You can div. if you are worried about one voice not coming thru


    Etc. etc, etc.

    Attached Files:

    Leonardo Badinella likes this.
  13. Thanks Doug -- so, contextually...

    Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 10.40.04 AM.png
  14. So to write a little about the music itself.

    I guess it's impossible to remove one's training and background, and of course often times the same issues arise wether you study composition or improv and so on.

    As I mentioned in my first post, I never would have thought of your piece as 4 parts.....anywhere.

    The reason is that I see it as often simply a harmonisation of one part. Even if there are 4 notes, when they move in rhythmic unison and similar motion, to my mind, that
    becomes unified harmony.

    For example if I play the old Batman the Animated Series opening...... this is just two parts. (to my mind)


    I know the name will make a person instantly squeeze together and tighten the old butt-cheeks, but I found Schenkerian studies very useful for my composing. The reason is it is the only branch of theory that ( for me, and how I am hard wired) offer insight into the creation process and not just labelling of chords.

    It was helpful in that I could get a snap shot in what was the more important musical element.

    I hope the following is of some help, and not meant to be "the right way" or anything like that. Simply "another way to look at things"

    Let's take your piece.

    This is your "Core" idea

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-26-21.png

    Melodies have a "head"a "Tail"

    For example, if I write out the opening two measures of Bach's invention #4 - which supposedly was meant to be a teaching resource for his keyboard students - it becomes more clear how this is teaching two things at once.

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-33-39.png

    The down beat of 1 provides the harmonic gravity and everything else is the "landscape"

    The D to C# clearly establishes a I to V or vii diminished. If you consider that role of improv. in there time it would be a great opening over a 1-2-3 bass line

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-38-51.png

    Of course we can spin this out in a number of ways

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-42-21.png


    Check out what happens when you cut off the head. (the 1 of each measure)

    Now we see the "landscape" and the "etude-ness" of this invention. If you go thru the whole piece like this, it was a revelation for me. It's everywhere.

    You can fuck around and change the head and notice how one note can change the gravity.

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-54-47.png


    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_3-56-4.png

    To be cont.

    Attached Files:

  15. Nah, nah, nah. Pizza. It's bread, it's cheese, it's sauce. It's good cold the next day.

    First be clear on the music. Gmi - Ami - to Bb/D

    Don't jump ship half way thru. You began with parallel motion. Just see it thur.

    It might be helpful to see two versions.

    The string part:


    It's still traditional SATB. Inner voicing closer together, and more space is allowed between the bass and the upper voice.

    From there you can spice it up, but this is a strong foundation.

    Piano part would look like this. (omit the octave doublings)

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_4-12-52.png


    So, these examples are reversed engineered.

    So once you have the foundation.......... you can divisi and double. Notice below how the inner voice stay with a 6th which is classic SATB writing.

    This is like adding the toppings. But I hope I am in line with Mike's advice of get the foundation first. Then you have something solid to build off.

    And of course, a "rule" is not a law. It's a tool. Hopefully it helps to see the piano part closed voiced - most likely how I would begin - and then opened up
    for orchestration considerations, and finally an example taking advantage of the resonance of the orchestra.

  16. ...yeah I actually hate labeling chords except as a way to communicate with others. I actually am not shy of Schenker, but in terms of melodic theory, I found a different book (as a critique of Schenker) that I think is more compete in the sense of establishing an actual hierarchy of melodic movement. (pardon the aside)

    I guess the reason also why I ignore what I think is the "natural" progression of individual parts, and just comp chords, is I get stuff like this that to me sounds like shit:

    Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 11.04.44 AM.png

    ....but then when trying to solve the red marks, I attempt solutions like this and the feedback generally negative:

    Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 11.10.13 AM.png

    See what I'm saying? What I *think* I am doing in example 2 is the stuff I believe I see in classical scores... or Rota. lol...
  17. Another closely related example. Kent Kennan has a whole chapter on this

  18. Sorry... posting at the same time.... here's the disconnect:

    Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 11.26.09 AM.png
    That's what is bothering me when I write... because I don't see this in Mahler, Shostakovich, etc., I'm avoiding doing this.

    It's why I opted for this originally.....

    Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 11.31.43 AM.jpg

    ...and so when I avoid the parallel 5ths/octaves, I get in orchestration trouble. ;)
  19. So .... to swing back to the whole reason I brought up the bach example.

    You have a dilemma with your "parts".

    Is you record yourself and close your eyes, just listening..... what is the aural difference between these two examples.


    Versus this


    The point I am making is your "parts' are tied in a knot ... so to speak. One common trap composers fall into all the time is the over saturation of beat one, and how many voices enter upon it.

    Let me offer a very simple adjustment to your melody and see if it becomes more clear what is what.

    Let's just go with French horns. All 4 or 6 or whatever you wish.

    Add in a pick up to the bar so our ear latches onto it.

    Next, a common pitfall of piano players it to not think enough about note durations. If you play a breath instrument you can only think of this. Let's make the end of your melody longer.

    And let's shape it with dynamics


    Now it stands on its own much clearer.

    The other important point is you know how to develop it as we already have our "targets".

    For the inner voices now,,,,, do you really need to double the D on the down beat with them? Maybe avoiding them makes ore more interesting part writing

    View attachment upload_2022-1-5_4-51-17.png

    Which then might lead you to consider some reharmonisation.


    My point is, those few adjustment give -- to my ear (* and there are many options....this is not meant to be the ideal answer) create more clarity to the three parts.

    I hope this was of some help

    many best wishes


    Attached Files:

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