- When the two roots lie a P4 or P5 apart (one common tone):
- Keep the common tone and move the remaining two upper voices
stepwise to the chord tones of the next triad.
- Do not keep the common tone, especially when the soprano descends
scales steps 2 to 1. Move all three upper voices in
similar motion to the nearest chord tone. If handles correctly, the
roots will be doubled.
- When the two roots lie a 3rd apart (two common tones):
- Keep both common tones and move remaining upper voices stepwise.
If handled properly, the roots of the two chords
will be doubled.
- When the two roots lie a 2nd apart (no common tones):
- Move the three upper voices in contrary motion to the bass,
making sure that each voice moves to the nearest chord tone
of the next chord. If handled correctly, the roots of the two chords
will be doubled. An exception is the progression
V-vi/VI. In this case, double the 3rd
of the vi/VI triad. Only two upper voices will move
in contrary motion to the bass.
- When chords are repeated:
- Maintain proper doubling, range of voice, and keep the usual
order of voices. But otherwise, freedom to exchange chord
factors among voices is acceptable. Sometimes a change in position
First Inversion Triads:
- Double any triad factor that facilitates smooth voice leading.
Favoured notes are the soprano (most often) and the bass
(less often). Never double the leading tone. Observe general
recommendations regarding voice ranges, order and
Voice leading for the vii6
- Double the third (bass note) or the fifth. The bass note is
preferred. Move all voices with as much stepwise motion as
possible. Avoid skips of a tritone.
Voice leading for the ii6
in minor keys:
- Double the bass note (third) or the root (in an upper voice).
When approaching or leaving the ii6, make voice leading
stepwise wherever possible and avoid melodic tritones.
Voice leading for 64
- Except under unusual circumstances, double the bass note (fifth).
- Approach and depart with as few skips as possible.
- In only the arpeggiated 64 chord is the
bass note approached or left by skip.
- Use only the four types of 64 chords
described here: cadential, passing bass, arpeggiated bass and pedal
Unstylistic Practices - Inviolate
- Avoid parallel perfect Octaves, fifths, or perfect unisons.
Successive perfect intervals containing the same pitches are
not considered parallel.
- Never double the leading tone (7th) of the scale.
- Do not write pitches out of the range of that particular voice.
Keep all voices within their range at all times.
- Avoid the melodic augmented 2nd and 4th in
Unstylistic Practices - Occasionally
- Avoid crossing voices. On rare occasions, crossing of voices is
justified only if it improves voice leading.
- Spacing between adjacent voices should not exceed an octave in
the three upper voices. The spacing between tenor and
bass can be of any reasonable interval (never greater than two
- Do not overlap adjacent voices more than a whole step. 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.
- Do not move in the same direction to perfect intervals in the two
outer voices. Such motion is perceived by the ear as
parallel perfect interval.
- Unequal 5ths (P5th s to d5ths or v.v.) Ore
found in chorale harmonizations and may be used sparingly. The
ofvii6-I, under certain circumstances,
requires the use of unequal 5ths.
- Melodic augmented 2nds and 4ths are almost
never found in chorale literature of the 18th-century.
- The melodic descending d5th appears sometimes in bass
voices, but rarely in the soprano.
- The d4th is a diatonic interval in the harmonic minor
scale (from the 3rd down to the 7th), and may be
used in isolated
- The leading tone should progress upward to tonic when in an outer
voice and is least commonly applied in the bass.
Other Special Considerations
Augmented 6th chords:
- Built on the Major 3rd below the tonic of the key
- Italian 6th (It6) - Major 3rd +
Augmented 6th (total of three notes), Resolves outward to V
orV7directly, or through I64.
- French 6th (Gr6) - Major 3rd +
Aug. 4th + Augmented 6th (four notes), Resolves
outward to V orV7directly,
or through I64.
- German 6th (Fr6) - Major 3rd + P5th
+ Augmented 6th (four notes), Must resolve to V
through I64 to avoid
Neapolitan 6th chords:
- Major triad built on the lowered 2nd scale degree.
Resolves inward to V7 or
cadential I64 chord.
- Double the bass (3rd of the chord) whenever possible.
Melodic d3rd in soprano considered desirable.
- Avoid chromatic voice leading.
- When going to I64,
avoid the parallel 5ths; instead, invert them to 4ths.
- Chords borrowed from the relative mode, used as colour.
- Avoid doubling the altered notes.
- Bass note moves upward, other voices in oblique or contrary
- Rule of thumb: follow general guidelines as they appear in the
key from which the chord was borrowed. (e.g. The
Picardy 3rdfollows rules from the parallel major key.)
- Dominant or secondary dominant triads or 7th chords
with a raised or lowered 5th.
- Resolve the altered 5th in the direction of the
- If a 7th chord, resolve 7th down one scale
degree. (This may result in a doubled 3rd or a tripled root)
- Never double the altered 5th.
- Altered mediant or submediant triads (occasionally 7th
- Since reached and left through 3rd relationship,
chromatic movement is common.
- Double the root whenever possible.
Secondary dominant and leading tone
- Use standard voice leading practices: Double the bass note (the 3rd),
avoid the melodic tritone, move as stepwise as
possible and resolve tritones in the direction of their spelling
(inward if d5th , outward if A4th).
Info synthesized from:
Benward, Bruce and Gary White. Music in
Theory and Practice. Ed. Kathleen Nietzke et al. 5th ed.
Wisconsin: Brown and Benchmark Publications, 1993.