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Part writing for more than 4 voices


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According to this article, 4 part chorale-like voice leading (part writing), despite being taught in music conservatories, is not used in orchestral music. I understand the basic concepts of voice leading, voice independence, which note to double, and resolving in the "right" direction, but I haven't worried to much about learning strict textbook voice leading. (I admit these concepts can be hard to prioritize and I think that might be where I got the idea of adding another voice or two)

I know it's a lot, but here are the things I want to clear up for myself:

1. When people write in more than four voices, do they use standard 4 part voice leading and add in additional parts to fill in space, or do they voice lead all of the parts? I imagine both methods are used, but what do I know?

2. Is it easier to voice lead in, say 5 parts, rather than in 4? I understand that the more voices you add, the more responsibility you have to lead (resolve?) all of them, but I feel like a lot of specific rules for specific situations come from the limitations of 4 parts. For example I feel like it might be easier to balance doubling the correct note and writing independent lines, in 5 voices.

3. How is voice leading used in modern composition? I would probably just voice lead the chords and write the melody and countermelody together separate from the chords, not considering them in voice leading (of course except for the difference between perfect authentic cadences and imperfect authentic cadences).

4. How worried are modern composers (I'm sure there's a difference between media composers and "academic" concert stage composers) about line independence and not using parallel fifths octaves and unisons? I know I would never (never say never) try to voice lead in say, eight voices, because it would be impossible to avoid forbidden parallels unless you have a ton of upper chord extensions, like jazz.

5. Do people (if no one does it, I might try it) ever use a different amounts of voices in different sections of a single piece (i. e. five voices in the A section and four in the B section)? If I were to do this, I would redistribute the parts to the instruments, so that doesn't equate to parallel unisons, but this "redistribution" would happen anyway since different sections normally have a different set of instruments. This is just an idea I got, but I'm sure it's not original.

6. Are there any existing systems to voice lead in more than four parts, or is it just the same basic principles (or is only four part voice leading taught, leaving the rest to the composer to figure out)?

I know this is a longer post, and I can probably figure some of it out myself, but I would be thrilled if someone of more experience were to offer some insight.

P.S. Just to clarify, I know that orchestral music uses part doublings on top of the original part writing; I'm not asking about that.

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I hope I won't be the only one to reply to my own post, but my 6th question was if there are any existing systems for voice leading in more than four parts. Perhaps I'm taking this too seriously, but I want to propose a few "rules" for voice leading in 5 and 6 voices. Obvious things like ranges are the same.

I tried voice leading in 5 voices and it isn't easier. I'm not good at voice leading either way, maybe I should abandon trying to do it classically.

Five voices:

1. Use the same doubling rules as you would in 4 part harmony. However it is more flexible. For example, you can voice a I chord with two roots, two fifths, and one third, or three roots, one fifth, and one third.

2. Prioritize avoiding parallel octaves and unisons over avoiding parallel fifths. Avoid parallel fifths if you can, but know they will be more common and harder to avoid than in four part harmony.

  • At any given chord change, there should never be more than one set of parallel fifths.
  • The same two voices should never have parallel fifths two chord changes in a row.
  • Avoiding parallel octaves and unisons means doubled notes cannot resolve the same way.
  • If a note is tripled (I'm sure it will be unavoidable sooner or later), all three of them have to resolve differently. Two of them have to be resolved in opposite directions and one of them will have to leap to a note that is not one of the notes the other two resolved to (the leap has to be in the highest or lowest voice, of course).

3. This is not a rule, but an observation. Unisons (notes shared by two voices) will be more common because there are more notes in the same amount of space. Parallel unisons are to be avoided as they harm voice independence more (I think) than parallel octaves.

I haven't tried voice leading in 6 voices, and maybe no one needs this, but I'm extrapolating a bit.

Six voices:

1. I think the most effective doubling for a triad is either three of one note, two of another, and one of the one that wants to resolve a certain direction the most (usually the third as we all know). Maybe you can double each note, but good luck resolving them all independently. Seriously, I wouldn't use six voice part writing unless almost all my chords had upper chord extensions. Jazz composers probably have their own voice leading system figured out, though.

2. Chances are parallel octaves will be unavoidable at times with so many voices (especially with triads), like how parallel fifths are hard to avoid in five part voice leading. I would apply the same restrictions that I applied on parallel fifths in five part voice leading to parallel octaves here:

  • At any given chord change, there should never be more than one set of parallel octaves.
  • The same two voices should never have parallel octaves two chord changes in a row.
  • Maybe it can be a rule that parallel octaves are allowed in this case, but parallel unisons are not. I still think parallel unisons harm voice independence more than parallel octaves do.

 

Overall, I don't think I'll ever use six part voice leading and I'm probably approaching this whole thing wrong, but I had to write down what came to mind as I was overthinking this in my free time. Now I can stop wasting my time and mental energy. Since the kind of music I want to write is video game style music, I probably don't need classical voice leading knowledge beyond the basics. If I am looking at everything wrong, help would be appreciated.

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On 7/10/2024 at 10:06 AM, Artdreamer77 said:

4. How worried are modern composers (I'm sure there's a difference between media composers and "academic" concert stage composers) about line independence and not using parallel fifths octaves and unisons? I know I would never (never say never) try to voice lead in say, eight voices, because it would be impossible to avoid forbidden parallels unless you have a ton of upper chord extensions, like jazz.

Not at all.

Most people don't understand that the purpose of avoiding parallels is almost entirely academic and is about teaching counterpoint. 

Anyway,

When you have more than 4 parts, often the other parts are just doublings unless you are deliberately using extended harmonies. For example: Soli would have often more than 4 parts, and is entirely parallel. The other option, which I personally use a lot, is that your additional parts work with your basic SATB parts in a more "chord + melody" texture way. So for example, I'll have my melody in the brass harmonized in SATB, but I will have the strings and winds play runs or arpeggios on top which follow the "chords" that result from the brass harmonization.

Something else I do a lot is that the other sections aside from my main SATB parts is that they will double the harmonies, but with a consistent rhythmic part or accents instead of being melodic.

Another thing additional parts may do is provide resonant sustains in the background. So if I have wind choir that has a lot of staccato parts and rests, the violins may play sustain parts at a softer dynamic, but sustain tones in the wind harmonies.

I'd recommend you watch this video for orchestral contexts. Frankly, it's one of the best on the internet. It contains demonstrations of everything I'm talking about.

 

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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I don’t know if this answers your question, but I have read somewhere (I forgot where) that in some points of some movements of Rachmaninoff’s All night vigil op 37 there was even 7 (maybe it was six but I don’t remember) part writing. You could try to investigate that.

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