Monday, March 31, 2014

Practicing the Common Practice

You have been working with 4-part texture for a bit now. We have focused on triad doubling, spacing voices within the chords, and the idea of motion when moving from chord to chord.

Today we want to try and bring those concepts together in one example.
I have created a figured bass template for you to complete. You will attempt to tie together the need for proper doubling, spacing and effective motion from chord to chord to satisfy the demands of common practice.

I wish you good luck.

4-part example

Friday, March 28, 2014

Constructing 4-part texture using triads: Motion

The final installment in our focus on 4-part textures will be how to deal with motion between chords. Whenever you are moving, you have to pick a direction. It is no different with the lines in a voiced chord. Lines within a moving chord have three choices: stay on a common tone (if available), move up or move down. I will break down the types of motion from chord to chord in the common practice order of most desirable to least desirable:

Contrary motion:
This motion is a strongly desired method of moving from chord to chord. When you are moving chords in contrary motion, you are moving the upper voices in the opposite direction of the bass line.
As you can see in this example, the bass voice is moving down while the others voices are moving in the opposite direction. This is a preferred motion between chords during common practice times.

Oblique motion:
Contrary motion and oblique motion are closely related. Think of oblique motion as contrary motion with a common tone if possible.
In this example the tenor and alto voices are moving contrary to the bass, but the soprano line remains on the common tone of G. That is the essence of oblique motion. This motion is also desired in common practice writing.

Similar motion:
Now we are getting to the chord motions that are less desirable because the often lead to spacing or other issues which we will spend a little bit of time on in a future class. In similar motion, the voices are all moving in the same direction as the bass, but avoid moving at the same interval.

You see that all the voices in similar motion are moving in the same direction. The important part of similar motion is that the voices move at different intervals from the bass. The motion in the bass is a 2nd while the motion in the tenor is a 5th, the alto is a 4th, the soprano is a 4th. This motion is not particularly desirable in the common practice but it is generally preferred to...

Parallel motion:
In parallel motion (as in similar motion) the voices move in the same direction as the bass. However, in parallel motion, you have instances where voices move at the same interval of the bass. This is a sound we often embrace in more modern music, but during common practice it was avoided.
In this example all of the voices are moving in the same direction and with the same interval (descending 4th). This sound is the least desirable of all the common practice chord motions. 

**Check out your chord motion in your 4-part texture. Try to identify the type of motion you employ between chords. Where possible see if you can move it up the motion food chain toward contrary or oblique motion. 

You may even notice places where you have elements of different motion combined. Similar motion with a common(oblique) tone or parallel motion combined with contrary motion. In those instances, you want to try to eliminate the less desirable motion while maintaining the more preferred elements.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Constructing 4-part textures using triads: Spacing

In our previous post and class you completed a 4-part texture using triads with a focus on proper common practice doubling. Great.

This leads us to our next hurdle: Spacing.

In this case we are talking about the distance between the voices. Specifically we are concerned with adjacent voices. S-A, A-T, T-B.

General Rule: Between the soprano and alto the distance should not be greater than an octave. This also holds true between the alto and the tenor (though it is sometimes more difficult to observe, because these voices are on different staves.) Between the tenor and bass you have a bit more freedom as you can exceed the spacing of an octave. With all the voices, you have to be cognizant of the practical ranges of the voices. The range is how high or how low the voices can extend.

Here is an example:

Use of extreme ranges is something to explore, but should be used sparingly in actual practice.

Revisit your 4-part texture from our post on doubling and make adjustments based on what you now know about spacing. Be sure to continue to adhere to common practice rules on doubling.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Constructing 4-part Textures Using Triads: Doubling

In order to begin investigating more of the "rules" of common practice music, we will explore 4-part texture in more detail.
4-part texture is a good vehicle for this exploration, because it offers up opportunities in chordal and melodic writing while staying in the confines of the grand staff.

The first concept to explore is doubling. If we are using triads within a 4-part texture, we need to double at least one note from the triad to complete a 4-part chord.


The basic rule for doubling is to be sure the note you are doubling is a stable note. You may ask,"What the heck does that mean?" The root (note that names the triad) of most triads is a stable note and is the preferred double. The leading tone (or 7th note of the scale) is generally avoided as a double because it is believed to be an unstable sound (I am not making this up).

In general you should double the root of the triad in four parts. Less often the 3rd and 5th.

In some instance you may even want to triple the root (if you truly desire this option, be sure your remaining voice is the 3rd and not the 5th.)

If you would like to double 2 notes from your triad, be sure they are the root and 3rd (omit the 5th).

...and we are just getting started.

Check out his lesson on voicing triads on the grand staff.

Hopefully this puts you in a position to build some 4-part texture. I have made a template that involves a bass line and a figured bass analysis. Your job is to complete a 4-part texture that conforms to common practice rules of doubling.

Complete 4-Part Texture

Monday, March 24, 2014

Building Basic Harmony

We have been analyzing the basic harmony of a few musical examples. Today we are going to start experimenting with our own harmonic foundations. In the process, we will begin to discuss some of the "rules" of common practice 4-part writing textures.

I have made a template with the melody of the tune "Jingle Bells"(at least the final 8-bars). Included with this melody is a crude harmonic analysis. Your job will be to fill in the missing 3 voices. Don't be afraid to experiment with note choices, placement, etc. Please use the Bach examples as a model to help you realize your own "Jingle Bells" dream.

Jingle Bells

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Using Non-Harmonic Tones

In a previous post, you were asked to review a tutorial on non-harmonic tones and identify them in a musical example from Bach.
Now you are tasked with demonstrating correct usage of non-harmonic tones.
I have created a sample 4-part texture that currently contains no non-harmonic tones (except for a sample (PT)).

You will re-work the sample to include at least one example of a passing tone (PT), neighbor tone (NT), anticipation (Ant.) and an escape tone(ET).

Demonstrate use of Non-Harmonic Tones

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Open Edit Competition on Noteflight

Check out this open edit competition on Noteflight. You have an opportunity to add 10 measures of "daydreaming" music for piano and/or guitar.
At the very least, check out what composers around the world are contributing to this composition.
Read the instructions and rules for the competition.

Open Edit Competition

Non-Harmonic Tones and Analysis

When trying to determine what is going on in a piece of music it doesn't help that the composer will often put in notes that don't quite fit the surrounding harmony.
In Common Practice we call these  Non-Harmonic Tones. 
You might even consider these notes the rebellious tinkering of composers shackled with pumping out music to please the often limited tastes of those paying the bills.
Of course, musicologists have studied these very rebellious notes and codified them into Non-Harmonic Tones.
Checkout the following tutorial on Non-Harmonic Tones and then see if you can identify some of them in an excerpt from our good friend J.S. Bach.

In this excerpt from a Bach piece, I have highlighted (in red) incidences of Non-Harmonic Tones. Feel free to work together to identify the types of Non-Harmonic Tones.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My First Harmonic Analysis

We have tried our hand at basic composition. Melodies, different meters, basic harmonies, we are on our way. Today we are going to explore the process of analysis. What is going on inside a composition. Our focus initially will be on understanding harmonic progression.

Sample Harmonic Analysis

Today we are going to look at a piece by J.S. Bach and see what we hear...

Bach Piece

Monday, March 10, 2014

Compositional Collaboration

So we have been exploring the features of Noteflight and writing melodies and basic harmonies. Today we are going to explore the collaborative features of this notation program. I have started a score to a piece entitled Group Effort.

Your job (as you will see in the score prompt) is to work collaboratively to complete a composition. This is both a musical and social experiment. You will have the opportunity to come together on and off-line to complete this project.

Please review the instructions in the score prompt for some basic guidelines.

A Group Effort

Friday, March 7, 2014

Common Progressions and Your Compositions

Much of what we study are rules based on the common practice of composers throughout the centuries. If a musical trend becomes noticeable, it often transformed into a "Common Practice Rule." These rules are the basis for much of music theory.
When we start to look at harmonic function (chords and their use), we will notice patterns of chord use that appear over and over again in all styles of music.

The "Common Practice" chart of chord progressions is often represented like this:

This chart represents chord progression tendencies.

You might read this chart as, "A I chord can go anywhere, but a iii chord generally moves to a vi which generally moves to either a ii or IV which very often leads to a V or a viio which might move to a iii but more often moves to a I."

A general rule is that IV chords (we often call these subdominants or pre dominants) like to move to a V chord. They really like it. They do it all the time. Because a ii chord shares two common tones with a IV chord, they are often interchanged because they have a similar sound. Likewise, The V chord wants very badly to move to a I chord which you will hear when you start building progressions. The V chord contains the 7th note of the scale (we call this the leading tone) and it is drawn like a moth to the flame to the I. The viio chord has two notes in common with the V chord and that is why we sometimes will use them interchangeably (though not without some considerations that we will get to later).

Of course if all composition simply followed this chart there would not be much innovation and variety in music. This is a guideline that demonstrates tendencies that occur often in music.

Here is a video that was shared with from Mr. Eschelbacher me which takes an example of a common chord progression (one that fits the above chart quite nicely) and demonstrates how it gets used all the time...

His "Ice Cream Changes" are the chord progression I-vi-IV-V-I
Check out how that conveniently fits our common chord chart...

**Your challenge is to create two (2) songs in Garageband. One that follows the rules of common chord progressions (chart above) and one that tries to break those rules whenever possible. What do you think about the results?**

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Introducing Triads

You can probably figure out that the term "Triad" is referring to something about the number 3. In this case, the term refers to the chords we get when we stack 3 notes by the intervals of a third.

You may notice that each of these triads is identified with a Roman Numeral. Roman Numerals are useful in music because they not only count but they assign quality based on their case. Upper case Roman numerals indicate a Major (or Augmented +) triad, whereas lower case Roman Numerals indicate minor (or diminished o) triads.

Triads come in 4 flavors: Major, minor, Augmented and diminished. Each has a unique sound and a unique formula for their construction.

Check out the tutorial at for more background on triad construction.

The tutorial offers the option of counting out the intervals of the triad on the keyboard. We will also discuss using our understanding of key signatures to get the same results.

Working with Triads- Activity

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Knowing your intervals: Evaluating your understanding

It is important that you evaluate your understanding of interval construction and identification. To that end, here are two trainers from and that will help you practice both building and identifying intervals.

Interval Identification

Interval Construction

I will spend time with each of you discussing your understanding of intervals and develop strategies to aid your understanding if needed.