← Back to mit.katmh.com

Week 7A: Classical Harmony

· Read 03/29/21

Flavors of classical harmony

  1. 4-part harmony in keyboard style
  2. 4-part harmony in SATB style: each staff has two voices, check the stem direction
  3. Keyboard-style full voicing: prioritize volume and density over counterpoint; stick as many voices in between the outer voices as you can; make the texture as thick as possible

We'll focus mainly on the SATB style for the next two weeks

Where did these rules come from? The music (hymns) came first, then codified as a grammar passed down from composer to apprentice

Constraints of SATB style


  • Soprano: C4-G5
  • Alto: G3-C5
  • Tenor: C3-G4
  • Bass: E2-C4

Single chord

  • No voice crossing
  • Spacing: 1 8ve max between S-A, A-T; no limit on T-B

    • Why? Mostly because that's what composers did. But you can relate it to the overtone series — lower intervals sound muddier, want wider intervals
  • Doubling (3 notes in a triad, 4 voice parts, we need to double something)

    • Root position: double the bass/root
  • Sonority: use sevenths and triads

Voice leading from one chord to another

  • Prefer shortest path

Practice notes

  • Reminder: Roman numeral tells you the position of the chord (e.g. root, inversion)
  • V7 chord

    • Double the bass if you want; need the 3rd and 7th
    • Okay to omit the chordal 5th if necessary
    • Instability comes from the tritone
    • ^7 (leading tone, M7 from tonic) resolves up, chordal 7th (measures from root) resolves down by step (going to ^3)
  • V7-I: one chord is going to leave out the chordal 5th
  • Exception: Fine to let leading tone go down instead to result in a fuller chord

    • Not as satisfying for individual singer, but sacrifice for overall chord
  • Parallel perfect intervals diminish the independence of the individual voices

Reducing figurated harmonies to chords

Artusi-Montiverdi controversy (1600): where the V7 came from