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a voice leading question
#1147235 11/10/07 08:26 PM
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This is a deep discusion question I've been thinking of. In 4 part harmony when composing is it better think of your lines horizontally or vertically or a mixture of both? When I've always comoposed vocal music in 4 parts, I've always tried to think about each line seperatly as well as the lines together. My goal is always to make each line sound good on it's on.


In theory I know there is a voice leading rule, where two two voices can't overlap or cross. Yet I notice that almost all composers will cross voices one time or another. For instance, in chorus we had a Bach piece and there were two instances where the tenor voice crossed the alto (One time the tenor voice crossed the alto by a complete perfect 4th. The alto note was E right above middle C and the tenor note was an A above middle C) I also know nothing in theory is set in stone, unless you are within the confines of a theory classroom; then is is the law. )


I was wondering if the reason for crossing the voices in this piece and others was do to Bach thinking about each line individually (even though the piece isn't polyphonic) It may also be that he was wanting to avoid parallel octaves or something and Bach thought that crossing voices didn't sound as bad as parrallel octaves or such.


well I'm 20 years old, and I'm teaching myself piano.
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Re: a voice leading question
#1147236 11/10/07 08:35 PM
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I've always considered voice leading "rules" a product of the study of counterpoint. Many are the theorists who posit that harmony is borne of the interaction of discrete melodic lines. This interaction is, by definition, polyphony. As counterpoint evolved, things that a practitioner or instructor might consider 'good' or 'bad' became more formalized.

As with anything else in music theory, though, much was a matter of opinion.


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Re: a voice leading question
#1147237 11/10/07 09:01 PM
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Originally posted by vanityx3:


I was wondering if the reason for crossing the voices in this piece and others was do to Bach thinking about each line individually
Yes, that's it. Each line is a singable melody that can stand on its own (as a melody). If you look at the Renaissance tradition that Bach inherited, it becomes very obvious. It took me no time at all to find a motet by Palestrina where voices cross.

Re: a voice leading question
#1147238 11/10/07 09:21 PM
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Hmm, it seems kind of funny in a way then that theory has the rule that voices can't cross, maybe the rule should be that voices should cross by no more than a P4th and only in special instances.


To me the difference between theory and composing is a great divide.

My view of composing is the sound should come first above all else, it should have a sound that many people can enjoy.

My view of theory is that it should be about the technique first and above all else, the sound doesn't matter as long as the technique is right and the rules followed.

How many of you guys/gals compose and think of the lines individually?


well I'm 20 years old, and I'm teaching myself piano.
Re: a voice leading question
#1147239 11/10/07 10:10 PM
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The "no voice-crossing" rule is a good one because cross voicing tends to blur the distinction of the individual parts. This is why Bach generally does not cross voices.

It's not that there is a great divide between theory and practice, it's just that no one theory can account for all practice. I like Schoenberg's statement on the matter:

"No theory can exclude everything that is wrong, poor, or even detestable, or include everything that is right, good, or beautiful." [from Structural Functions of Harmony]

Re: a voice leading question
#1147240 11/10/07 10:17 PM
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Originally posted by vanityx3:
My view of theory is that it should be about the technique first and above all else, the sound doesn't matter as long as the technique is right and the rules followed.
I disagree. The rules are not arbitrary, for the sake of intellectual mind-games -- they're there because they have been proved to produce beautiful music -- and to prevent non-beautiful music. That's not to say that music can't break those rules and still be beautiful... many many composers have shown that, too. But for the beginning composer, the "rules" can solve a lot of initial problems.

Just like learning to write -- there's no reason why you can't have more than 1 paragraph for your introduction in an essay... many essayists have shown that... but beginners are taught these rules of 1 paragraph for intro followed by 3 body paragraphs with topic sentences, etc.... because it's a good foundation to start from.


Sam
Re: a voice leading question
#1147241 11/10/07 10:32 PM
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Originally posted by pianojerome:
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Originally posted by vanityx3:
[b] My view of theory is that it should be about the technique first and above all else, the sound doesn't matter as long as the technique is right and the rules followed.
I disagree. The rules are not arbitrary, for the sake of intellectual mind-games -- they're there because they have been proved to produce beautiful music -- and to prevent non-beautiful music. That's not to say that music can't break those rules and still be beautiful... many many composers have shown that, too. But for the beginning composer, the "rules" can solve a lot of initial problems.

Just like learning to write -- there's no reason why you can't have more than 1 paragraph for your introduction in an essay... many essayists have shown that... but beginners are taught these rules of 1 paragraph for intro followed by 3 body paragraphs with topic sentences, etc.... because it's a good foundation to start from. [/b]
I think what I was trying to say agrees with what you said, but you said you disagreed. I agree with what you said, or maybe what I said was open to misinterpretation.


In saying theory being about technique more than sound, I was meaning within the confines of the classroom the rules are set in stone, and you have to follow the proper techiniques. How it sounds in theory is secondary to the technique behind the sound.

I think the opposite is true in composition. I'm not taking a stace that you can just go around breaking all kinds of voice leading rules, but I'm saying to me composition is about the finished product and how it sounds should come first. if too make your piece sound better to yours and others ears, then you should do what it takes.


well I'm 20 years old, and I'm teaching myself piano.
Re: a voice leading question
#1147242 11/11/07 01:11 AM
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Originally posted by vanityx3:
How many of you guys/gals compose and think of the lines individually?
I always do that. It doesn't matter if the music is highly polyphonic, homophonic, tonal or atonal, the individual melodic lines are always important. Apart from looking good in theory, logical melodical lines make it sound a lot more smooth and it makes it much more comfortable to play, which in turn also makes it sound better. Of course, you may also use unlogical melodic lines for an odd effect, for example Webern's melodic lines are mostly leaps of 7ths or 9ths, which makes his music very characteristic.

However, this doesn't mean that I start by writing one line, then start the next one and try to make it fit. To me harmony always comes first. Once the harmonic structure for a passage is mapped out, I try to find the best contrapuntal lines that produce those harmonies at the given moments. This is sometimes quite a challenging puzzle, especially when working with large ensembles. When composing, I mostly think of the movement of every single voice already when I design the harmony, which makes the contrapuntal part a lot easier. But when I have worked as an orchestrator for people who don't care about the individual lines, I have faced some extremely challenging puzzles...

Re: a voice leading question
#1147243 11/11/07 02:23 AM
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Calling them "rules" is bad.

It should be called "common voice-leading practice."

Theory describes what came before. Voices were typically not crossed. When Bach or anyone crosses voices, it's not because they're breaking rules, it's just that they're doing something uncommon.

There's an old textbook by McHose called "The Contrapuntal Harmonic Technique of the 18th Century." It's a good title. It describes what those composers were doing. They thought vertically and horizontally.

Personally, I tend to compose like Brahms. I start with a melody and bass line, and add the rest in later.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: a voice leading question
#1147244 11/12/07 11:22 PM
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Would you say that when a composer would do something uncommon and cross voices, that he was more worried about the integrity of the individual line(s) or not?

I say this because a composer can just as easily not cross the voices and have say the alto sing the high note and the tenor sing the lower, but he may like the particlar sound of each the alto and tenor lines when they are crossed.


well I'm 20 years old, and I'm teaching myself piano.
Re: a voice leading question
#1147245 11/12/07 11:34 PM
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Melodic line is one reason, timbre is another.

For most 18th century composers, it would be the former. For modern composers, the latter. (Very generally speaking.)


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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