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1-1  PLACEMENT OF VOICES

1. Voice Names.

a. The four voices in traditional four-part writing are soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. These are often abbreviated as SATB. The soprano is the highest voice and is notated in the treble clef staff with its stems up. The alto is the second highest voice and is notated in the treble clef with its stems down. The tenor is the third highest voice and is notated in the bass clef with its stems up. The bass voice is the lowest voice and is notated in bass clef with its stems down (Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1. SATB Notation

b. When the soprano and alto or tenor and bass are in unison (sounding the same pitch), the stems go up and down on the same note head (Figure 1-2).

Figure 1-2. Stemming Shared Note Heads

NOTE: The soprano part is often called the melody. The alto and tenor parts are called the inner voices. The bass part is called the bass line.

2. Voice Ranges

The normal singing range for the soprano, tenor, and bass voices is an octave and a sixth (Major 13th). The alto range is an octave and a fifth (Perfect 12th). Figure 1-3 shows the notes of each voice range. Avoid using the extreme range (the highest or lowest note or two) of each voice unless dictated by the voice leading.

Figure 1-3. SATB Ranges

3. Voice Doubling

In four part writing, the three-note triad must have one of its tones duplicated. When the triad is in root position (bass voice has the root of the chord), the bass voice and one of the three upper voices will have the same letter name note. This doubling can be at the unison or any octave relationship. Doubling does not change the harmonic structure of the chord, but it may alter its color and resonance (Figure 1-4).

Figure 1-4. Voice Doubling

SELF REVIEW EXERCISE 1-1

Write the inner voices of each triad. Use one third and double the root. The alto voice should have a note higher than the tenor voice (Figure 1-5). Stay within the voice ranges.

Figure 1-5. Voice Doublings

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4. Voice Spacing

a. The distance between the soprano and the alto voices must be a simple interval of an octave or less.

b. The distance between the alto and tenor voices must also be a simple interval.

c. The distance between the tenor and the bass voices can be either a simple or a compound interval. However, there are restrictions on certain simple intervals between the tenor and bass voices. These restrictions, called low interval limits, dictate how low some intervals may be voiced. The restricted intervals are the minor sixth, the tritone, the third (Major or minor), and the second (Major or minor). There are no limits on the other intervals within the bass voice range (Figure 1-6).

Figure 1-6. Low Interval Limits

d. Figure 1-7 shows incorrect and correct voice spacing.

Figure 1-7. Incorrect and Correct Voice Spacing

SELF REVIEW EXERCISE 1-2

Correct the improperly spaced voicing. Reposition the alto and tenor voices. Do not change the soprano voice (Figure 1-8).

Figure 1-8. Correct Voice Spacing

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NOTE: The term chord is often used when referring to a triad.

5. Open and Close Position

a. Triads can be written in either open or close positions. In open position, the distance between the soprano and the tenor is a ninth or more. In close position, the distance between the soprano and the tenor is an octave or less (Figure 1-9).

Figure 1-9. Open and Close Position Triads

b. The bass voice is not considered in determining open or close position.

SELF REVIEW EXERCISE 1-3

Rewrite the following triads in open position. Use one root, one third, and one fifth of each chord to complete the exercise (Figure 1-10).

Figure 1-10. Triads in Open Position

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SELF REVIEW EXERCISE 1-4

Rewrite the following triads in close position. Use one root, one third, and one fifth of each chord to complete the exercise (Figure 1-11).

Figure 1-11. Triads in Close Position

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David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015