Four-part Harmony | Jonathan Peters | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

39 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Course Promo

    • 2. Introduction

    • 3. Vocal Range

    • 4. Open & Short Scores

    • 5. Quiz 1

    • 6. Assignments for Lesson 1

    • 7. Spacing Between Voices

    • 8. Open & Close Position

    • 9. Quiz 2

    • 10. Assignments for Lesson 2

    • 11. Simultaneous Motion

    • 12. Quiz 3

    • 13. Assignments for Lesson 3

    • 14. Things To Avoid

    • 15. Compound Intervals

    • 16. Quiz 4

    • 17. Assignments for Lesson 4

    • 18. What is Voice Leading?

    • 19. Common Tone

    • 20. Overlapping

    • 21. Crossing

    • 22. Quiz 5

    • 23. Assignments for Lesson 5

    • 24. Doubling

    • 25. Omitting

    • 26. Quiz 6

    • 27. Assignments for Lesson 6

    • 28. Types of Motion

    • 29. Use of Disjunct Motion

    • 30. Quiz 7

    • 31. Assignments for Lesson 7

    • 32. Roles

    • 33. Soprano

    • 34. Bass

    • 35. Inner Voices

    • 36. Putting it all Together

    • 37. Quiz 8

    • 38. Assignments for Lesson 8

    • 39. Congratulations

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About This Class

In this course by award-winning composer, Jonathan Peters, you will learn the basic guidelines and techniques of four-part writing.

The course is divided into 8 sections. Each lecture within a section covers a different topic or concept. Study all lectures in the section before taking the quiz for the section. After you have passed the quiz, complete the assignment(s).

All of the assignments can be downloaded. You can print them and complete them with pencil, or if you prefer, some of the assignments can be done using notation software. If you do not have notation software, you can download musescore for free at the musescore web site.

Please complete the lessons in order, as earlier concepts taught are needed to complete the later lessons.

Important: This is not a music theory course or a music composition course. These subjects have been covered by the author in Music Theory, Music Composition 1, and Music Composition 2. This course covers only the fundamentals of four-part writing. In order to get the most out of this course you should already possess a basic understanding of music theory and music composition.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jonathan Peters

Award-winning Composer, Author, Educator


Jonathan Peters is an award-winning composer currently residing in the beautiful state of Colorado. Since 1990 he has worked as a composer, conductor, arranger, recording artist, educator and author. Peters holds a B.A. in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College and continued his graduate work towards a M.M. in music composition at California State University Northridge, which included areas of study in advanced composition, theory, orchestration, and film scoring.


Peters’ music has been performed both internationally and by orchestras across the United States. He has won multiple awards and recognitions, such as 1st place in the 1996 Composers Today Contest. His nea... See full profile

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1. Course Promo: 2. Introduction: 3. Vocal Range: the human voice could be categorized into four basic types of voices. Sopranos are the high women's or Children's voices. All toes are the low women's or Children's voices. Tenors are the high men's voices, and bases are the Loman's voices. There are, of course, limits to how higher low human beings can sing. Here's a diagram showing the range of each voice type. Although professional singers can produce notes that air higher or lower than the ones in this diagram, the ones given here are your typical ranges for the average singer. Observe these ranges in your assignments. 4. Open & Short Scores: music for four Voices is typically written on four staffs with each voice on a separate staff. This is called an open score. Soprano, alto and tenor are written in trouble. Clough tenor has a small eight place under the Trouble Clough, which means they're going to be singing an octave lower than written and bases. Of course, written in based Clough, Sometimes music for Four Voices is written on two stabs instead of four. When this happens, soprano and alter our place in the trouble staff, with the soprano stems pointing up and the also stems pointing down. Tenor and bass are placed in the base staff, with the tenor stems pointing up and the base Tim's pointing down. This reduction is called a short score and has done to save space. It also makes it easier for a pianist to read. We will be using the short score for most of the examples in this course and in the assignments. One final thing we call the soprano in the base the outer voices we call the alto in the tenor, the inner voices to help you remember this memories. The following outer voices point out away from the center. Inner voices point in towards the center 5. Quiz 1: 6. Assignments for Lesson 1: 7. Spacing Between Voices: the amount of distance between two neighboring voices is very important to the overall texture and blending of the voices. If there's too much distance between voices, the texture will sound very thin and weak. In order to avoid this, there should never be more than an octave between soprano an alto. There should never be more than inactive between alto and tenor. The following example shows both improper and proper spacing between soprano and Alta. This is poor spacing because the distance between the soprano on the alto is greater than in octave. Here is an example that shows both improper and proper spacing between alternate tenor. This is poor spacing because the distance from the also to the tenor is greater than inactive. The distance between the tenor and bass is the only distance that is able to be greater than a knock tive and not sound thin and weak. Typically, tenor and bass should never be more than 1/12 apart. 8. Open & Close Position: Besides, following the spacing rules for the maximum distance between the voices, there's also the consideration of open position in close position. In close position. The top three voices soprano, alto and tenor are so close together that no other court tone could be placed in between them. Here's an example of close position. The top three voices are singing a D minor court a D F. No other D minor chord ton could be placed in between any of these three notes, since they are as close as they can possibly be to one another in open position. The top three voices are spread further apart so that possible chord tones are skipped. The following is an example of open position. The top three voices are singing a D minor chord, a f D. The possible court tones that air skipped A and D are indicated by the arrows. A few final notes about open and close position Open position has a much fuller sound, then close position. Both positions could be used within the same phrase of music. It is often very pleasant to switch back and forth between close and open position for variety in the texture 9. Quiz 2: 10. Assignments for Lesson 2: 11. Simultaneous Motion: in this lesson, we will be looking at how one voice moves in relation to another voice. For example, how the soprano voice moves in relation to the alto voice. This is called voice movement. There are four types of voice movement. Contrary motion oblique motion, a similar motion and parallel motion. Each of these are referred to as simultaneous motion, because by definition, the relative movement of two voices is happening at the same time. Let's take a look at each one. In turn, contrary motion voice is moving in opposite directions. Oblique motion one or more voices moving while one or more voices remain on the same pitch . A similar motion voice is moving in the same direction. Parallel motion voice is moving in the same direction and remaining the same distance apart from one another. Of these four types of voice movement, contrary motion is typically the most interesting for the listener. This is because voice lines that are moving contrary to one another have the greatest contrast and independence. If one was to read the four types of movement from greatest contrast and independence to lease contrast in independence, the order would be contrary. Then oblique then some more and lastly parallel. When you were writing for four parts, it is important to use combinations of all four types of movement. This not only provides more variety and interest in the music, but it is often necessary. For example, you cannot write for parts moving a contrary motion at the same time, only two parts at a time could be moving in contrary motion, since there are only two directions ascending and descending. Therefore, the other parts must do some other type of movement. 12. Quiz 3: 13. Assignments for Lesson 3: 14. Things To Avoid: in the last lesson. We learned about parallel motion when we discussed the four types of voice movement. In this lesson, we will look at a few types of parallel motion that should be avoided. Parallel Eunice UN's In the following example, the soprano in Alta parts are singing the same pitches in the same register and moving in parallel motion. This is poor writing and should be avoided since the parse lack individuality. This will sound like one part rather than two parts parallel octaves. In the following example, the soprano in also parts are singing the same pitches but in a different register and moving in parallel motion. This is a slight improvement on parallel Eunice ins. The different register gives some contrast, but the parts still do not have enough individuality for part writing parallel fifths. In the following example, the soprano, an alto parts are singing in parallel fifths. Well, this gives more contrast than parallel unison zor parallel octaves. It should still be avoided because the fifth is the only interval. But outlines accord in its reposition. When we hear parallel fifths, our years tend to focus on the court outlined and not the individual parts. Take a listen. Here is the same melody done in parallel. Six. Compare how much better it sounds 15. Compound Intervals: it is important to understand that the same rules apply for compound intervals moving in parallel motion, for example, peril 12th are still considered parallel fifths because a 12 simply a compound of 1/5 plus inactive In the following example, the soprano and bass parts are moving in parallel fifths, even though they're a 12 part in the following example, the soprano and bass are singing and parallel 15th Parallel 15th are still considered parallel octaves because of 15th simply a compound oven octave plus an octave. When checking your writing for perils, you must therefore check all possible pairings of voices, not just the voices that are next to one another. Make sure that you understand this before completing your assignments for this lesson. 16. Quiz 4: 17. Assignments for Lesson 4: 18. What is Voice Leading?: 19. Common Tone: When two consecutive cords have a tone in common, you should try and keep the common turn in the same voice. The following example. The also singing the G, which is the pitch common to both the G chord and the Sea Court. Keeping the common tone in the same voice, will help to create smooth voice leading between the cords. 20. Overlapping: overlapping should be avoided because it can obscure the individual vocal lines of two parts. Overlapping is when an upper voice moves to a pitch that is lower than the previous pitch sung by a lower voice. Overlapping also occurs when a lower voice moves to another that is higher than the previous notes song by an upper voice. The definition of overlapping could be rather hard to understand, but it is actually quite simple and will become very clear with an example. Here, the tender is moving from B to F sharp. The F sharp is lower than the bases previous G. The melodic line may therefore be perceived as G, moving to F Sharp rather than be moving to F sharp. Here is the same example, with a better voice leading that avoids overlapping between the tenor and the bass parts. Here, the tenor A does not overlap. The previous pitch G in the base 21. Crossing: crossing is when one voice trades places with another voice by moving higher or lower than the other. Voice crossing should be avoided, since it can easily obscure the individual vocal lines, especially a soprano or baseline. In this example, the soprano is moving from F T E, but the melodic line may be perceived as moving from F to G the Altos moving from C to G, but the melodic line may be perceived as moving from C. T. 22. Quiz 5: 23. Assignments for Lesson 5: 24. Doubling: 25. Omitting: 26. Quiz 6: 27. Assignments for Lesson 6: 28. Types of Motion: in less than three, We learned about the four types of simultaneous motion. Contrary, oblique, similar and parallel. These four types of voice movement dealt with how one voice interacts with another voice. The type of movement we will be discussing in this lesson is a melodic motion. It deals not with the interaction between voices, but rather the motion within a single voice con junked motion. When any vocal line moves by steps, it is considered conduct motion. The movement by steps can be either whole steps or half steps or a combination of both disjunctive motion. When any vocal I'm moves by skips or leaps, it is considered dis junk motion. A leap is anything larger than a skip. Here is an example of dis junk motion by Skip. Here is an example of district motion by leap repeated tones. Besides conjuring commotion and dis junk motion, the other type of motion is motion by repeated tons. Technically, this is not true emotion, since the pitch is staying the same. In general, a good vocal line will have a combination of contract motion, district motion and repeated tons. Certain vocal parts may tend more towards a particular type of motion because of their role in the music. This will be covered in Section eight 29. Use of Disjunct Motion: in this section, we will look at some do's and Dunn's in regard to the use of disjunctive motion. Avoid using consecutive leaps moving in the same direction. This is poor writing because it will break up the melodic nature of a vocal line. In this example, we can see consecutive leaps and fourths consecutive skips in the same direction are acceptable. Since this outlines accord, a combination of consecutive skips and leaps moving in the same direction is also acceptable if the pitches outline accord. In the following example, the E minor chord is outlined in the melodic line, and therefore the skip and leap in the same direction is acceptable when leaping by 1/6 or Nathan. The subsequent pitch should move in the opposite direction of a leap and should be either a step or a skip. There's more flexibility when leaping by 1/4 or fifth. Here, the subsequent bitch can move in the same direction or the opposite direction and be either a step or a skip. Leaping by sevenths is generally avoided because the dissonance of this interval makes it hard to sing. Never leave more than a knock tive. Not only is it hard on the singer's. It doesn't sound good. Remember that singing very much resembles speaking. No one would speak two syllables and completely different registers like in the following example. A general rule is to use leaps only occasionally. This will help to produce variety in the vocal line. The majority of the melodic movement should use steps in skips again. Certain vocal parts may tend more towards a particular type of motion because of their role in the music, This will be covered in Section eight. 30. Quiz 7: 31. Assignments for Lesson 7: 32. Roles: each of the four voices has a different function or role that they play and contributing to the overall sound and texture of a peace and for bird harmony in general, each part should be easily singable and have its own identity. We will take a look at each voice in the next few videos. 33. Soprano: because melody has prominence over harmony. The melody is typically sung by the soprano part, which is the highest and most prominent voice since the soprano part is melodic and nature . It will consist mostly of motion by steps and skips, with occasional leaps. For variety, avoid leaps larger than 1/6. If you do leave, more than 1/6 on eighth is feasible. But avoid sevenths and absolutely anything over an eighth. Typically, a soprano line will not contain repeated tones, since this would create a melodic line. That aesthetic, if the other parts are moving than an occasional repeated tone in the soprano line, is acceptable. Here is an example of a typical soprano line. 34. Bass: the baseline is sort of the foundation for all the other voices. Its main role is to help to find harmony by regulating the progression of chords. Because of this fact, a good baseline gives harmonic meeting to the melody in the soprano and should be closely linked to the soprano line. Baselines often contained destruct motion. Leaps of 4th 5th and even actives are very common. Here is an example of a typical baseline. 35. Inner Voices: The main role of the inner voices alto and tenor is to fill and or complete the cords that the soprano and bass have outlined or suggested. Depending on where the Outer voices Air situated, the ultimate tenor parts may not be able to move around too much and may therefore contain many repeated times. This is perfectly normal for inner voices. If you follow the guidelines for good voice. Leading repeated notes will occur when pitches common to two chords are sung by the same voice. It is typical for the alternates hander to seeing these common pitches. Any time that the ultimate tender parts do take on a more melodic nature, like when the soprano is not moving much, the motion should be in steps and skips and avoid leaps larger than 1/4. Here is an example of a typical Alta line. 36. Putting it all Together: 37. Quiz 8: 38. Assignments for Lesson 8: 39. Congratulations: