I am writing a four-part SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and wanted to know if repeated (that is, successive) octaves are permissible?

I know that parallel fifths/octaves are not allowed, but what about successive fifths and octaves?

  • Do you mean repeating the same octave? Yes that's fine.
    – ecline6
    May 3 '13 at 14:13
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    Great question -- my students got confused by this every year until I started putting it in bold type on the assignments. Use the term "oblique octaves" instead of successive, since that's a term others use to mean parallel. May 3 '13 at 14:42
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    @MichaelScottCuthbert I’ve started saying in class that we’re only concerned with parallel motion. If there’s no motion then there can’t be any errors. The only problem with the term “oblique octaves” is that, on its face, it isn’t possible. Oblique motion involves one voice holding or repeating while the other voice moves, so it always involves a change of interval. Maybe “repeated octaves” would underline the difference? I don’t know, no matter how I try to cover it, this is a perennial source of confusion for students. Jan 26 '18 at 12:17
  • "repeated octaves on the same pitch"? a mouthful, but I'm afraid that repeated octaves alone might mean "C-C to D-D" ("I repeated the use of octaves! Prof. Muchmore said it was okay!") you're totally right that oblique isn't the right work either. In my computer programming of music theory I use SIMILAR, CONTRARY, OBLIQUE, and NO_MOTION to distinguish the four kinds (with parallel a subset of similar). Jan 26 '18 at 16:21

Yes, they are, and many authorities seem to consider this so utterly obvious that they never even mention it. (Tripped me up big time when doing a music test right after changing schools, once.)

  • Yeah, things that people consider too obvious to mention often lead to the biggest blunders by students (so let's mention them!) -- I remember in my first year of playing clarinet getting screamed at for changing from F# to F-natural for the second note of a tie that went over the barline. I was told accidentals only carried through one bar -- how was I to know that it was "too obvious to mention" the exception for tied notes? Jan 26 '18 at 16:24
  • @MichaelScottCuthbert: Unfortunately, a lot of people are told that the difference between a tie and a slur is that the former connects two notes that the same pitch, while the latter connects notes at different pitches, but in quality printed music ties should be horizontally confined to the spaces between notes, while slurs should generally extend into the space above or below the notes being connected, and people hand-writing music should typically follow that convention as well.
    – supercat
    Sep 7 '20 at 19:11

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