I began a harmony exercise in keyboard style but now my chords are opening up and I am finding it very hard to remain in keyboard style whilst still maintaining the smoothest voice leading. There seems to be a trade off required somewhere. If I remain in keyboard style my voices might need to leap more between certain chord changes. Is it a common problem in keyboard style in the sense that it may be necessary to leap more than in the SATB voicings?

Another way to ask the same question: In keyboard style is it normal to use more leaps or should the same smoothness of voice leading be achievable as in regular SATB style?

Please see an example. My voice leading from the I6 chord to the vii6 chord could be much smoother if I could keep opening up the voicing. But if I want to keep the keyboard style shapes in the right hand I would have to leap up from tenor A to D in the next chord. Is that ok? enter image description here


2 Answers 2


Switching between the two doesn't usually happen, but there are a few caveats that may help the situation:

  1. In many cases, keyboard style is chorale style, just that the tenor is now an octave higher and thus in the alto voice. This isn't always the case, but it shows how similar the two different "styles" actually are.
  2. In other instances, the tenor is high enough that, although the excerpt may be written in chorale style (with the tenor in the bass clef, stems up), it's effectively keyboard style. Keep in mind that the tenor is comfortable a bit above middle C; many students push the tenor too low, afraid to occasionally use ledger lines for the tenor.
  3. Lastly, although we still want smooth voice leading in keyboard style, sometimes voice overlap is unavoidable. So if one of your problems in keyboard style is voice overlap, I would say you should feel comfortable allowing it; especially if the soprano is more melodically oriented and with a few expressive leaps, voice overlap is all but impossible to completely eliminate.
  • Thank you. Would you say that bigger leaps are inevitable when using keyboard style? For example, leaps of a 4th in the inner voices.
    – user35708
    Oct 1, 2021 at 22:20
  • I added an example. Look at the voice leading from I6 to vii°6. In SATB I could lower that A to G# but now it seems my only option is for the tenor to leap up to D.
    – user35708
    Oct 1, 2021 at 22:28
  • @armani Yes, bigger leaps are often a part of keyboard style. In your example, your tenor could leap up to D, but I would argue it could even leap up to the F# above it!
    – Richard
    Oct 2, 2021 at 1:39
  • @armani - If keyboard style means keeping the whole piece playable by a pianist, then why can't you drop the tenor from A to G# and assign the G# to the left hand?
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 2, 2021 at 14:01
  • 1
    Dekka, in keyboard style arent the bass tones played by the left hand only? I thought this was the way of it.... also it is supoosed that the upper 3 notes stay in one octave so can be played by one right hand.
    – user35708
    Oct 2, 2021 at 14:28

You can write what you want. But surely 'keyboard style' should be playable on a keyboard, SATB should be singable by those four voice types?

Of course, even if you're writing for a piano sound, there's now also 'sequencer style' where there's no requirement for consistency in voicing or playability by two hands on a keyboard. And that's fine. Although it might not be appropriate in a harmony exercise!

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