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For example, say you have a piano playing chords whose top notes are between middle C and the C above - in what situations would you say it's okay for some melody line to cross over those top notes? Should we always strive for separation? I assume it's context-dependent - but can you give some examples to help me wrap my head around when it tends to be acceptable and when you think it just sounds bad?

Another example might be countermelodies - how do we know when it's okay for two lines to step on each other/cross in music? What effect do you get by doing that?

For me personally, I'm always trying to isolate at least melody lines and chord top notes in ranges, but that seems restrictive to me... Thanks much for the help.

edit for clarity: I don't mean to suggest that there's some sort of rule for this and some rule against playing many lines close together/overlapping, but I suppose in terms of "typical" arrangements - such as classical music, or popular music and electronic music (if that even means anything!) I know that there's often at least some attempt at keeping some balance between clarity and density between lines in these styles and this is a relevant question for that.

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  • It would be very helpful to know which instruments/voices you are considering, and what style of music you are working on.
    – nuggethead
    Aug 7, 2022 at 14:43

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The core issue in both ranges and countermelodies is keeping the main melody clear and easy to follow.

For example, if a piano is accompanying a bass, it will tend to play in its middle or high register, but when accompanying a soprano, the piano will stay in a relatively lower register.

Timbre also plays a role. A trumpet is so comparatively loud and brassy, that it's easier to "safely" have overlapping ranges with a piano or other "softer" instrument.

Rhythm can help clarify roles in an arrangement as well. If all of the saxophones are playing in rhythmic unison, then even if other instruments are in overlapping pitch ranges, the contrasting rhythms can help differentiate the parts.

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