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Here is part of a string section I am working on with 2 violas, 3 celli and 2 double basses. I am trying to learn from a composers point of view how many independent voices there are here? My guess is that there are only 3 and they are played by the cellos. The others are either unison or octave doublings. My guess is that the viola at the beginning doubles the 1st cello at the unison while the higher viola in bar 26 doubles the 2nd cello at the octave. The basses double the lowest cello at the octave below and in unison. These are my guesses and I could be wrong so pelase correct me?

If I am correct however, how does one distinguish such lines as doubles or as new "voices"? My guess is that when a musical line is doubled, it must be doubled in a certain way to be considered a legitimate double. In this case, the upper viola comes in at the second hypermeasure. If you introduce that second viola half way through the bar would it still sound like a double or be considered bad voice leading? Or perhaps, the only thing that matters when doubling is that for it sound like doubling, all the notes should be consistently doubled from the beginning to the end of a phrase or hypermeasure as in this case. Although that doesnt work because many times the whole orchestra might play in unison and then branch out into independent voices in the middle of a phrase switching from one melody doubled in various octaves back to independent voice leading again. It seems confusing, some clarification on the topic would be very helpful.

  • Isn’t a double any additional voice sounding at the octave or unison? I don’t think doubling has to begin or end at any specific times because it’s a change in texture, not tonality. You can have any number of voice start or end the same pitch class at any time and it becomes a timbral melody, not a tonal melody. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 11:12
  • 1
    By definition, doubles are not "voices" they are like EQ to thicken a texture at a specific area in the frequency spectrum. Doubles consistently move in parallel similar motion to thicken a texture. Doubles in 4 part writing or counterpoint need to maintain independence via voice leading rules and how you move to and from them is what creates independence.. Doubling is not independence. It is like layering sound.
    – user35708
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 12:44
  • I think you've got the right answers contained in the question and these comments, and you just need confirmation/clarification. Yeah, afaik "true doubling" can come and go, it doesn't matter on which beat or for how long, just as long as it doesn't "intermingle" with separate voice leading. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 14:07
  • I think we’re each misunderstanding each other. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 17:29
  • I think what you meant by "timbral" melody is exactly what I mean by tones that thicken the texture by layering notes and when you say "tonal" melody you mean a melody that is part of the voice leading. Is this right?
    – user35708
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 17:43

1 Answer 1


You don't need to 'guess' whether one instrument is doubling another's line! It's clearly shown in the notation.

Anyway. This isn't 'part writing' in the manner of a SATB vocal exercise. The object isn't to maintain a constant, rich texture with independent voices following the principles of effective voice leading. There's a melody, mostly doubled by first cello and viola with occasional moments of harmonic reinforcement. Then there's a more rhythmic accompaniment in lower cellos and basses. Two musical elements, a varying texture. And it's fine for the texture to vary in density, as long as it doesn't happen by mistake and you like the effect!

Listen to it. Do you like the way the melody is occasionally harmonised with an extra voice above? The way the lower instruments move from an open 5th to wider intervals, then everyone (almost) falls into unison at bar 29? Fine! These are composing decisions, not rule-following.

  • In orchestral writing many if not most of the times the piece is written with correct voice leading and many times in 4 parts and then thickened via doubling. The 3 cellos here still move independently like 3 independent voices
    – user35708
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 12:52
  • Look again. The two lower cellos and the basses have block chords and a definite rhythmic function. The other instruments have a more melodic function. There's little real counterpoint. And that's all OK!
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 16:17
  • THe basses are not part of the voice leading. They just double the lower cellos to provide low end weight. The voice leading is in the cellos in 3 parts. Please explain why I am wrong? THe chord progression is Dm, Bb/D and Gm/D,C/D it is a pedal point under a i VI iv bVII progression
    – user35708
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 17:46
  • Well, OK. You seem to have good understanding of what you've written. So what's the problem? Are we just arguing over labels?
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 22:42
  • Im hoping to get some discussions re the title. Like under what circumstances doubling becomes parallel octaves and 5ths. My harmony book "shows some examples amd then shows reductions with basic voice leading but it is very brief. Something like an example with doubling and then why it is not considered a voice leading error would be most helpful. That is what Im lookibg for IOW.
    – user35708
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 8:00

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