I was trying to find an example of a pop tune that had vocal harmonization AND that it also does not move in parallel motion.

I need help on what to look for to identify such patterns.

I thought of circle of life from the lion king but it obviously moves in parallel motion and I am having a hard time of thinking of anything else.

I also thought of Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody but it also had parallel motion.


5 Answers 5


Well, yes, when listening to pop and rock music, it can seem like much of the vocal harmonisation moves in parallel motion (often in thirds and sixths), but there are plenty of examples of different motion out there, if you listen out for them.

I've always thought that The Beatles used some subtly interesting vocal harmonies. Below are the first 8 bars of the vocal parts from Love Me Do, their first hit from, ummm, I think 1962.

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As you can see, just in the first 8 bars, there is a variety of movement between the parts. What I also find interesting is the amount of "bare" fifths between the vocal parts too; often parts are harmonised in "richer" sounding thirds and sixths. Along with the prominent harmonica part, this gives the song an earthy, folky sound. There are loads of analyses of Beatles songs, but this one reinforces and expands my thoughts.

The important point to be gained from this though, is that there are plenty of examples out there, if we take the time to listen to exactly what is happening in the music. And, maybe more importantly, when creating vocal harmonies ourselves, there is plenty of scope for experimentation.

(Apologies for the hastily cobbled together transcription, I think it's pretty accurate…)


You're very unlikely to find any sort of polyphonic tonal music that has zero parallel motion. The rules of counterpoint proscribe the use of parallel 5ths and octaves, but not any other intervals (4ths are somewhat frowned upon), so avoiding parallel motion entirely wouldn't be an intent on the part of a composer.

The reason that 5ths and 8ths are verboten is that they are so closely-related in terms of frequency ratio that the ear loses the separation of the voices when two voices move together in these intervals. So, the point is not to avoid these parallels per se, it is to maintain the integrity of the voices (lines of melody) when they interact polyphonically. Parallel thirds and sixths manage that if they aren't overused (contrary motion manages it better, but overusing that has its own problems). These rules are still in place even in rock music, as Bob Broadley has shown. It's because they work.

Now, rock music often uses parallel fifths as a device to enrich or thicken a melodic line. "Smoke on the Water" is a classic example of this. This is fine, but it also doesn't specifcally have to do with counterpoint. You'll notice that that "bum bum BUMM, bum bum BA-DUMM, bum bum BUMM, BA, du dumm" starting melody doesn't sound at all like two lines interacting, whereas the Beatles example certainly does. So this use of parallels is more like, say, Beethoven using parallel octaves to strengthen a given single note. For a very well-known example of that, look at the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata". You'll notice that the octave doubling in the bass gives a greater sonority to the notes.

Now, if you want a great example of counterpoint in the popular music world, try listening to pretty much anything by Manhattan Transfer.

  • Nice answer, definitely in a whole different world of vocal arrangements with Manhattan Transfer! Take Six and Singers Unlimited too…? Apr 16, 2014 at 15:06
  • Thanks for mentioning these! I wasn't familiar with either one, so I looked them up. Singers Unlimited are amazing. With Oscar Peterson on Piano too? Get outta here. Take 6 has some really interesting music, but their execution doesn't quite have the precision of SU IMHO.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 16, 2014 at 16:27

If you're looking for complete absence of parallel motion, I guess that would be very rare. But if you're looking for examples that have substantial amount of oblique and contrary motion, or "echo" effects, then there are examples:

  • Mamas & the Papas, California dreaming:

Score here: http://ebookbrowsee.net/california-dreamin-score-pdf-d278565051

(I'll add to the list in a few moments)


I assume you mean harmonies which follow each other (ie, the harmony note goes up & down with the lead vocal) ? (ie not literally parallel .. the interval changes as the notes move about). If so ..

Simon and Garfunkel's 'The sound of silence' has a great line - the one which goes "People talking without speaking" -

One voice is singing a melody while the other is a higher pitch note- same words sung over one note whcih still fits in harmony with the melody

There are loads of other examples .. last verse of the Rolling Stones Brown Sugar has a (slightly rough yet delicious) harmony on a 5th while the main vocal wanders about on a minorish 3rd.


More Than Words from Extreme. Lots of things going on but in the end there is a hold vs movement.

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