Hey guys just keeping my part writing skills sharp (not flat) for the long summer. I got this out of Assignment 9.4 of Robert W. Ottman's "Elementary Harmony." It's in G♭ major. I was already given the soprano, bass, and figured bass (just first inversions). I don't see a way to avoid giving the tenor that high G♭...

assignment 9.4

  • I guess someone answered to move to C♭ and then deleted their response when they realized they were making a parallel fifth? That's why we have the convention (when moving from first inversion to first inversion) to double a different pair of voices, in this case the fifth. May 27, 2014 at 0:39
  • From reading the answers I inferred that you wrote the alto and tenor parts yourself. It wasn't clear from just the question. In fact, until I read the answers, I didn't even realize you were trying to write one line each for SATB voices. There are no tags or other explanations to hint at this. May 28, 2014 at 16:48
  • @Bradd Szonye I said "I was already given the soprano, bass, and figured bass." So, yes I did write the alto and tenor parts May 28, 2014 at 17:10
  • Please edit that into your question, along with a bit more context from your exercise book, like the point of the exercise. Otherwise, the question makes no sense to people who are not already familiar with this kind of exercise. May 28, 2014 at 17:23
  • Just did a bit of reading up on figured bass, which helped a lot to figure out what's going on here, although it would still be helpful to state more explicitly what you're trying to do. As I understand it, you're trying to assign the alto and tenor voices to match the figured bass notation: triads for the first and final chords, first inversions for the middle chords. At the same time, you're trying to do a good job of voice leading, making each part interesting without assigning notes with awkward intervals or ranges, and without breaking rules of harmony. Is that correct? May 28, 2014 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


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This solution offers the smoothest voice-leading while breaking the least amount of rules. Often with part writing, it so happens that rules must be broken in order to get through the exercise or music, and one should always remember that the contour of each line - it's smoothness - is always paramount. Keeping these thoughts in mind, I will walk through my solution.

In order to smoothly get out of the repetition of first-inversion chords, I used voice exchange to create step-wise contrary motion in the Bass and Tenor voices. You will note that the intervening chord - the Cb Major (the IV in Gb major) - has in its a voicing a doubled third (normally not allowable). However, since both voices move by step through the third of the chord, it is de-emphasized and therefore poses minimal problems.

Moving into the last measure, one will note that I have doubled the fifth in the soprano and alto on the fifth chord. Given that emphasis is on smooth voice-leading, doubling the fifth (the least harmonically active pitch) afford the best solution to the alternatives, which would seem harsh and unprepared.

On the last chord, it is perfectly acceptable to triple the root if it is the last chord of a piece or exercise, and in my solution I offer two equally viable solutions: one may either resolve the tenor line upwards to the octave or may skip by a 3rd down to the fifth degree of the chord. In this circumstance of a frustrated leading tone, it is acceptable as the leading tone is resolved by step in the alto voice - thus preserving the integrity of the line.

Also note that the parallel fourths in the soprano and alto from chords three->four are acceptable as they are supported by consonant intervals in relation to the bass. Lastly, note that none of the voices move larger than a 3rd at any given point, thus ensuring smooth voice-leading and improved sing-ability.

  • I'm confused by your notation. Is the first chord of the exchange the C-flat-major chord? Do they then go back on the next chord, or are you having the nominal bass sing up to the G above middle C? May 27, 2014 at 4:36
  • @Codeswitcher - the 1st chord of the exchange is the V6, then it moves through a IV6 to V. The lines between the bass / tenor show how the voices switch. The bass sings the Gb below middle C. May 27, 2014 at 13:26
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    @Codeswitcher jjmusicnotes uses the word "exchange" here to describe the contrary motion of two parts where they "exchange" notes (even though this is displaced by an octave). This is a very effective way to change between two chords which are the same but in different inversions. It always results in the middle passing note in each part being the same, in other words a doubling, which is a consideration. May 27, 2014 at 22:45
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    The tenor sings the last F. I see the misunderstanding, as these lines are often used to show a musical part changing it's position in a score or short score. The lines are analytical markings rather than performance markings. May 27, 2014 at 22:50

I think of this problem as "bumping your head on the lowering ceiling" -- as noted in the comments, the problem here is that you have parallel descending motion in the soprano and bass. You can't do the standard twiddly things in the alto and tenor because that constrains them in a narrow range, and then either the alto will get run over by the soprano line, or the tenor will run out of options and get written into a corner.

The solution is to dive way down in the alto and tenor, early on, such that they're so low, they can have a chance of contrary motion, and rising to meet the soprano.

My solution below does this on the second beat of the first whole measure, swapping what you had for the alto and tenor such that now the soprano gets the D and the tenor gets the A. This allows the alto to have a nicely rising line from that point on, while the tenor jumps a bit.

My first solution

Alternatively, one can have the alto line be the jumpy one, and the tenor line rise, though it's not as tidy a solution as the first one.

My second solution

P.S. Actually, if you're willing to color a little outside the lines, another solution which is particularly nice is this one, which abandons trying to get the fifth into beat three of measure one, to get tightly coupled rising parallel inner voices.

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    A couple of troubling things with the top solution: 3 of your voices move downward by a 4th between the 2nd and 3rd chords = no-no. Similar issues coming out of the same chord into the following chord. Yes, you do avoid parallels but it is not smooth voice-leading. Similar comments can be made about your second solution: too jumpy to be considered smooth voice-leading. May 27, 2014 at 3:46
  • @jjmusicnotes HA! Submit better if you think you can! I don't see there's a lot one can do within the posited restrictions. May 27, 2014 at 3:53
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    I have actually just made a better realization that I will post shortly. May 27, 2014 at 3:54
  • I think that the fourths are not a problem because (in solfège) you're just going from So to Do which is easy to sound out or sing or play May 27, 2014 at 5:29
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    Just to add to jjmusicnotes comments, it is also not good to have the tenor line jump to a note lower than the bass had in the previous chord. May 27, 2014 at 8:31

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