My main question is in the title above.

Chords in Common Practice Style only have three notes, so in 4-part harmony (SATB), one note will be repeated.

In music theory, there are a ton of doubling rules. I am wondering if there is an easy way to memorize all of them, because I don't want to always have to look back at my music theory book when writing chorales (I don't have to follow the rules, but I want to).

Here are the list of doubling rules:

  • Root position: Best double root
  • I, I 1st inversion, ii, IV: Best double root, 5th and 3rd acceptable
  • V: Best double root, 5th acceptable, 3rd unacceptable
  • viio: Best double 3rd, root and 5th unacceptable
  • vi: Best double 3rd, root acceptable, avoid 5th
  • VI: Best double 3rd, root and 5th unacceptable
  • I, IV, and V first inversions: Best double root (match in soprano), 5th acceptable, avoid 3rd (for I and IV first inversions), and 3rd unacceptable (for V first inversion)
  • ii, iii, iv, and vi first inversions: Best double 3rd, root acceptable, avoid 5th
  • 2nd inversions: Best double 5th, avoid root and 3rd, root and 3rd unacceptable in a cadential 6/4
  • V7 without 5th: Best double root, 3rd and 7th unacceptable
  • Augmented and diminished: Best double root, root unacceptable (for viio)
  • Altered chords: Altered note unacceptable
  • Scale degrees: Best double 1st, 4th, and 5th; 2nd, 3rd, and 6th acceptable; 7th unacceptable
  • Root and 3rd only: Best triple root

That is seriously a ton of stuff.

Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.

  • 2
    Just a small correction, chords in common-practice music are not necessarily three notes, there are plenty of seventh chords, augmented sixths, etc. with 4. Triads only have three pitches. I'm actually not terribly sure what you about "doubling rules" here. The only rules I can think of are that you shouldn't double tendency tones, which isn't terribly hard to remember. Root-position triads tend to have doubled roots, first inversion triads are fairly free, second inversion usually double the fifth—but those aren't rules so much as tendencies. Could you give some examples of what you mean? – Pat Muchmore Jul 11 '14 at 2:48
  • At least my music theory book shows that you double 7th chords without the 5th. – user8886 Jul 11 '14 at 5:09
  • 2
    I've often heard people say to avoid doubling the third in general. You should also avoid doubling a tone that by the mechanism of some other voice leading requirement would have to resolve in a certain way. For instance, doubling the third of the V chord would probably be bad because the leading tone should resolve up by half-step, and that would result in parallel octaves. I'm no expert though. – Grey Jul 11 '14 at 6:44
  • @Grey Yeah, that's what "don't double tendency tones" means. System Security, you can leave out the fifth of a seventh chord if you need to, but they are just as common if not more common with all four notes. – Pat Muchmore Jul 11 '14 at 13:04
  • 1
    why don't they teach: don't double when it sounds bad! and then explain and teach what is bad, so that we hear that it is bad. And then nobody wouldn't need to learn any rules. ;) – Albrecht Hügli Apr 6 '19 at 8:17

My Music Theory professor pretty much distilled it to 3 bullet points of do's and dont's

  • Don't: Ever double tendency tones (notes that must resolve a certain way like the leading tone, notes outside the key, and chordal 7ths)
  • Do: Seek to double the tonic, subdominant, and dominant (1, 4 and 5)
  • Do: If not possible , seek to double the root of the chord.

Never violate the don't and try to do the others whenever possible.

  • Most of the texts I've worked with discuss best doubling practices in terms of what inversion the chord is in. Doubling the root of a second inversion chord, for instance, is usually best avoided, contra bullet point 3. I'm curious about how the second rule worked in practice. So if I had a root-position ii chord, I should probably aim to double the 3rd because it's the subdominant? Kostka/Payne, for example, would consider than to be acceptable, but far inferior to doubling the root. – Pat Muchmore Jul 11 '14 at 13:27
  • @PatMuchmore Yep. And I wouldn't call this a perfect system as there are always exceptions including the two you pointed out (even though in a second inversion chord I would consider the root and 3rd tendency tones due to the dissonance in a chord in second inversion). What I like about it is it is simple and it gives an idea of all the rules without drilling down into each of them. – Dom Jul 11 '14 at 16:31
  • Interesting. Although I get where you're coming from on the tendency tone idea, I'd hesitate to describe the root and third of a 6/4 chord in that way since their direction of resolution is determined by context. For example, although they both generally resolve down in a cadential 6/4, one resolves up and the other holds a common tone in the passing 6/4 between IV and IV6. I'm just trying to think of a case where doubling the subdominant or dominant in a chord (wherein they aren't already the root) is superior. Do you know what text your instructor was using? – Pat Muchmore Jul 11 '14 at 16:58
  • @PatMuchmore “Music in Theory and Practice”, 8ed, by Bruce Benward and Marilyn Saker – ISBN: 9780073101873. Sorry it took so long I had to dig up the syllabus for the class. – Dom Jul 21 '14 at 20:16

This is not a question that lends itself to one definitive answer. There are certain methods where there are differences in thought. I can tell you what I was taught, but it would be better to ask the person who is in charge of your exams to give you clarity on what he/she wants.

Here are some general principles:

  • Primary Chords: Double the root
  • Secondary Chords: Double the third
  • First Inversion (Major): Double the root or fifth
  • First Inversion (minor): Double the third
  • Second Inversion: Double the fifth
  • Augmented and Diminished: Double the third
  • Never double leading tones.

The classical way of thinking is if you would jump to a note that is part of the chord (eg. on the down beat), then you would have to change another note in the chord to keep the doubling correct. However, ABRSM wants the correct doubling on the strong part of the beat. They then allow you to do the decorations afterwards (even if that affects the doubling)


isn't the summary of all rules finally:

  • don't double the leading-tones in of the dominant 7 and secondary dominants (= tendency tones! and augmented 5th)
  • don't double the bass tone of the 6th chord (the 3rd) -exception VII6

in all other cases just do what you like!

priorities: root of I,IV,V, (which are same tones as 3rd in related chords vi,ii,v)

the fifth and 3rd are also available

always regarding the chord progression!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy