Working through Hindemith's harmony I encountered the following diagram of all the valid positions for a C-Major chord in strict four-part writing.

I am befuddled as to why the third chord in the second measure is marked as open while the (same) chord in the second measure is marked as close. See the image included.

Screenshot from Textbook

My understanding is that an open chord is one in which the degrees of the triad in the four voices follow the order of the original triad. Am I missing something huge or is this simply a typo?

  • 1
    When trying to explain something, it makes sense to explain it properly. This example does leave room for confusion.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 6:49
  • 1
    I strongly disagree with that last part o the underlined sentence. Although true that you can go past an octave in the bass / tenor voicing you should not go past an interval of a tenth.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 10:51
  • @NeilMeyer Thanks for the input. I will keep that in mind. Distances greater than a tenth sound "wrong" to me too.
    – Noah
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 14:55
  • 2
    @NeilMeyer Nobody told JS Bach the "rule" you are proposing. There are plenty of 11ths and 12ths between tenor and bass in his 4-part chorale settings. Hindemith's starting point was what composers actually wrote, not what other text-book writers said they should have written.
    – user19146
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 19:39

4 Answers 4


It's right, but I think how it's explained may be confusing you though.

Think of an open chord as a chord that you can squeezes another chord tone into the upper 3 voices (in this case a C, E, or G because it's a C major chord) while a close chord you cannot.

Here's the example of all the voices together to make it more clear:

X: 1
T: Open & Close C chords
M: 4/4
L: 1/2
K: C
"open"[G, E G]  "close"[G, C E]   |

If you look at this you'll notice the first can fit another C in the chord between all the notes so it is open while the second chord you cannot so it is close.


No one has addressed the question correctly. It is very simple.

The position of a chord is only determined by the top three voices (in chorale music). Ignore the bass voice. If you are able to fit a chord tone between those three voices, it is open position; if not then it is close.

For example: In the first circled example, a middle C could fit between the Alto and Tenor voice. Therefore it is in open position. In the second circled example, there are no chord tones left unwritten between the top three voices. Therefore it is in close position.


It's not the same chord - watch closely...

One is C G E G the other C G C E

The first is open because of the C missing between G and E...


Simple answer

  1. If the distance between Tenor and Soprano is less than 1 octave, it is called close position.
  2. If the distance between Tenor and Soprano is more than 1 octave, it is called open position.
  • 1
    What if it's equal to an octave? Are you saying that both of the examples the asker circled are wrong or mistakes? Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 13:37
  • Yes, my book told me same Bobby 's answer. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.