In a musical theatre piece is it wrong to have lots of parallel octaves in the voices?

  • 1
    Wrong and right shouldn't really be the issue. There has always been lots of postulation, leading to theory, but the bottom line should always be- if it sounds good, it probably is - and vice versa.
    – Tim
    May 14, 2016 at 6:29
  • 2
    It sounds from the title like you've already guessed the answer - nothing in music can be said to be wrong as such (apart from, maybe, the use of sounds that will kill or injure?), but if you've set up an expectation that a piece will be in a certain style, doing something that isn't associated with that style may surprise your audience and be more likely to subjectively sound wrong/like a mistake. Songs in musical theatre can themselves be in almost any style, but they tend to be somewhat consistent with expectations for that style to improve accessibility to an audience. May 14, 2016 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


The rules about parallal octaves only apply when writing Bach chorale-type harmony where the aim is rich harmony with no one part "sticking out" disproportionately. Because this is often the first type of harmony we are taught to write, we can fall into the trap of thinking it's the ONLY way of doing it!

Orchestration is all about doubling lines, often in different octaves.
For instance, there's the "Glenn Miller" voicing - clarinet and tenor sax double the tune an octave apart, the other reeds fill in harmonies inside that. This works for voices as well. (Note, though that the aim is to emphasize the melody, and it works. Don't double something that you DON'T want emphasized.)

It can also be very effective to have just two musical lines, either in homophony or in counterpoint, with a mix of high and low voices on each.

I could find many more examples. But yes, octave doubling is fine. Just be aware of what it will sound like, and make sure you WANT that effect.

  • 1
    I would add a point of clarification here that Dom mentioned in his answer. The concept of avoiding parallel octaves/fifths is to maintain the independence of the voices within the harmony. So I would describe it more as a voice "disappearing" when it has parallel motion. I would ultimately say that a line being doubled with octaves is not actually separate voices, so there is no parallel octaves between voices to be considered here. May 16, 2016 at 19:33

The only time you shouldn't have parallel octaves is when you are voice leading and want two parts to be completely independent. The reason why you wouldn't use it is that it makes two voices that should be independent sound as one.

It's used very, very frequently as doubling a line by octave is very effective at making it stand out. For example in Day Tripper the guitar and the bass play the same riff so everything in that riff is considered parallel octaves, but it sounds just fine and actually puts more emphasis on the riff. Pretty much any time you play the same chord shape on guitar, like moving from an A shaped D chord to an A shaped E chord or from power chord to power chord, the result is every note has a parallel octave. This is still used all the time though and does create a distinct effect when it is used.

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