In a four-part chord, do the alto tenor and bass notes have to be closer to the soprano.

For example: Would the F# minor chord (subdominant) be this enter image description here

Or this enter image description here

  • Neither of those look like F# Minor to me. What I think you're asking is if you are to prefer a higher option to a lower option when writing other parts. I'll have to do a little research on that. But please double check your chords... It might be "my bad..." Nov 23, 2016 at 1:02
  • 2
    The conventional "rule" is that the intervals between soprano-alto and alto-tenor should be a maximum of an octave, but tenor-bass can be up to 2 octaves. Of course composers don't get sent to jail for ignoring such so-called "rules", but if you want good marks for your homework then follow them! (Also, don't write incomplete chords unless there is a reason to do so).
    – user19146
    Nov 23, 2016 at 1:29
  • Aha! That's what was throwing me off. Your chord only has the third and fifth. I understand that it's best practice (and sounds more normal) to have your root (F#, in this case) as the soprano/bass part. The other notes fill in the middle. I don't know if this is always the case, but it is a general pattern that I notice. Definitely F# Minor, but incomplete, as alephzero said. Nov 23, 2016 at 4:14
  • That, I think, is the subdominant chord OF F# minor, which would be the key. That makes it a B minor, which, in SATB, should have all three notes featured. There are four places to choose from, so all three can feature, and one will double up, as an octave copy. Then, you can get on with your homework...
    – Tim
    Nov 23, 2016 at 6:24

3 Answers 3


OK. We're talking about Bm, which is the subdominant chord OF F# minor? Yes?

You have written just two notes, B and D. These might imply a Bb chord in context, but until you add an F# it isan't actually a Bm chord.

If this is for SATB voices, your spacing is bad. The rule is to keep upper parts close, if there must be a big gap put it between tenor and bass.

This rule may be broken of course. In the context of a melody, harmonised in 3rds, doubled in male and female voices, this voicing might well occur (though I wouldn't stay in that register for too long). Or, as another example, I've just arranged a version of 'O Holy Night' where a soprano soloist is accompanied by quite a large choir. I've kept A, T and B rather lower than would be usual, making it easier for solo S to cut through.

Actually, these aren't about breaking a rule, they're about moving away from the 'Four independent voices aiming for a rich harmonic texture' context to which the rule applies. Outside hymn tunes and harmony exercises, you might be surprised how often music ISN'T in this context.


The bass and the tenor voices are the only voices in standard four-part harmony that can have an interval of more than an octave. The rest of the voices can at most be an octave from each other.

You also do not want two notes doubled like that. For that chord, you have to have the fifth as well. You sometimes omit the fifth and write three root notes and a third but that is only if you are confronted with a problem you cannot see another solution for. The fifth gives the chord a much fuller sound than what is the case with just three root notes and a third.

You can have the B in the bass another B in the tenor voice an d in the alto and F-sharp in the Soprano' voice. Or you can go from bottom B, D sharp (A tenth above) F sharp and then B. Whatever you do you need one note doubled (The correct one), a third and a fifth.


It depends on the skill of the singers. If you want to be safe, go with the second.

Also, this isn't a subdom chord. It's (not a full chord) functioning as a vi. D F# A are the notes of the IV (Subdom) chord in the key of A. Unless your defining Subdom as a chord with the 4th degree of the scale but without the 7th. In that case, you just need to replace one of your doubled notes (preferably a D) an A or an F# to make it a ii7 or a ii chord.

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