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Can anybody explain to me if modern music follows a similar composition style to four part harmony. What I'm asking is just like in 4-Part Harmony where the bass voice gets the "low-range" or "bass" instruments and the soprano section would go the "higher-range" instruments is it a way of organizing modern-music like this? If so what are the sections name and how are they determined. Again, to be clear I'm basically asking if modern music is divided up into sections (bass sections or low-end) the same way 4-part Harmony is? When I say "like 4-Part Harmony" I'm knowing that 4-Part Harmony is its own compositional method but 4-part harmony was the only could I could think of. I don't mean follow the same rules as 4-Part Harmony I mean is it organized or divided into sections.

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    With deep theory deconstructionism there may be some scholarly terms for various pitch range sections. Someone may have that answer. In general usage though I'm not aware of any specific terms that work the same way the SATB or 4 part harmony descriptions. We tend to block off the compositions into three or four ranges of pitch for utility, but ultimately the composer is using whatever range is available with the instruments being used. Think piccolo quartet, where harmonically all the chordal notes are being represented, but the instruments are all in high treble range. – Alphonso Balvenie Feb 16 '17 at 22:26
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Sort of. Maybe. I can think of two possible ways that we practically split up instruments into different categories; role and range. A big part of the SATB delineation is the range of the singers; that's a little less important when talking about instruments like guitars and keyboards, which have quite a wide range.

For some context, this is mostly based around my experience with contemporary church bands. These bands don't usually have fully written out arrangements, but are required to 'arrange on the fly'.


Let's think about the role that instruments play in any given arrangement. I might have a band comprised of bass guitar, drums, acoustic guitar, keys, two vocalists, and two flute players. I'll ask the band to think of the different roles that they can play, in terms of rhythm, harmony and melody. The idea is to ensure that the right people are playing the right roles, and to avoid multiple people playing over the top of each other. Let's break that down:

  • Our rhythmic foundation is going to come from the drums, and also the bass guitar, and at some level, the acoustic guitar.
  • Our bass is probably going to come from the bass guitar. This means that the keyboard is not going to play a bass role, and should avoid getting in the way of the bass guitar.
  • Our harmony is going to come primarily from the keys and guitar, but with some influence from the melodic instruments (flutes/vocals)
  • Melody (by which I mean the actual tune, as well as riffs and other things) is going to come from the vocals (in harmony), the flutes, and the keys.

Obviously that isn't set in stone, but we are dividing the instruments up in terms of role. This is particularly important if there is no full arrangement with sheet music for everyone. Otherwise individual musicians have a tendency to overplay, and get in the way of each other. Keyboards can be prone to attempting to play all the roles (bass, harmony, melody, and rhythm) by themselves. Acoustic guitars never seem to stop playing. You get the picture.


We do also think in terms of range. Keys and guitar are a good example here. As the keyboard player, I'm going to be listening to the guitarist, and trying to complement what he/she is playing. If the chord voicing used by the guitarist is quite full, and in the midrange, the keys should probably stay away from the octave above/below middle C. Either that, or ask the guitarist to leave a bit of space. Or not play at all. They are all valid options.

We also try and leave space around the vocals themselves. So you could try and categorise the role that each instrument plays in terms of the range in which it operates.


That's a bit of a long answer, but my general point is that we do sometimes split up instruments into different roles. They are not set in stone, and change between different pieces, or even different sections of a piece. It can be based on the range of the instrument (like SATB), but is not necessarily.

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