Do Jazz musicians make any effort to avoid parallel 5ths and octaves?

  • 1
    Can you clarify the context you're thinking of? Are you talking about voicing chords on a piano/guitar, writing harmonies in a combo setting for horns, arranging for a big band, or maybe something else?
    – jdjazz
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 3:37
  • Some do, some don't. I think we may need more context for a better answer. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 10:19
  • @jdjazz I was thinking piano context Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


Short answer: no, no effort at all.

Avoiding these are rules of classical music and counterpoint, and they do not apply in Jazz. Quite the contrary in fact : it is very common to harmonize for a 5 sax section with the melody doubled 1 octave below the lead voice, and using e.g. a drop 2 or a drop 2 4 voicing. Same thing with trumpet/trombone sections in big band.

Check for instance http://www.timusic.net/debreved/jazz-melody-and-voicing-part-2/ (section "5 Parts")


In solo jazz piano, these are definitely not avoided altogether. It's not uncommon to see chord voicings that "double" a single note (e.g., octaves), although too much doubling can take away the texture of the other notes. Parallel fifths are also not avoided, but you're probably not going to see a ton of parallel fifth movement unless the chords are moving up/down the scale one scale tone at a time (eg, | C maj | D min | E7 | F maj |). Monk used 1-5 voicings in the left hand frequently, which could in some cases spell out parallel fifths if you were to analyze just his left hand in the lower register.

If you consider modern jazz piano in a group setting (with bass, drums, and a horn), you'll see basically the same thing on parallel fifths but much less doubling of notes. So octaves are much more likely to be avoided in that context when comping behind a band. There are exceptions, but this is a general rule of thumb that some jazz piano teachers state explicitly to new students.

  • a common case of parallel 5th is when 7th chords descend chromatically (e.g. when using tritone substitution on the Circle of 4th: D7 C#7 C7 B7 which is a common bridge variation for a "Rhythm change" tune). Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 11:32
  • 1
    @gurneyalex, it might be possible, but the 3rd and 7th are a tritone apart on these dominant 7th chords, which removes one of the more likely places to find the perfect fifth in piano voicings. There are surely still other voicings that have the perfect fifth, but I would think it's a smaller subset compared to a scenario where the 3rd and 7th are a fifth apart.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 12:18
  • 9 and 13 are also a perfect 5th apart. And I just love the sound of the tension of a major triad 9 #11 13 on the right hand ;-) Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:20
  • @gurneyalex, absolutely! I love that sound too on chromatically descending voicings. It may not occur every time, but it definitely will occur sometimes.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 12:54

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