I've been preparing for my Grade 5 AMEB (the Australian music board) music theory test and the harmony section really stumps me. I understand how it works, but not really all the rules.

I'd just like to get, (if possible) all the rules anyone knows for four-part and pianoforte harmony, especially the latter? And things like the forbidden octave and fifths?


  • Does "pianoforte style" mean three-note chords played with the right hand and the bass line played with the left hand? If that is correct, the "rules" for forbidden octaves etc are the same, but the options you have to avoid breaking them are more limited. Contrary motion between the bass and the right hand parts is often the simplest way to avoid problems.
    – user19146
    Sep 26, 2017 at 18:49
  • 1
    ... from the AMEB web site it looks like their exam syllabus is not available free (unlike ABRSM which do provide a free syllabus for all their exams), so you can't really expect other people here to pay for it just to understand what your question means!
    – user19146
    Sep 26, 2017 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


Well, as mentioned they are too many to write them in a post, however you could check this link for some very important rules and, moreover, you could google whatever you want about the conventional rules of four-part choral and pianoforte harmony.

As for the second, I would like to make some remarks:

  1. In four-part choral harmony there is no restriction that two voices should not sing a fourth while the other two voices do not move, however, when such a passage is played on a piano, it sounds often too harsh to be considered classic, so it is to be avoided, due to pianoforte restrictions.
  2. The same - a little bit altered - applies to octaves and fifths. Should two voices move to a fifth or octave while the others do not move may, even in choral four-part harmony, sound a little bit empty, however, when played on a pianoforte, the result is usually very "cold", so, again, it should be, in general, avoided.
  3. Several other passages, such as thrids and sixths are allright to be used while no other voice is moving.
  4. In general, while parallel fourths are not entirely forbidden, many times they do sound really intense and harsh, which makes them not a nice choice.
  5. Except for parallel fifths and octaves, there are also their counter-parallel cousins. So, for instance, having Basso and Soprano moving from a perfect fifth to an octave (or another perfect fifth) with contrary move is also forbidden.

After all, what you are being examined to is music and it should remains so; if you write something that on the piano sounds nicely and is in context should be OK. For instance, I was taught that after a dominant (V) there should follow a tonic (I), however, I've used several times variations of an idea borrowed from the baroque - Haendel, specifically - that after (V6) one could have a (IV64) with a very pleasing result. So, despite all these rules, feel free to express yourself, as long as the given theme lets you do so


All the rules regarding voice leading in a four-part harmony are too many to put in a post. They take a couple of chapters in a theory book, and I take about 8-10 classes to teach the basic rules to my theory class. There's no way to address them all, but I'd say the two most important are: avoid parallel fifth and octave movement between any two voices, and do not space soprano/alto or alto/tenor greater than an octave.


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