Does rules in 4-part harmony also apply to piano arrangements ?

Like for example no doubling the 3rd note of the chord, or moving in parallel 5, etc.

3 Answers 3


They don't fully apply, no. But it depends on what you're trying to do.

Remember that the voice-leading rules for four-part harmony are to mimic eighteenth-century chorale procedures. Piano arrangements are by default not in the eighteenth-century style, so by that logic there's little need to follow all of the voice-leading rules.

With that said, a few rules do still persist today, even in popular music. More than anything, I think the rule of resolving the chordal seventh down by step is the most-followed rule from the eighteenth century.

Forbidden parallels, however, happen all the time in music of the 20th century (and even earlier).

So depending on what you're arranging, you may find yourself breaking these rules all over the place. But that's okay, because if the piece you're arranging isn't in the eighteenth-century style, why arrange it like it is? (Unless you're trying to be hip with a different style arrangement!)

Lastly, I just wanted to note that doubling chordal thirds happens all the time. It's a rule that's been passed down, and it might be to prevent people from doubling the leading tone (which is the third of the V chord). But doubled thirds in tonic chords happen all the time, and they're a necessity (!) in some vi chords at a deceptive cadence.


The concept behind 4-part harmony excercises is to teach you the basics of voice leading. It is in reality completely unlike any real music you may find. All it really aims to do is teach you the basics. In actuall fact, real four part voice harmony does things like voices go over and under different each other, which is a real no-go for your excercises.

Also you may find octaves doubled in piano music that looks like the doubling which your are told to avoid but this is not a doubling of the harmonies perse but more just two of the same notes played to increase the sonority of a passage, those types of doubling are very piano-like.


In a piano arrangement, unlike in 4-part vocal writing, you don't normally have different voices. In a four-part Bach chorus, for example, or in a hymn, all the voices will be singing the same words and you'll have melodies and counter melodies going on.

On the other hand, most piano arrangements are one melody line being embellished and emphasized through creative use of harmony, style, and technique. You don't simply have multiple parts moving in similar rhythmic patterns like you do in vocal music. You may have counter melodies and such going on, but it is a very different style from vocal writing, for the simple reason that the piano is a totally different instrument than the voice.

For this reason, I'd say the rules aren't as applicable to piano arrangements.

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