The Complete Musician by Steven Laitz states that melodic intervals larger than a fifth are considered dissonant and should be avoided. It also states that two leaps of a third are fine, provided you change direction afterwards, which Mozart does.

In Mozart's Sonata K545, the opening melody of the Allegro (one of the simplest and most popular melodies of the period) runs 1-3-5-7-8-9-8. The opening phrase

By the definition given in The Complete Musician, would the jump from the high 5 (G) down to the 7 (B) be considered a melodic dissonance, at it forms a minor 6th? This seems crazy, as the melody sounds extremely natural to me (and, I imagine, everybody else).

  • 3
    I suspect he just means that we should treat them as dissonant in the sense of requiring some kind of resolution. Thus large leaps are usually best followed by a step backwards, as we see Mozart do in this example, Imagine if the note after the B had been lower. It would sound uncomfortable and clumsy. The step up to C is the 'resolution' of the leap. .
    – PeterJ
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 11:46
  • I'm with PJ here - "dissonance" can have two meanings. Do-ti sounds very nice, except that then I wait itchily for the final Do' . Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 14:50

4 Answers 4


There are at least two explanations for why this leap is acceptable:

  1. First is the idea of "gap fill," also sometimes called "registral return" or the "post-skip reversal." In short, when there is a large leap, we can soften it by subsequently moving by step in the opposite direction. This is a Gestalt principle of good melodic design that can often explain instances of "rule breaking."
  2. Another concept is that the E and G in the first measure really just embellish the original C. As such, this isn't really a leap from G down to B, but rather just a simple step from the initial C down to B. This is a question of musical hierarchy: C is more important than the E or the G, so we therefore connect the larger-scale motion from C down to B, which is just a half step. Depending on what edition of the textbook you have, Laitz may address this concept in a section devoted to "compound melody."
  • A good example of this gap fill is from Mozart's Te Deum. www3.cpdl.org/wiki/images/5/57/Te_Deum_-_Choral_Score.pdf On page 15 the tenor sings "In te domine speravi", jumping down a half step, up a tritone, down a half step, and then down a minor seventh. Kind of bizarre but it works. Of course, Mozart was twelve when he wrote it... Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 19:25

It is traditional when teaching vocal writing to advise a preference for smaller intervals, which are easier to sing. A natural accent accrues to large intervals. The term melodic dissonance is sometimes used in connection to large intervals, the larger being more melodically dissonant.

By your book's definition, yes this is a melodically dissonant leap.

The advice to avoid such intervals is typical of advice to beginners not to break the rules until they're understood. Masters such as Mozart may do as they please, but if newcomers write melodies full of large leaps, they are likely to make an unsingable mess.

This usage should not be confused with consonant or dissonant harmony, nor with any idea of what sounds pleasant or unpleasant. It is a perhaps unfortunate piggy-backing of existing terms.


Could be that this rule in your textbook refers to the melody building of the Gregorian chant.

In the early church music till the time Palestrina there were some rules about intervals in a melody like a major sixth or bigger were considered as not good for singing.


Laitz's statement doesn't make much sense without some context, but in any case, "so what?" There has never been a "rule" that music must always be consonant.

But what the melody in question sounds like to the OP (and/or "everybody else" at the present time) is irrelevant. What matters is what it sounded like to Mozart and his contemporaries - who of course had never heard any 19th, 20th, or 21st century music at all.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.