In a piece I'm working on, the climax of the melody line consists of an upward octave leap followed by another step upward--from G4 to G5 and then to A5. (I realize this is generally discouraged, but I like the sound of it.)

My question is what to do with the alto line, as I can see three options (discounting any alteration of the melody):
1) Overlap S/A
2) Have S and A more than an octave apart, and
3) Merge the S and A voices on the note before the octave leap.

Which of these is generally best in this type of situation?


Here's the thing: voice-leading rules aren't universal. They are based on the assumptions of a particular style. In particular, the kinds of concerns brought up in the question sound like OP is worried about "chorale style" (SATB?) voice-leading, derived from principles used mostly in 19th century hymnody.

If the soprano leaps up an octave (G4 to G5) and then continues upward to A6, that's simply a pattern that would never occur in 19th-century hymnody. The rules of voice-leading for that style don't apply, as you're no longer writing in that style.

Instead, what should be considered is the reason for trying to maintain a "chorale-like" texture, and what effect breaking various voice-leading "rules" will have. To understand that, one should consider the rationale behind the rules in the first place. So, let's take the options in turn:

1) Overlap S/A

I'm not sure whether you mean a voice overlap (which sometimes means to move one voice past the range of another voice's previous note, in this case skipping the alto up past G4 when the soprano takes G5) or a true voice crossing. If it's a voice overlap, the effect in a large ensemble can be losing track of which line connects with which, and also a feeling of two voices taking larger leaps in the same direction. But voice overlaps of this sort occur all the time in non-chorale style textures, like an instrumental texture with bass voices and two upper voices that have a section where they travel in parallel thirds (including leaps). It's a textural effect, primarily.

On the other hand, true voice crossing (where the alto sings/plays higher than the soprano) can undermine the sense of melody. That can also work in instrumental pieces with proper orchestration, but should be used with caution elsewhere. If voice crossing of the melody is allowed, it's probably best not to make it a "one-off" note that occurs once, which might sound weird. Instead, you might have an inner voice take a sort of "descant role" for several notes or even an entire phrase.

2) Have S and A more than an octave apart

This again is a textural choice. Many instrumental textures frequently will have a solo melodic voice floating high above the other voices for an extended period. The general rule of keeping upper voices within an octave only helps to give a sense of an "ensemble" that are part of the same texture, rather than have a "solo voice" high above the others. It can be workable, depending on the style you're after. But again use caution in having it be a "one-off" event. Switching to a different texture where the top voice becomes more like a solo may be useful for effect for a phrase or section, but having an unusual spacing for a single chord may just sound odd. It's going to be a judgment call.

3) Merge the S and A voices on the note before the octave leap

There's no voice-leading rule against this even in strict chorale style, so there's no reason to avoid having any two adjacent voices come together on a unison for a single pitch. Having two voices together might tend to make that note sound louder, so I suppose that's a potential concern if that's not an effect you want.

In general, the best compositional advice is to avoid something that stands out and potentially sounds odd in context. You generally want to adopt a consistent set of principles for whatever texture/ensemble you're working with, and you want to avoid something that sounds disruptive. Your goal and rationale for incorporating such a leap in the first place may help guide what solution will work best in your particular situation.


The question is slightly opinion based I guess. The answer depends on what the Tone of your piece is, Theme and also whatever you wish to convey through your piece.These decide the answer.

Merging might be a good option if you want to make this section bolder. Overlap might be good if you want to add some flare to the harmonic texture. You might want to separate S and A if you want a clear distinction between lead and Harmony. If your message is strong enough, you might wanna bring in some dissonance here. It is easier for the singers if you keep some seperation between S and A. Make use of dynamics. Try making Alto softer but somewhat close to S.

Generally Best - Nothin like that exists like a general thing to compose music. It's about you getting creative.


It isn't clear what you think the problem is.

If the problem is purely a melodic concern - the octave leap plus step which I assume you mean is in the soprano, changing the alto won't fix a bad line in the soprano.

If your concern is the wide spacing between alto and soprano and chorale harmony norms, then fix the part writing. Abandon the octave leap and write like a chorale.

Finally, if there isn't a melodic problem, and you don't care about chorale style, then embrace what you are really doing. Don't treat the alto like an apology to chorale style. Do with it what you need it to do. I image that should be complete the next chord with motion that makes sense with the rest of the music.

It's hard to say any more, because you gave no musical context other than "G4 to G5 and then to A5" and there is an alto part.

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