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TH101 - Seth Monahan

FOUR-PART
HARMONY
WORKING IN KEYBOARD STYLE
Learning to connect chords smoothly and idiomatically is a crucial part of your early musical training. In
TH101, we will compose four-part harmony with two complementary methods: chorale style and keyboard style. This handout introduces both and then focuses on keyboard style, which we will use for most of
our assignments.

CHORALE VS. KEYBOARD STYLE


In chorale style, each of the four voices (SATB) is independently notated and stemmed, on a grand staff: S
and A are notated together on the top staff, T and B together on the bottom. In this format, stem-direction
helps to differentiate the voices: S and T are always stemmed upward, while A and B are always stemmed
downward, as show below in J. S. Bachs setting of the famous hymn tune Ein feste Burg (A Mighty
Fortress):

& c
A

? c

migh - ty


for

tress

is

our

God!

By contrast, keyboard style groups the top three voices on one staff, leaving the bass by itself on the bottom
staff. Stem direction still matters: the top voice is stemmed upward, while the inner voices are stemmed
downward together, as shown here:

& c
?c

PROS and CONS OF KEYBOARD STYLE


The biggest limitation of keyboard style is that the four voices have far less independence than in chorale
style. This is because the inner voices are always stuck to the topmost voice, both rhythmically and registrally. The kinds of four-part settings found in Bachs chorales, for instance, would be impossible in keyboard
style, as they require the tenor and alto voices to move entirely independently:

Keyboard-Style Harmony, p. 2

PROS and CONS OF KEYBOARD STYLE (contd.)


The other limitation of keyboard style is that it is difficult to sing from. This is because (1) the inner voices are
bound to the melody, they often range much too high for male voices; and (2) the inner voices also tend to
leap more oftenand fartherthan in chorale style.
However, keyboard style offers many advantagesespecially to the novice:
It lets us focus on the most important contrapuntal relations, those between the outer voices. (In this

respect, keyboard style is like a first-species exercise with inner-voice filler.

By limiting the range of the upper voices, it encourages efficient, smooth voice leading in many

situations.

It makes illegal parallels between three pairs of voices (SA, ST, AT) easier to see.
It typically puts the RH in one of only a few standard configurationsor handshapesallowing

you to target likely errors more efficiently.

VOICE-LEADING RULES AND GUIDELINES


Working in keyboard style can be less overwhelming than chorale style, since the motion of the inner voices
is in large part dependent on the melody. This means that there are fewer options and thus fewer opportunities for mistakes. Still, there are a number of important guidelines and rules to be kept in mind:
PARALLEL PERFECT INTERVALS

As in species counterpoint, parallel perfect fifths and octaves are forbidden, between any pair of voices.
However, parallel fourths are fine (!!!); indeed, you will use them often.
DIRECT (or HIDDEN) OCTAVES

When the outer voices move by similar motion, the soprano should move by step. If the soprano leaps,
the result is direct or hidden octaves, a sound that composers traditionally avoided. Inner voices
are note bound by this rule.
COMPLETE VS. INCOMPLETE CHORDS

Whenever possiblewhich is almost always!use complete chords. The only acceptable way to leave
a chord incomplete is to omit its chordal fifth. Your handouts on resolving V7 to I offer several scenarios
in which incomplete chords are acceptable and even necessary.
SMOOTH CONNECTIONS

Unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwiseusually for reasons of sculpting a nice melodyit
is wise to connect your chords as smoothly as possible in the right hand, moving voices by step (or not
at all!) whenever possible.
CONTRARY MOTION

All else being equal, it is wise to move your hands in contrary, rather than similar motion. This will ensure
that you avoid the most common opportunities for parallel P5s/P8s. When moving between 5/3 chords a
step apart (e.g., Iii, or Vvi), this is especially important!

Keyboard-Style Harmony, p. 3

HANDSHAPES
When playing triads or seventh chords in keyboard style, the right hand will tend to fall into one of 13 handshapes. These, in turn, fall into four families:
a.

TRIAD

These, the most common handshapes, combine two


thirds or a third and a fourth. They are used for five types
of chords:
5
3 -chords (i.e., root-position triads)
6
3 -chords (i.e., first-inversion triads)
6
4 -chords (i.e., second-inversion triads)

c.

&

ONE NOTE WILL DOUBLE THE BASS VOICE


ONE NOTE WILL DOUBLE THE BASS VOICE
ONE NOTE WILL DOUBLE THE BASS VOICE

7
5 -chords (i.e., root-position seventh chords)
3
4
2 -chords (i.e., third-inversion seventh chords)

NEUTRAL

NO TONES IN COMMON WITH BASS


(chordal root is in LH)
NO TONES IN COMMON WITH BASS
(chordal root is in RH)

a.

These are used mainly with first-inversion triads. They


ensure that the chordal third (in the bass) is not doubled.
They consist of a fourth and/or a fifth.
6
3 -chords (i.e., first-inversion triads)

DISSONANT A

&

These are used mainly with first-inversion seventh chords.

6
5 -chords (i.e., first-inversion seventh chords)

DISSONANT B

&

4
3 -chords (i.e., second-inversion seventh chords)
7
3 -chords (i.e., incomplete seventh chords in root

c.

d.

b.

c.

NO TONES IN COMMON WITH BASS


(chordal root is in RH)

a.

These are used for two types of chords (see below). They
are recognizable by their dissonant seventh or second.

b.

NO TONES IN COMMON WITH BASS


(chordal root is in RH)

a.

position)

b.

&

b.

c.

NO TONES IN COMMON WITH BASS


(chordal root is in RH)
ONE NOTE DOUBLES THE BASS VOICE
(chordal root is in both hands!)

Keyboard-Style Harmony, p. 4

HANDSHAPE DEMONSTRATION
On the next page, youll find a color-coded demonstration of handshapes used to realize a bassline in
keyboard style. Triad-style handshapes are shown in green; neutrals are shown in blue; and dissonants are
shown in red/orange. A few things to notice here:
As predicted, triad handshapes are the most common (11 out of 17 chords).
Triad handshapes are used not just for triads, but also for root position seventh chords (see the

ii7 chord in m. 4) and third-inversion seventh chords: notice how the bass under the vi chord (m.3)
moves down by step, producing a 4/2-chord, while the RH remains stationary!

The same Dissonant B handshape, on the same notes (!), is used in the first and last bars to realize

a dominant 4/3 chord AND an incomplete root-position V7. (The difference is that the missing
chordal fifth appears in the bass voice in bar 1, but not in bar 4.)

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
NEUTRAL HANDSHAPES IN 3 VOICES

Notice that two of the neutral handshapes use two, rather than three notes. This is fine. Indeed, if you
have several 6/3 chords in a row, you may use a string of such handshapes, effectively reducing from
a 4-voice texture to a 3-voice one.
RELATION OF RH TO LH

Most of the neutral and dissonant handshapes have a gap of a fifth in them. When such handshapes
are used properly, the bass note will always be the missing note that would divide that fifth into
two thirds. (On the next page, look at the last chord in m. 1: see how the fifth FC could be divided
into thirds by an A? See the bass? Its A. Thats what I mean.)
DOUBLING in TRIADS

When you realize a 3-note chord in four voices, one note will appear twice. With 5/3 and 6/4 chords,
the doubled note should always be the same as the BASS voice. (I.e., the bass note will also appear
somewhere in the RH.) If you use a triad handshape for such chords, the correct doubling is guaranteed.
But with 6/3 chords, the correct doubling varies. This chartwhich applies in many but not all situationswill help you in the coming weeks:

CHORD

DOUBLE

HANDSHAPE

CHORD

DOUBLE

Ifl

any
note

TRIAD or
NETURAL

Vfl

root or
fifth

iifl

bass

TRIAD

vifl

dont worry; it doesnt exist

iiifl

dont worry; it doesnt exist

IVfl

any
note

TRIAD or
NETURAL

viifl

bass

HANDSHAPE
NETURAL

TRIAD

Keyboard-Style Harmony, p. 5

HANDSHAPE DEMONSTRATION
TRIAD
5 6 6 7
and 4
2
3 3 4 5
3

a.

b.

&

CLICK TO PLAY

b
& b
? bb

V$

a.

&

Ifl

c.

V#

b.

vi

iifl

V#/V

c.

#
I@

w
w
w

V#/vi vi

a.

&

vi%

b.

DISSONANT A

DISSONANT B
4 and 7
3
3

6 only
5

a.

&

iifl

b.

c.

NEUTRAL
6 only
3

d.

ii

c.

I@