Once you start learning music theory and composition, you eventually come across the notion of four parts harmony.
4 parts harmony is an essential component in the music of all classical musicians, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. This notion is clearly explained in the article below.
Four Parts Harmony: An Intro
We have four voices in music: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass (SATB). A voice is any piece of music, be it a line that a singer is singing, a long note played by a musical instrument or a combination of both.
The role of 4 parts harmony is that it used to delegate chords to one of these voices. While it is a conventional system of doing so, it is still used by musicians these days.
This concept involves two aspects.
- The number of voices involved, with the max number being 4.
- Whether the voices are melodic( horizontal) or harmonic (vertical)
E.g. If you pick up a musical piece of classical music such as Bach or Mozart and then apply four parts of harmony to it, you will assess it in 2 ways.
Firstly, there are four voices, with each voice singing a melody. We say that this is the melodic (horizontal) aspect of the piece.
Secondly, the four voices are combined into one note at a specific moment, i.e., the four voices are each singing a note. We can also say that the voices are showing 4-note chords. This is known as the harmonic (vertical) aspects of the piece.
What is fascinating is that the ‘four Parts harmony’ concept or notion deals with both the harmonic and melodic components simultaneously. Thus, all four voices have the same chord progression.
What You Should Learn The 4 Parts Harmony
Let’s go back in history! The 17th, 18th and 19th century was when the four parts harmony became a conventionally used notion in music theory. While Chord progression for 2,3,5,6 and even seven voices exist, four parts harmony is the most popular one practised even today!
There are two reasons for this.
- When the concept of tonal music (major and minor keys) became popular, so did the idea of four parts harmony. The two go well with each other and complement one another as both involve four parts or voices.
- Secondly, Four-part harmony also involves the concept of low and high voice with the low being male and high being female and even a middle ground between the 2.
Justified by the reasons given above, even orchestral and instrumental music was written using four-part harmony.
Importance Of Learning A Concept Of The Past
Before jumping into the details of writing the four parts harmony, let us clear a query that must be stirring in your mind.
Why do we still learn and follow an outdated and old concept?
- Learning about chord progression, rhythm, harmony and melodies, four parts harmony teaches you about how music works.
- It indicates the development of music over time. When you witness the development of music over time, you can appreciate and be in awe of how music evolved and developed.
- In addition, learning how composers would use such concepts and music theories helps assess and analyze their timeless classical pieces.
Basics Of Writing Four Parts Harmony
You need to know some basic rules of writing a four parts harmony. This guide will help you understand and be able to that. There are three essential components of it.
As we know, four parts harmony is written for four voices, namely: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass (SATB). Soprano and Alto are written in treble clef, while Tenor and Bass are written in bass clef.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the soprano Voice should have notes that have stems going upwards while the Alto voice must have stems going downwards. Similarly, the Tenor voice should have stems going upwards, and the Bass voice must have the stems going downwards. This helps to keep the music more transparent.
The ranges of the four voices are very similar to the normal human voice. Here are the voice ranges of each.
- Soprano: middle C up to high G
- Alto: from G below middle C up to C above middle C
- Tenor: from C below middle C up to G above middle C
- Bass: from F below stave up to middle C
Musicians and those acquainted with the music theory know well that the basic chords consist of 3 parts. So, where does the 4th part come from? The answer to that is ‘doubling.’
What doubling is, is that one of the notes in the triad is in two voices or is doubled.
Conclusion – Four Parts Harmony
Four Parts Harmony is an essential component when learning and practicing music theory. It may seem like a difficult concept to grasp, but hopefully, this article will help you understand four parts harmony from scratch and be able to practice it to create pleasing compositions.