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Double Thirds

Discussion in 'Music' started by Rockmeamadeus, Feb 14, 2012.

  1. I was taught that one of the "rules" of harmony was that you <u>Don't Double the Thirds</u>. Like for most of my accademic studies, I was not really listening at the time, and did not do all the practice that I should have, but I do recall some mumbled phrases about there being "exceptions".
    Now, in Butterworth, I'm reading that doubled thirds are quite acceptable, especially if they are minor thirds or major thirds doubled two octaves apart - but not if the third is the leading (I.E in Vb) as this has to reslove and resolving a doubled leading note would result in consecutives - AGHHG!
    So the question is - when I am teaching four part harmony should I teach it as Butterworth says, or will my students get marked down for doubling any thirds?????
    (I personally think that the sound of Ib or IVb is much better withouth a doubled third, even at two octaves)
  2. The 'rule' as far as I teach is that it is only major thirds which shouldn't be doubled - minors are ok for partwriting purposes and the 3rd in diminished triads is doubled more often than not. Major thirds can be doubled in outer parts in contrary motion: e.g. a good alternative to the cadential 6-4. Think of a melodic descent 4-3-2-1, harmonised by VIIb-Ib-V-I.
    Major thirds doubled for no good reason will be marked wrong.
  3. YesMrBronson

    YesMrBronson New commenter

    Why do people label chords as '6-4' rather than 'b' (e.g. V6-4 instead of Vb)? I realise this is a relic of figured bass but isn't the term 6-4 rather confusing (especially as one can often be dealing with compound intervals)?

    As an aside, muso-tim, although what you say about diminished chords is certainly correct, personally I have always felt that diminished chords don't really have a third as such. They are like the communist chord - everything is equal! [​IMG]
  4. Sorry to correct Mr B bu I think first inversion chords (I.E. 'b' chords) are 6-3? 6-4 chords are second inversion. I find myself using this system as I was not taught formal harmony until in my 20's. Before that I used to play from chord sheets and vocal scores and understood chords from their shape - 6 - 4 tells me the shape (in close position) so it makes sense whereas Vb tells me what note is in the bass, which can be different, of course.
    Like so much in music I feel that we often find names for things that don't really need names. My favourite is the name for the type of staccato used to play Bach on the piano ("Portando"). If ever something did not need a specialised term, this is surely it!
  5. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    I think most people call that type of touch staccato-legato or mezzo staccato these days. Portando is more commonly used for the ghastly sliding between notes (portamento) adopted by some singers and violinists.
  6. YesMrBronson

    YesMrBronson New commenter

    You are of course correct [​IMG]

    Rather like you, I was inverting chords and writing appogiaturas before I knew I was. I then had to learn the names for the things I was already using which, in some ways, makes it harder perhaps.
  7. The overall rule has to be "double the note that leads to the smoothest part-writing".

    Doubling major thirds is usually worse than doubling minor thirds, but it has to be said that Bach doubled many major thirds with impunity (especially if they occur in the soprano)!

    If a third is doubled, the parts involved should move in contrary motion (preferably by step).

    My advice is not to double the third without sufficient reason, but I would not necessarily mark it wrong just in itself.

    However, there are some progressions where is it good to double the third: IIb for example often has a doubled third when moving to V, and in the progression Va-VIa or VIa-Va, the third of VI should be doubled in both cases.

    "Rules" like this are contained in the concise yet comprehensive book "Four-Part Harmony", by Classroom Resources. It is the only harmony book to be written in an accessible, pupil-friendly way. Get it here:

  8. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Or, as Hugh Benham neatly puts it in his book on harmony for A2, notes 1, 4 and 5 of the scale can usually be doubled.
    In general, though, I have always taught the same points as Muso-Tim when it comes to doubling.

  9. I usually double the root or third if a chord is in first inversion, but double the root if it is a V chord for obvious reasons. Can be good for avoiding parallels.
  10. Ok, one last question. If you double the third in iib and move to chord v, presumably you will have voice lead those notes in different directions. One of them will have to rise to the root of chord V and the other will fall to the faith, because otherwise you will get consecutive octaves. Am I right about this?
  11. mzuzu

    mzuzu New commenter

    I like fall to the faith! The 3rd of IIb could also rest there and become the dominant 7th, but yes you are correct.
    I always taught the little darlings to write the outside parts first using, wherever possible, contrary motion and thus avoiding unmentionable such as exposed octaves as well as consecutives. It's fine to double a minor 3rd but avoid jumping augmented intervals, the 3rd in IIb going to the 3rd in V for example.

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