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Thread: How can I make sense of all of these arbitrary voice-leading rules?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by level82rat View Post
    What specific implications? And an important distinction isnt that you should ALWAYS follow the rules, but that you should be aware of why the rules exist and what happens if you don't follow them. Then it is up to your discretion whether following or breaking the rules will work better.
    Your initial impulse is much better than what you are saying here. It's much better to understand the principles behind the "rules" than it is to follow a list by rote, and you were exactly right to ask about principles. So, let’s derive some principles, shall we? Below is a four part realization in the key of A minor for every instance Sessions lists, followed by an explanation for those I can explain. If you just want the conclusion, the things you need to remember, see the bold bit at the bottom.

    Minor mode.jpg

    1. This is a typical deceptive resolution, so of course the Leading tone G# must go to A
    2. If the G were sharped, there would be motion by an augmented 2nd, a prohibited interval.
    3. I don’t get 3 & 4. Think I’d have to see these in a larger context. The leap of a tritone in the bass in example 4 could make sense if it were part of a sequence of similar leaps(?)
    4.
    5. If the G were sharped, there would be motion by an augmented 2nd, a prohibited interval.
    6. If the G# went down to F it would be a prohibited augmented 2nd.
    7. If the G were sharped, there would be motion by an augmented 2nd, a prohibited interval.
    8. If the F weren’t raised it would be motion by an augmented 2nd
    9. If the F were natural there would be motion by an augmented 2nd. If both were natural the succession of 6 chords would be weak in the bass.
    10. If the F were sharped, there would be motion by and augmented 4th in the bass, an interval usually avoided.
    11. F# would be out of key — we’re going to the relative major here, so F-natural makes sense (is in key).
    12. See 11. If it isn’t going to continue through G#, there will almost never be an F#. See examples 8 & 9 where the two accidentals are properly paired.
    13. F isn’t going to turn into F# in this kind of basic diatonic grammar.

    So, the main principle seems to be: motions by augmented intervals are outside the voice-leading norms of common practice music. Eight of the above rules can be retired if one simply remembers: Don’t write augmented intervals in diatonic progressions!

    The second principle can be stated two ways: 1) don’t raise the 6th without raising the 7th right after it. 2) Don’t sharp the F when you’re clearly hanging out in the relative major.

    So, to comply with Sessions’ rules you only need to remember two things:

    1) Avoid motion by augmented intervals.
    2) Don’t raise 6 without also raising 7 (or, don’t raise 6 when you’re in (flirting with) the relative major.)
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Nov-08-2019 at 07:24.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    That sounds like Confucius, who imparted wisdom, but always with the aim of keeping things calm and controlled. After all, China is a big nation with lots of people; Mao knew this, too.

    "Truth can also be found by learning and practicing the rules; that kind of truth also exists without the rules."

    Wow, that's super-flexible!
    That's because I'm mindful of the fact that excellent music has been written by composers without academic training, a lot of which I love.

    Edward mentions the principle of the rule and understanding that and assimilating (mastering) it with practice is really the only way to ensure technique is absorbed. It can then enhance, underpin, unify and even eke out fresh material in one's music - it becomes a grounding and starting point for fantasy and imagination. One just needs the right attitude to the learning imv, a sensible and critical one that can, or rather should also find its own preferences during the formative study.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-08-2019 at 10:23.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    So, let’s derive some principles, shall we? Below is a four part realization in the key of A minor for every instance Sessions lists, followed by an explanation for those I can explain. If you just want the conclusion, the things you need to remember, see the bold bit at the bottom.
    Brilliant! Thank you for putting in the time to do this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Your initial impulse is much better than what you are saying here. It's much better to understand the principles behind the "rules" than it is to follow a list by rote, and you were exactly right to ask about principles. So, let’s derive some principles, shall we?
    Excellent exposition, and reveals the true intent of this thread and the OP's "innocent" post.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    That's because I'm mindful of the fact that excellent music has been written by composers without academic training, a lot of which I love.

    Edward mentions the principle of the rule and understanding that and assimilating (mastering) it with practice is really the only way to ensure technique is absorbed.
    Yes, if you want to stay in that tonal context. I doubt that Debussy thought about it like you are saying.

    Arriving at music late, and from the other side of the tracks, Debussy had the benefit of an unprejudiced perspective on the things he was taught. He was a gifted pianist...There are stories of him as a student, sitting at the piano and provoking his teachers with sequences of unconventional chords. As a composer, he always liked to improvise, though he knew the possible pitfalls of this way of making music. He had an incomparable ear, and one can imagine him at the keyboard trying things out, feeling his way into new and unfamiliar areas, listening intently to the sounds his fingers were uncovering, testing them for their interest, implication and beauty.
    In the musical language that Debussy was taught and that he would, in important respects, reject – the language of classical tonality – the distinction between dissonance and consonance is axiomatic. Individual dissonances must be resolved, areas of harmonic instability restored to equilibrium. Each degree of the diatonic scale is assigned a place in a hierarchy of relations with the tonic. The strongest degree is the fifth – the dominant – and dominant-tonic relations are at the centre of every musical structure. The discourse is highly directional: phrases and melodic lines are thought of as rising to a point of climax and then subsiding, modulation is a journey away from the home key and back again, structures unfold like arguments or stories. Many of the metaphors used to describe tonality – tension and resolution, disorder and equilibrium – are metaphors of feeling.
    In the half-century before Debussy was born, composers had progressively disrupted the stability of the tonal system, exploring its potential to represent more extreme states of mind. The late works of Chopin, for example, express an agitation that Liszt thought verged on the pathological. The withholding of harmonic resolution in Wagner’s mature style – most famously exploited in Tristan und Isolde – threatened to take music into the realm of hysteria. Where could it go next?
    One answer was simply to push on further, to ratchet up the harmonic and emotional tension to the very edge of psychosis, as Schoenberg was to do in Verklaerte Nacht and Strauss in Salome and Elektra. These are works in which a system is at breaking point. Reaching the border, Schoenberg went over, Strauss turned back. After Elektra, the guardians of ideological soundness never forgave Strauss. He was labelled a cynic and a coward for his next opera, Der Rosenkavalier. Elektra had almost been split apart by its stylistic contradictions: the sense of compositional stress in the more daring music of that opera adds to its derangement, but the queasy eruption of music from the Vienna woods into the charnel house of Agamemnon’s palace clearly pointed to the work’s true centre of gravity. This wasn’t something Strauss could possibly repeat and, for all the flak he received, one can only think he was wise to listen to his nature.
    Debussy moved in the opposite direction, developing a musical language that relaxed harmonic and emotional tension rather than raising it. He was motivated by a need for a medium that would allow him to represent non-directional states, whether of energy – subtle drift (clouds, mist), great force (wind, waves), unified fields of intricate and random motion (reflections on water, fireworks) – or of feeling (sentiment and sensation). He rejected narrative and dialectical structures in favour of a music of apposition, placing one thing next to another – harmonies, motifs, even structural units. His harmonic language is usually spoken of as ‘non-functional’, a term that describes a way of writing music which uncoupled harmonies from their place in the tonal hierarchy and reduced the force fields between them. Perhaps a better description would be ‘less functional’: for all its rejection of routine procedure, Debussy’s music is awash with tonality and achieves its expressiveness as much from changing the emphasis of the existing idiom as from introducing elements entirely foreign to it.
    His music is a naturally evolved inflection of the musical language he inherited – a continuation rather than a rupture. The whole tone scale and the harmonies implicit in it (musical elements that Debussy particularly liked) were not, in themselves, outlandish to the ears of his contemporaries. It was just that Debussy used them outside the contexts that obscured their perceived strangeness. Schoenberg, ruminating on the ‘emancipation of the dissonance’, acknowledged that Debussy had already unlocked the cage and thrown away the key. For all his valiant and ingenious attempts to argue for atonality as a continuation of the tonal system, Schoenberg had to admit that listeners simply didn’t feel this – his hope that one day people would whistle his tunes turned out to be forlorn. Unlike the younger composer, Debussy did not adhere to an ideology which held that all chords are equivalent: it was the individual character of complex harmonies that interested him; he praised César Franck as a composer ‘for whom sounds in and of themselves have a precise meaning’.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Edward mentions the principle of the rule and understanding that and assimilating (mastering) it with practice is really the only way to ensure technique is absorbed. It can then enhance, underpin, unify and even eke out fresh material in one's music - it becomes a grounding and starting point for fantasy and imagination. One just needs the right attitude to the learning imv, a sensible and critical one that can, or rather should also find its own preferences during the formative study.
    I disagree; I think that Debussy just did what the hell he wanted to do, based on sound and his ear, not by rules or procedures. Debussy had a great ear, and this is what he followed. His music was created out of those harmonic perceptions, not by assimilation of the past or using the past as a springboard. His music was based on "the now" and the perception of sound as it is.

    The pianistic tradition was an influence on him as a pianist, but not the harmonic tradition of CP tonality, which he left behind. The CP rules meant nothing to him, especially rules of resolution and voice-leading procedures. He only retained from tonality a basic language of triads and scales, tonal devices which are present in almost any "tonal" or harmonic music.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Nov-11-2019 at 16:04.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    I'm not talking about Debussy. Where did he come from?
    My comments are borne out of experience, knowledge of compositional practice and how manipulation of material reaps musical rewards - they are actually not speculation, just simple fact, your disagreeing tells me something about you. My comments are also not definitive, just one way it can and actually does work. You do not seem to understand how music can be written, nor do you seem to understand what technique is for, what it does in formative years and how it can be applied after learning otherwise you would not necessarily disagree.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-11-2019 at 16:25.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    I'm not talking about Debussy. Where did he come from?
    France.

    My comments are borne out of experience, knowledge of compositional practice and how manipulation of material reaps musical rewards - they are actually not speculation, just simple fact, your disagreeing tells me something about you. My comments are also not definitive, just one way it can and actually does work. You do not seem to understand how music can be written, nor do you seem to understand what technique is for, what it does in formative years and how it can be applied after learning otherwise you would not necessarily disagree.
    I agree with technique, as in pianism, but I disagree with your prescriptions about CP practice.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Nov-11-2019 at 16:36.

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    Then you don't understand, it's not your fault, you have to experience it. Silly to outright disagree with someone who actually does know though, but hey it's (only) your opinion.
    BTW try scoring for full orchestra without a sense of line and voice leading, see where that gets you in a performance. Debussy knew all about the practicalities inherent in CP. All composers aspire beyond the formative years if they are any good and all composers learn more than you think from CP if they take that route.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-11-2019 at 16:50.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Then you don't understand, it's not your fault, you have to experience it. Silly to outright disagree with someone who actually does know though, but hey it's (only) your opinion.
    BTW try scoring for full orchestra without a sense of line and voice leading, see where that gets you in a performance. Debussy knew all about the practicalities inherent in CP. All composers aspire beyond the formative years if they are any good and all composers learn more than you think from CP if they take that route.
    Oh, that's hogwash.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    ahhh, but it's solid professional hogwash that's actually true. I'd like to know your direct experience of all this but I suspect that you don't have any apart from, what was it, a year analysing a Beethoven sonata or similar that put you off CP? I admire your chutzpah, but if you haven't taken a route through compositional academia (with the aim of entering the profession) and come out at the other end better for it as a composer and then continued with advanced studies, all the while finding out about your musical self and developing because of the study and practice, how do you even think for one minute you can call any of it hogwash? You don't know, I do because I did it. We can disagree about sooo much more and have sooo much fun, but in this regard, you are wrong.

    Being confrontational is one thing, but from a base containing some ignorance doesn't seem like a smart move to me.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-11-2019 at 17:12.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Excellent exposition, and reveals the true intent of this thread and the OP's "innocent" post.
    He's agreeing with the intent behind my initial question, so your comment makes no sense. Also, I've ignored all of your passive aggressive pot shots this entire time, but this is just getting out of hand. If you have an issue with me or my intentions, then stop gossiping like a teenage girl and state your accusation clearly and without innuendo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I disagree; I think that Debussy just did what the hell he wanted to do, based on sound and his ear, not by rules or procedures. Debussy had a great ear, and this is what he followed. His music was created out of those harmonic perceptions, not by assimilation of the past or using the past as a springboard. His music was based on "the now" and the perception of sound as it is.

    The pianistic tradition was an influence on him as a pianist, but not the harmonic tradition of CP tonality, which he left behind. The CP rules meant nothing to him, especially rules of resolution and voice-leading procedures. He only retained from tonality a basic language of triads and scales, tonal devices which are present in almost any "tonal" or harmonic music.
    In the long quotation you offer in post #35 above, you put in bold only what supports your statements in this post. What follows in that quotation contradicts your statements. You should have bolded this:

    "Perhaps a better description [of Debussy's harmony] would be ‘less functional’: for all its rejection of routine procedure, Debussy’s music is awash with tonality and achieves its expressiveness as much from changing the emphasis of the existing idiom as from introducing elements entirely foreign to it. His music is a naturally evolved inflection of the musical language he inherited – a continuation rather than a rupture."

    You claim that "his music was created out of those harmonic perceptions, not by assimilation of the past or using the past as a springboard. His music was based on 'the now' and the perception of sound as it is," and "the CP rules meant nothing to him, especially rules of resolution and voice-leading procedures. He only retained from tonality a basic language of triads and scales..." These statements are inaccurate and misleading. Debussy most certainly did "assimilate the past" and use it as a "springboard." The "perception of sound as it is" was not a sufficient foundation for Pelleas et Melisande, which is less a product of "the now" than of the thorough absorption of Tristan and Parsifal.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Nov-11-2019 at 19:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    In the long quotation you offer in post #35 above, you put in bold only what supports your statements in this post. What follows in that quotation contradicts your statements. You should have bolded this:

    "Perhaps a better description [of Debussy's harmony] would be ‘less functional’: for all its rejection of routine procedure, Debussy’s music is awash with tonality and achieves its expressiveness as much from changing the emphasis of the existing idiom as from introducing elements entirely foreign to it. His music is a naturally evolved inflection of the musical language he inherited – a continuation rather than a rupture."

    You claim that "his music was created out of those harmonic perceptions, not by assimilation of the past or using the past as a springboard. His music was based on 'the now' and the perception of sound as it is," and "the CP rules meant nothing to him, especially rules of resolution and voice-leading procedures. He only retained from tonality a basic language of triads and scales..." These statements are inaccurate and misleading. Debussy most certainly did "assimilate the past" and use it as a "springboard." The "perception of sound as it is" was not a sufficient foundation for Pelleas et Melisande, which is less a product of "the now" than of the thorough absorption of Tristan and Parsifal.
    Ok, he was influenced by Wagner, but I think to emphasize that aspect of Debussy is also misleading, because it doesn't recognize or appreciate the radical nature of Debussy's music.

    I think the greatest part of Debussy's achievement is that he cut through the bull---t. To think otherwise is to be in that opposing camp of "traditionalists" and academics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by level82rat View Post
    He's agreeing with the intent behind my initial question, so your comment makes no sense. Also, I've ignored all of your passive aggressive pot shots this entire time, but this is just getting out of hand. If you have an issue with me or my intentions, then stop gossiping like a teenage girl and state your accusation clearly and without innuendo.
    It wouldn't surprise me if you and EdwardBast were in contact outside of this forum, planning out these little "traps."

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