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I need help with the rules of voice leading please

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I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby sepheritoh » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:20 pm

There is one rule of voice leading that I simply do not grasp. I am trying to write vocal melodies (also refered to as songwriting:)

We are taught in the text books that augmented second intervals are difficult to sing. In idiots terms (i.e. to me) this means a jump from C to D# is not advisable, i.e. bad.

Then, why is a jump from D to F not bad. In fact, that is a very common jump in vocal music. It is called something different, but it is exactly the same interval in terms of the number of semitones. An even more common augmented second jump is the A to C jump. Perfectly normal, but enharmonically, exactly the same number of semitones as the hated C to D#.

Secondly, the text books propose as one sollution to a jump to an augmented second is to change the enharmonic spelling. Geez! Why have I a problem with this. Again, in idiots terms, this is the equivalent of changing a C to D# jump to a C to Eb.

Why on this world whould this be better? In fact, it is exactly the same sound. How can the visual more pleasing use of a flat sign vs. a ugly looking # sign make it any more easy to sing and the way it sound?
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Re: I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby pcartwright » Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:57 pm

sepheritoh wrote:We are taught in the text books that augmented second intervals are difficult to sing. In idiots terms (i.e. to me) this means a jump from C to D# is not advisable, i.e. bad.

Then, why is a jump from D to F not bad. In fact, that is a very common jump in vocal music. It is called something different, but it is exactly the same interval in terms of the number of semitones. An even more common augmented second jump is the A to C jump. Perfectly normal, but enharmonically, exactly the same number of semitones as the hated C to D#.

Why on this world whould this be better? In fact, it is exactly the same sound. How can the visual more pleasing use of a flat sign vs. a ugly looking # sign make it any more easy to sing and the way it sound?


That's a reasonable question. This is just my opinion, so take it for what it's worth.

Music notation (and the enharmonic choices available to the songwriter/composer) convey function as well as sonority. An interval consisting of three semitones can be written as an augmented 2nd or a minor 3rd as you've already explained. An augmented 2nd and a minor 3rd would have the same sonority; however, a notated 2nd of any variety implies step-wise motion (like a scale). As listeners, our ear perceives the space of three semitones as a leap rather than a step, so to write an augmented 2nd would imply a step but sound like a leap which is contradictory. This could be confusing to a performer.

However, I take issue with any book that says "don't write augmented 2nd because it's hard to sing/play." That's just silly. Care should be given when writing any type of augmented/diminished chords so that the function of the notes complement the sonority and vice verse (if the style of music warrants). Most singers with at least some ear training should be able to sing an augmented 2nd or a minor 3rd, but I think most singers would do a double take if they saw an augmented 2nd written on a page even with little music theory study. It just isn't that common of an interval in most musical styles.

sepheritoh wrote:Secondly, the text books propose as one sollution to a jump to an augmented second is to change the enharmonic spelling. Geez! Why have I a problem with this. Again, in idiots terms, this is the equivalent of changing a C to D# jump to a C to Eb.


You must think of the context of the note. If you are writing a song in Eb major or C minor, writing C to D# wouldn't make sense. If you are writing in E minor and using the D# as the third in a major B chord, then a D# would make sense, but you also need to think about if the D# sounds best coming from the C just below (augmented 2nd) or somewhere else.

Music notation and music theory is based on centuries of tradition. The real reason the books say "don't write an augmented 2nd" is because the masters of the Renaissance, Baroque, etc didn't use augmented 2nds.

From a pure songwriting perspective, if an augmented 2nd gives you the kind of sound you want and it makes sense within the context of the musical phrase, then knock yourself out (but your theory teachers might not like it much).
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Re: I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby Surfwhammy » Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:28 am

If you are asking about notes on a piano--as contrasted to the types of notation that allows flats to be different from what otherwise on a piano would be the equivalent sharp--then it is not the least bit unusual to have a minor third interval in a melody, where for notes on a piano an augmented second is the same as a minor third . . .

For the most part, all I do is write songs, and this is one that has the interval in question, which in this instance is A4 to C5 and back to A4, although it might be an octave lower, since I continue to think in terms of being a soprano even though technically I am baritone or virtually anything lower than a soprano, which is fabulous . . .

"Feel Me" (The Surf Whammys) -- YouTube music video

Fabulous! :)

P. S. Generally, there are two types of vocal melodies, (a) syllabic where there is a lyrical syllable for each note and (b) melismatic, where there are several notes for each lyrical syllable, with "Bewildered" (James Brown & The Famous Flames) being an excellent example of a primarily melismatic melody, while "Feel Me" is syllabic, really . . .

"Bewildered" (James Brown & The Famous Flames) -- YouTube music video

Really! :ugeek:
The Surf Whammys

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Re: I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby sepheritoh » Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:00 am

Thanks for these very clear answers.

It seems that in the modern day this is more an issue of poor writing than a taboo in terms of difficulty for the singers. I can understand that a singer will approach a step to a second different than a leap and visually I may confuse the singer who may be sight singing the phrase for the first time. An experienced singer will probably get it right on a second take.
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Re: I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby elerouxx » Tue Jun 18, 2013 1:16 pm

I agree with pcartwright - I would also add that it's more a cultural than musical taboo: it isn't that ANY augmented second can't be used or is hard to sing. The subject of the 'taboo' is THE augmented second in the context of a minor harmonic scale, because it was widely used in eastern cultures and it depicts a typical scale, say, not so catholic.

The same with paralell fifths, they have a particular buzz, a flavor. Nowadays you won't be arrested or killed for using any of these taboos, but it depends on the context. If you are doing homework, you follow rules - if you are writing an arrangement, ask yourself if you want these particular flavors.
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Re: I need help with the rules of voice leading please

Postby Surfwhammy » Tue Jun 18, 2013 6:47 pm

As bit of follow-up to avoid any confusion, these are the simplified notes for the start of the verses in "Feel Me" (The Surf Whammys), where the "simplified" aspect refers to using quarter notes and not taking the time to do the syncopation and so forth, where the notes are {A4, C5, and G4}, although I might be singing them an octave lower or whatever . . .

Image

Regarding songwriting, one of the rules I like involves keeping everything simple most of the time, since among other things (a) it is easier to remember simple melodies and (b) it is easier to sing simple melodies, as well as to compose lead guitar counterpoint and solos, hence at first I focus on keeping basic melody notes within one octave . . .

For reference, if you isolate a minor third and ask someone to sing only the minor third (or augmented second) it might be a bit awkward, but the melody for "Feel Me" is not awkward and feels natural or whatever, plus it does not sound minor to me, even though it might be, and this particular interval is used frequently in Rhythm and Blues . . .

I watched a fascinating YouTube workshop video on songwriting last year, and one of the more useful bits of information regarding technique is the idea of doing octave jumps--where the example was the octave jump in "Over The Rainbow" (music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg)--which is something I am exploring in a few prototype Country Western songs, where the following prototype Country Western song has an octave jump in the melody, but since it is the first song I have sung in the bass register describing it as "a bit rough" is a gracious way to put it, because there are some really bad notes, hence I am practicing singing bass, which is a lot more difficult than I imagined, in part because the differences between notes is small in terms of cycles per second, which requires much greater precision in pitch control and so forth, but it will make sense after a while, and I like the "octave jump", since it adds a bit of obvious pizazz, which I think can be improved with a bit of Hank Williams style nasal singing and holding the first note a tiny bit longer, which is another aspect of Country Western singing that I am practicing . . .

[NOTE: It is possible that the vocal notes that sound "bad" are not so bad and that the problem is the electric bass guitar line, which I can fix by playing the electric bass part on a real electric bass and doing it "by ear". I did the electric bass line with music notation before I composed the melody, so there are some clashing electric bass notes, but so what . . . ]

"It Was Only A Dream" (The Surf Whammys) -- Prototype Melody -- MP3

Lots of FUN! :P

P. S. I like the various minor scales, especially the Hungarian Minor scale and a few of the other not so common variations, but using them in songs requires a bit of work . . .

P. P. S. Study the melody for "Billie Jean" (Michael Jackson), where the melody for the verse is very simple, although it does some Paul McCartney style "jumps" in other sections. In great contrast to McCartney, John Lennon would be nearly entire verses every so often mostly with just one note and an occasional two more notes, which is interesting . . .
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