• Introduction To The Chorale Style of Voicing Triads

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    Today we’ll be having an overview of the chorale style of voicing triads.

    The principles I’m going to share with you here, are not common among musicians who play by ear. They are the core harmonic principles that form the backbone of harmony, especially from the 1600s to 1900s.

    If you have a desire to make your triads sound like a classical choir (aka – “chorale style”) instead of sounding like regular keyboard chords, then this lesson is written to acquaint you with a basic introduction to the chorale style of voicing triads.

    To everyone else, who may have basic classical music training, especially in tonal harmony, this post would only serve as a reminder to the things you’re already conversant with.

    Review Of Triads

    A chord is basically a collection of scale tones that are related by a certain class of harmony.

    The notes below:

    …are related because they form the C major scale.

    Any of the notes of the C major scale, can be stacked in harmony of seconds:



    …and fifths:

    …as the case may be.

    In traditional practice, the relationship between the notes of a chord is usually in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“.) The notes of the C major triad are basically derived by a relationship with the tones of the C major scale in thirds.

    “Here’s what I mean…”

    C major triad:

    C to E:

    …is a third.

    E to G:

    …is also a third.

    Chord tones are associated with the ordinal numbers first, third, and fifth.  This is due to the fact that tones of the C major triad – C, E, and G, are first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale, respectively.

    The term triad, as it relates to our subject of discussion, refers to three note chords that are built in tertian harmony, and consequently have a first, third, and fifth.

    Attention: If you are interested in learning more about four triad qualities and other chords – sixths, sevenths, and ninths, join our free 16-week chord revival program.

    Overview Of The Chorale Style

    In vocal music, triads can also be formed when a group of singers are singing. The chorale style of playing triads is the consideration of the tones of a triad to be voice parts – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

    Soprano – 1st voice

    Alto – 2nd voice

    Tenor – 3rd voice

    Bass – 4th voice

    The chorale style of voicing triads is quite different from the regular keyboard style for a variety of reason. Here are two of them that are relevant to our subject today…

    • A triad consists of three notes – a root, third, and fifth. However, considering that there are four voice parts, the chorale style features four note triads – one note for each voice.
    • The notes of a triad are often arranged in alphabetic sequence – C, E, and G. But in the chorale style, the notes are rearranged to suit the range of various voice parts. The note for the bass voice shouldn’t be high and the note for the soprano voice shouldn’t be low.

    In a nutshell, triads that are formed in the chorale style are four note triads which (or voices) may not be in alphabetic sequence, but are arranged with a choir (of four voice parts) in mind.

    The first concern that should come to your mind while voicing triads in the chorale style is vocal range.

    Range For Voice Parts

    The upper and lower limit of the possible number of notes a voice part can produce is the range of that voice part. While playing triads in chorale style, the goal is to sound as vocal as possible.

    It is possible to play the C major triad thus:

    …in the keyboard style. However, in the vocal style, it will be difficult for the bass voice part to produce the C note:

    …and even when it does, it won’t really sound like a bass note, which for all intents and purposes should be a low pitched voice part. Therefore, as much as possible, notes assigned to any given voice part should be within the range for their voice part.

    Check out the vocal range for all the voices…

    Voice Range For The Soprano Voice

    The soprano voice produces the highest pitches. The lower limit of the soprano voice is C4 (the middle C) while its upper limit is G5 (two Gs after the middle C.)

    Voice Range For The Alto Voice

    The alto voice is an upper voice that produces high pitches like the soprano. The alto voice can produce notes ranging from G3 (the G below the middle C) to C5 (the C after the middle C.)

    Voice Range For The Tenor Voice

    The lower limit of the tenor voice is C3 (the C below the middle C) while its upper limit is F4 (the F after the middle C).

    Voice Range For The Bass Voice

    The lower limit of the bass voice is F2 (two Fs below the middle C) while its upper limit is C4 (the middle C).

    Submission: There are so many school of thoughts when it comes to the upper and lower limit of voice parts. However, the one we covered in this lesson is widely accepted and commonly used by music scholars across the globe.

    Here’s the G major triad:

    The chord tones are distributed among the four voice parts in respect to their range.

    Attention: The first C on the virtual keyboard illustration above is C2 (which is two Cs below the middle C.) 

    Now that you’re familiar with the range for voice parts, let’s round up by looking at rules for part doubling.

    Rules For Part Doubling

    The chorale style makes extensive use of four note triads. Due to the fact that triads are three-note chords, making them four note chords without altering their triadic nature is only possible if one of the notes is doubled.

    Doubling one of the notes of a triad sounds like the simplest thing in the world to do, however, there are strict rules that you must stick to, if you want to get it right.

    I’ll explain the general rules in this lesson and continue with others in subsequent lessons.

    General Rules For Part Doubling

    #1 – The primary tones of the scale (the first, fourth and fifth tones) should be doubled.

    The first, fourth, and fifth tones of the scale are very important in any key. Doubling these tones would enhance the sense of tonality.

    In the key of C major:

    …chord 2:

    …is the D minor chord which consists of D, F, and A.

    The note that should be doubled in this case is F and this is because F is the fourth tone of the C major scale.

    Pursuant to rule #1, here’s the D minor triad:

    …with the appropriate tone (F) doubled.

    #2 – The active tones (the second, sixth, and seventh tones) should NOT be doubled.

    Active tones require resolution. Doubling them is forbidden because it produces parallel octaves during resolution.

    In modern music, its acceptable to move in parallel octaves. For example from C – C:

    …to D – D:

    This is forbidden in tonal harmony and is most likely to happen when you double active tones.

    Here’s an example…

    In the G major triad:

    …which is chord 5 in the key of C, doubling B (an active tone) would produce a four note triad:

    In the resolution of this G (four note) triad:

    …to C major (four note) triad:

    …the parallel octave from B – B:

    …to C – C:

    …is forbidden.

    Pursuant to rule #1, double the fifth tone (G) to produce this four note triad:

    …which would resolve to the C major (four note) triad:

    …without parallel octaves.

    Part Doubling Rules For Major Triads

    #3 – When a major triad is in root position or first inversion, the root should be doubled.

    #4 – When a major triad is in second inversion, the fifth should be doubled.

    Suggested reading: Major Triads.

    Part Doubling Rules For Minor Triads

    #5 – The third of a minor triad is usually doubled. However, the root can also be doubled.

    #6 – The fifth of a minor triad should not be doubled except the minor triad is in its second inversion.

    Suggested reading: Minor Triads.

    Part Doubling Rules For Diminished Triads

    #7 – The third of a diminished triad is usually doubled.

    Suggested reading: Diminished Triads.

    Part Doubling Rules For Augmented Triads

    #8 – The root of a augmented triad should be doubled.

    Suggested reading: Augmented Triads.

    Final Words

    These rules are part of the underlying guidelines that can help you play triads in a chorale style and we are just getting started in this post!

    Learn as many rules as you can, because in a future lesson, we’ll be applying these same rules. You can use these ideas to sound like any classically trained musician, even while playing hymns.

    Thank you for your time.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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