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Thread: Parallel 5ths and 8ves - what do you think about them?

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    Midshipman, Forte Alex Tiuniaev's Avatar
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    Parallel 5ths and 8ves - what do you think about them?

    Dear fellow musicians,

    What do you think about parallel 5ths and 8ves in modern music? We all know the strict rule of avoiding them in common practice period music, but what about today music? Especially, film music. If we take electronic and pop stuff (like Moby, Vangelis, etc.) parallel 5ths in their pieces are frequent and flagrant (!) which is okay. And how about film music? I have piano arrangements of Lord of the Rings score (The Fellowship... and the Two Towers) and Howard Shore used parallel intervals like 5ths and 8ves even for vocal parts and strings. Of course, it was just an arrangement, but what about modern orchestral music (especially, film music). Is that okay to use parallel 5ths for orchestral stuff?

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    Re: Parallel 5ths and 8ves - what do you think about them?

    A lot of rock music is going to have parallel 5ths and octaves due to the fact that rock guitar voicings basically are moveable shapes which usually contain both 5ths *and* octaves.

    But aside from this, I think rules just went out the window quite a while ago, and people just started doing what felt/sounded good.

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    Midshipman, Forte Alex Tiuniaev's Avatar
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    Re: Parallel 5ths and 8ves - what do you think about them?

    I agree with you. I know many examples of parallel fifths not only in rock music. I also use them.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    5ths, 4ths

    In classical music, I do some improvisations using 4ths ... takes practice to play these on keyboard, but the effect is, at times, haunting, especially in a minor key accompaniment.
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    Captain of Water Music Frederik.Sjölund's Avatar
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    Could someone perhaps explain to me what "parallel 5ths and 8ves" are?
    I would like to learn more
    Frederik Sjölund - Swedish 3D Artist AND Soundtrack addict

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    Administrator Frederik Magle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frederik.Sjölund View Post
    Could someone perhaps explain to me what "parallel 5ths and 8ves" are?
    I would like to learn more
    Basically, this is an issue when working with multiple (polyphonic) voices in music using the "counterpoint" technique (The rule is effective in all baroque, classical, and - to an extend - most romantic music as well). Very roughly it can be described in the way that the voices should not follow eachother in similar (parallel) movements in 5ths or 8ths but instead try to "counter" eachother. Why 5ths and 8ths has been singled out is a longer story, but in "real world" use their precense do make the harmonizing sound "hollow". They take some tension out of the polyphonic lines. This of course only when in the context of western "harmonic" music tradition.

    In film music it has relevance when you compose music based on or inspired by classical music (baroque, classical, romantic, etc.). This would include most music by composers like John Williams, etc.

    The worst instances of breaking this rule is when composers are comissioned to make a "pastiche" of classical music, say, for a period film, and they don't follow the correct rules of that period - for example regarding the use of parallel 5ths and 8ths. When I hear something like that it makes me cringe.

    However, for modern music there are no such rules, at least not formally. Still, I can really recommend getting acquainted with the musical theory as it can be useful in many more ways than one would think.

    Here's a little example. The first is "forbidden" using both 5ths and 8ths, the second is "legit":

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    Apprentice, Piano
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    Parallel 5ths and octaves are not allowed in Baroque and even the Classical era for it is said that it sounds percussive and sounds like it is lacking something. It maybe the one of the reasons why these consecutive intervals were not used often and were prohibited. Especially in these periods, dissonance should be strictly resolved by a consonant and they're very strict about it. Because of it's sound, I think that it became a tradition in music not to use these parallels and became a rule. These intervals are often used in pop music, especially rock music because it sounds percussive and add up heavy sounds.



    In modern times, I agree that modern music no longer follow rules. It's just that these rules were invented because many composers' way of writing have similarities, and so, other musicians had just followed. In our history, there are no exact people who had established these rules. I think that this is the right time for freedom of music.
    Last edited by Music8; Sep-28-2007 at 14:04. Reason: For better reading...

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Mat's Avatar
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    Well, someone once told me: "The more you know, the more you are allowed" [in regard to these "rules" used in harmony]

    I kind of agree. It is important to go by these rules in *classical* music. I remember that my harmony teacher was very clear about parallel 5ths and 8ves. Using them was strictly forbidden, it was a sin! He would circle them with a black (not red) pen, while checking our homework. We hated that. And antiparallel (hope it's the right word) 5ths too. But now, when I look at this from perspective of time, I laugh to myself. After all, he was right .

    And back to the question. I think it is okay to use those 5ths and 8ths in film music and in pop music, too. What was that saying?? Oh yes. Rules are meant to be broken.
    Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
    -- Victor Hugo


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    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Only appropriate to baroque and classical music. Though Bach broke these rules sometimes (as was his right). I remember studying advanced harmony and chorale harmonisations of Bach specifically ... it's where my harmony teacher had a little list of Bach's rule breaking chordal progressions. He said, it's ok for Bach as he had complete mastery of harmony, but for students you must learn the rules first, then break them.

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    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    From the perspective of Western or European music, I often find it curious to consider that the harmless perfect 5th and 8ve went from being practically the only form of harmony (ie, Medieval parallel organum) to an illegal one (Baroque harmony) and then to becoming accepted again (Romantic/Impressionst harmony). Also curious to consider that the 3rd and the 6th - widely regarded now to be consonant intervals - were dissonant to Medieval ears. Of course, a lot of that was all down to tuning systems (or lack thereof), but even that doesn't alter the fact that regardless of the tuning system, the 5th and the 8ve remain acoustically (read also mathematically) natural intervals.

    Personally, I've always liked the sound, notwithstanding the years of having the Baroque rules hammered in to me (and now having to teach them myself). If there's some good in the Baroque rules, it's that it actually makes the job of harmonising somewhat simpler by removing so many choices with the many Thou shalt nots. But for me, Debussy and Vaughan Williams had the right idea. Between them, they did the most extraordinary things with parallel 5ths and 8ves. It gave harmony a much needed sumptuousness compared to the relative transperancy and dare I say predictability of the Baroque.

    And in regard to film music, it's not only the musical language but the orchestration techniques of composers such as Debussy, VW, Holst even further back with Berlioz and Wagner, who gave today's film composers their staple diet.

    The consecutive 5th sound is so popular today of course because that's a typical rock "power chord", hence a lot of the drop D tuning for guitars these days: bottom two strings = open 5th and then just move along to the desired fret for your next three chords that'll change the world!
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

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    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Soubasse - hence "well tempered" with thanks to Johan Sebastian. He, I might add, ruined the sound of 3rds and 6ths by evenly tempering them.

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    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    Hey - if you know the rules - I'll toss in parallel octaves, fifths, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords very freely when I improvise on a given tune.
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

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    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Contratrombone64 View Post
    hence "well tempered" with thanks to Johan Sebastian.
    Hehe - my copy of the 48 has an unusual cover. The title print reads "48 Preludes and Fugues for the Well-Tempered Clavier" followed by my hastily scribbled pencil "and the bad-tempered harpsichordist"

    He, I might add, ruined the sound of 3rds and 6ths by evenly tempering them.
    At College it felt like I spent more time tuning harpsichords than actually playing them. One morning, I tried one of the pre-Equal Temp tuning tables and I was amazed at the "newness" of the 3rds and 6ths (newness in an old way of course!)
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

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    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    Whats this about dystempered harpsichordists and mistempered claviers?
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

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    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Oh nothing - just so long as the 5ths and 8ves are in tune we're all fine here thanks.
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

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