#1
I'm writing some new stuff and I want to include choir parts, but I'm not sure how to compose for choir. I have a rough idea of the vocal ranges of the individual sections (SATB). Is it best to stay in the middle of these ranges for the most part or is it alright to write alot of stuff on the edges of the range? Also, is it best to keep intervals between the notes small, or can I use large jumps betwee notes? Any other advice you can give would also be appreciated.

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#2
being in choir i can tell that it honestly depends on the voices you are working with. since youre doing SATB my first question is 1.) if you have a choir already are the voices balanced (the same number of people) 2.) is it in a major or minor key and 3.) study some opera and study the intervals.
my personal suggestion is to start out with the intervals at thirds then go from there.
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#3
the middle of the range of each part will sound best, you can occasionally go near/to the limits of the suggested range, however it will probably sound weak, and the performers will have difficulty singing it. As for spacing between parts, in classical music, the rule is that no 2 parts can have more than an octave between them at any given point (ie an octave or less between soprano and alto) except for tenor and bass. Because the bass tends to move around a lot, and has a large range, it is okay to have basically any gap between the bass and tenor. I'd look at some Bach chorales to get an idea on how to write stuff, because he basically invented the rules on how to write 4 part harmonies.
#4
I've arranged for choirs before, and it completly depends how you are doing it, and how many members you have. If you have some very accomplished singers, you can give them harder melodies, that can actually go over the melody/harmonys the others are singing. Sometimes when you stay in the middle ranges, it tends to get boring, Try spicing it up, don't go crazy, but push a voice here and there.

Remember, the most memorable melodies tend to have a large jump in them (hence octaves, 6ths, 9ths ect) Like somewhere over the rainbow, has a very large jump, it makes it stand out more in our heads. And generally 7ths are very hard for singers to do, unless they are very well trained.

Unless you are doing a more pop style of vocal writing in which you are just looking for something to fill a void, then go ahead and keep it straight forward 3, or 4 part harmonies, but never be affraid to spice things up!

Also for vocals I normally don't worry about parrelel 5ths and octaves as much, because such things can actually make the music take on a much more unique sound which sometimes adds just that right texture.
#5
Quote by systematic_nois
being in choir i can tell that it honestly depends on the voices you are working with. since youre doing SATB my first question is 1.) if you have a choir already are the voices balanced (the same number of people) 2.) is it in a major or minor key and 3.) study some opera and study the intervals.
my personal suggestion is to start out with the intervals at thirds then go from there.

Answers:
1) I have a choir I may be able to use for recording and performance, but I don't think it's balanced, though I can't be sure as the choir list is only half complete for voice designation, and isn't a complete list of everyone in the choir anyway.
2) The current Piece starts in Dminor, but will probably modulate to a different key, which may be minor or major, and may do so more than once.
3)I have got the score for Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor, which I'm using to get an idea of classical composotion techniques, as I wan't to include them in the piece.

Quote by phoenix_88
the middle of the range of each part will sound best, you can occasionally go near/to the limits of the suggested range, however it will probably sound weak, and the performers will have difficulty singing it. As for spacing between parts, in classical music, the rule is that no 2 parts can have more than an octave between them at any given point (ie an octave or less between soprano and alto) except for tenor and bass. Because the bass tends to move around a lot, and has a large range, it is okay to have basically any gap between the bass and tenor. I'd look at some Bach chorales to get an idea on how to write stuff, because he basically invented the rules on how to write 4 part harmonies.

Okay I'll Stay around the middle then.

I know that parts should have no more than an octave between them bar bass. What I meant is; within a single part, should th distance between one note and the next be kept small, like for example C4 to D4 to E4, or can they be large, like C4 to G4 to E5?Sorry if that doesnt make much sense, I'm not sure how to word it.

EDIT: Thanks Pg.inc_music, very helpful. I think that I'll keep it Pretty simple though, mainly because it's a school choir that I have access to, and the choir parts are in latin, which tends to knock a school choir off pretty quickly from what I've seen. The songs going to be sort of a gothic metal style song, with lots of influences from classical. The choir parts in particular I want to sound very classical, almost like Mozart's Requiem.

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
Last edited by Taydr at Apr 27, 2008,
#6
The middle voices, lead them smoothly. Small intervals. Do what you want with soprano; it's (normally) the melody. Just remember - after any large jump, you want to reverse direction and go back the other way a bit.

School choirs that I've seen tend to suffer from a shortage of males, particularly basses. Keep that in mind (may not be true, just my experience)
#7
Quote by Nick_
The middle voices, lead them smoothly. Small intervals. Do what you want with soprano; it's (normally) the melody. Just remember - after any large jump, you want to reverse direction and go back the other way a bit.

School choirs that I've seen tend to suffer from a shortage of males, particularly basses. Keep that in mind (may not be true, just my experience)

Thanks alot, I'll keep all this in mind when I'm writing the parts. In this case the choir is more of a backing for the main vocal lines, so the soprano won't have the melody much.

The choir does have a shortage of basses, and has alot less sopranos than altos. The tenors are about equal with the altos. Should I split the soprano and bass parts so they have two lines a fifth apart to try and flesh it out, or should I just write it as one line, and do things like add chorus or overdub parts to make them more equal with the other sections?

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#10
I'm fairly sure they mean a 5th to a 13th etc which is still a parallel and should be avoided (it looks like nice contrary motion but it ain't)

Parallel fifths are forbidden because they sound archaic. For certain purposes, that might be what you want.

Sixths are much more pleasing.
#11
Quote by Nick_
I'm fairly sure they mean a 5th to a 13th etc which is still a parallel and should be avoided (it looks like nice contrary motion but it ain't)

Parallel fifths are forbidden because they sound archaic. For certain purposes, that might be what you want.

Sixths are much more pleasing.

So Basically I should avoid a jump of a 5th or an octave?

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#12
No - parallels.

Check each pair of voices separately.

1. Are they a fifth or an octave apart?
2. Are the notes they go to the same interval?
If yes to both, it's a parallel and should be avoided (rewritten)


The hidden bit was just remembering that here, a 5th and a 13th are the same interval, which means if you have two voices, a fifth apart, and one drops a 5th while the other ascends a 4th, it's still parallel 5ths.


Those intervals are fine, but keep them in the soprano and bass parts.
#13
Quote by Nick_
No - parallels.

Check each pair of voices separately.

1. Are they a fifth or an octave apart?
2. Are the notes they go to the same interval?
If yes to both, it's a parallel and should be avoided (rewritten)


The hidden bit was just remembering that here, a 5th and a 13th are the same interval, which means if you have two voices, a fifth apart, and one drops a 5th while the other ascends a 4th, it's still parallel 5ths.


Those intervals are fine, but keep them in the soprano and bass parts.

If I can answer yes to both questions but the parts are starting one after the other then I take it that it's not a parallel?
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#14
damn it's difficult to explain without notation


---7--10
---5--8

Those are parallel fifths. They can occur between any voice and at compound intervals.

Basically, if any of your voices are at the interval of a fifth (or its compounds) you have to make sure the next accented occurrence of those two voices is not any kind of fifth. Ditto for octaves.
#15
Ok then, I think I get it now. Thanks for clarifying that.

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#16
Here's how I approach writing four part harmony:
-Pick the chords and the duration of them, and write this below the music
-Write the bass notes in (the bass doesn't always have to sing the root of the chord, but it is most common)
-Write the soprano notes in the appropriate stave. Make sure the notes are part of the chord at that moment, and that the soprano line has shape (rises and falls or something similar) and is reasonably melodious.
-Write the inner two parts between these such that they complete the chords. Since there are four parts and chords generally have three notes, the root of the chord (D for a D major chord) is doubled. In minor chords the third may be doubled also. These parts should of course never cross over. Consecutive fifths and octaves should be avoided.

Things to remember:
-When writing the sop line and trying to be melodious, think of "twinkle twinkle little star", such a simple melody with a clear shape, and its brilliant
-Leading notes often should rise to the tonic (eg if you are in D major, a C# should rise to a D) unless of course you want the effect of the dangling leading note, or it works out better for the voice leading.
-Singers are in general louder and more forceful at the top of their ranges and quieter at the bottom.
-Contrary motion is pleasing to the ear. That is, parts moving in opposite directions. If the bass rises, the soprano falling will generally sound good.
-It's generally accepted that the bass is allowed to jump around (within reason of course) while the other parts less so. You should be able to prevent the other parts from jumping more than a fourth. If it seems they are forced to due to the harmony you want to use, there is probably another way to voice the chord such that this is not an issue.
-Larger intervals are harder to pitch for the singers. Odd intervals such as a tritone or a major seventh are very difficult to pitch.
-Any of these guidelines (and they are merely guidelines) can be broken if you want the effect. Debussy wrote pieces comprised entirely of consecutive intervals. Schoenberg threw tonality out the window.

On a more stylistic note, having a medieval/gothic piece sounding classical is a bit of a contradiction. I'm not sure exactly what sort of style you're going for, but have a watch of this, a very well written renaissance choral piece where you can see the score scroll across as the music goes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXK338eJFus

If you have any more questions, ask away.
#17
Quote by shigidab0p
On a more stylistic note, having a medieval/gothic piece sounding classical is a bit of a contradiction. I'm not sure exactly what sort of style you're going for, but have a watch of this, a very well written renaissance choral piece where you can see the score scroll across as the music goes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXK338eJFus

If you have any more questions, ask away.

Thanks for the info. I'll make sure to watch what intervals and jumps I'm using. That tip on having parts moving in opposite directions is particularly helpful.

It's a Gothic METAL piece, with classical influences. The choir is more of a backing than a lead throughout the song, a bit like how Nightwish used a choir in "Ghost Love Score", except more classically composed and performed.

I want to get quite a dissonant sound for some parts, and I was planning on using tritones, but if that is not a good idea due to pitching issues, what intervals would you recomend for dissonance? If there are no easy to pitch intervals I can try using the other instruments to create dissonance, or try implying a dissonant mode, like locrian.

~Taydr~
Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi.
#18
Dissonance in general is hard to pitch (lol). But you can introduce it into the music in such a way that is not difficult, such has having two parts a fifth apart and moving one a semitone towards the other, creating a tritone. In general this is probably the easiest way to create complex chords and intervals, have them created by small alterations to an easier chord or interval. This is related to the technique of suspension, where the chord changes but one part persists on the note they sung for the last chord, creating dissonance. When the part resolves to the appropriate note of the new chord, it can be very satisfying for the listener. It can also create tension if left unresolved. The most common example of this in classical music is with a perfect cadence (chord V7 to chord I). In C major this would be G7 to C:

S- B------->C
A- F---------------->E
T- G------->G
B- G------->C

G7........Csus4...C

The first chord is a G7 without the fifth for voice leading reasons. It resolves to the second chord, C major except for the alto part, the F. This F becomes the suspended fourth (the source of sus4 notation) of the C major chord which wants to resolve down to the third, and does so at the third chord.

It is tricky to judge just how difficult is too difficult with regards to pitching. I guess the best way would be to give it to the choir to try.
Last edited by shigidab0p at Apr 27, 2008,