Talk:Consecutive fifths

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Major Edit[edit]

I tried to reduce POV that suggested only music experts have the right to know what consecutive fifths are. I also tried to state what consecutive fifths are, as close to the top of the article as possible. The previous revision also didn't really say why parallel fifths sounded bad; it just said they did. Thus, I attempted to explain at least partially why they were frowned upon. Hopefully someone can verify and add sources, because my explanation only comes from various discussions with my theory professors.

Although I did try to cleanup the article, it is still badly in need of attention. It lacks organization, and I don't know if I would be able to organize it logically. There are also things that are just useless. Yes, Wikipedia is a collection of knowledge, but let's at least make the data useful and pertinent to the article. And there are still some useless POV statements, and of course that Sir Donald Tovey statement that although somewhat humorous, doesn't contribute much. (Sorry normally I wouldn't be so critical of this article, but when I went to it to see what it said, i was severely disappointed.)

Also, an expert's opinion would help. I only have AP Theory, Theory I, and some other basic knowledge to back me up so far...Thanks! Horncomposer 08:20, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

Consecutive fifths don't sound "bad", they sound out of place in a certain context to trained listeners.
The Tovey quote contributes a description of the genre and class distinctions that helped to create the ban. Hyacinth 07:45, 9 April 2006 (UTC)

Another note: the paragraph discussing early music history (e.g., chant) needs to be rewritten. While plainchant is generally sung in unison, it is not simply a misunderstanding of medieval musical practice to sing in perfect fifths. A number of theoretical treatises of the time discuss singing in perfect fifths (as well as perfect fourths and at the octave) as ways to sing some chants, part of the practice of "organum." The POV makes it sound like medieval singers never sung in parallel fifths, and that is incorrect.

I went ahead and wrote a summary of the historical use of consecutive perfect intervals in early (Western) music. I put this in the same section that originally dealt with these intervals in chant, but perhaps its placement needs to be reorganized. I altered the heading to take the edit into account, but if anyone has a better idea of how to incorporate it, go ahead. In the process, I found some holes in articles on the history of music theory within Wikipedia which eventually should be filled (the enchiriadis treatises, Johannes de Grocheo, etc.). Jzmckay 05:52, 28 May 2006 (UTC)


The identification of consecutive fifths is a part of training in counterpoint, and only a part of training in harmony to the extent that counterpoint is. Hyacinth 20:23, 27 April 2006 (UTC)

Hyacinth: If we were to draw a clean and categorical distinction between counterpoint and harmony, and also think that this distinction were all that mattered for the article, then I might agree with you. But leaving out mention of the study of harmony (not simply harmony, mind) risks confusing some readers – those who are, for example, learning harmony themselves and want some clarifying discussion of consecutives. (By the way, why does this article not from the start discuss consecutive octaves along with consecutive fifths? The title itself should be changed, and then the two types should be dealt with together.) As a practical matter, I challenge you to find one textbook of harmony that does not deal with consecutives. From the vast range of others that do, find me one that says concerning them that consecutives are properly in the domain of counterpoint. For each of these that you find drawing this distinction, I will name several others that do not. I'm all in favour of logical propriety (often excessively), but we must also make articles that help the reader. In a spirit of cooperation, I will not revert or alter what is there now. You will see that my last edit was a compromise, in any case. Now, what will you do? Noetica 23:38, 27 April 2006 (UTC)
How about we describe that some methods seperate the techniques and that some consider them an inseperable unity? Hyacinth 06:50, 28 April 2006 (UTC)
What should the new title be? Hyacinth 06:54, 28 April 2006 (UTC)
1. Too fussy, too time-and-space-consuming. If you can't simply acknowledge for the folks at home that consecutive fifths and octaves inevitably come up as a topic when one studies harmony at all seriously, let's just forget it. Life's too short. Myself, I'll go and do something else, now.
2. Call it Consecutive fifths and octaves. That would seem to capture the essence of the thing, don't you think? Noetica 14:29, 28 April 2006 (UTC)

There seems to be something wrong with teaching in this area. I've no reference, but the rules would seem to have a psycho-acoustic basis that isn't mentioned here. Basically, in 2-part counterpoint, if the voices go into unison, it sounds as though one voice has stopped because 2 voices in unison sound hardly louder than one. If you start from that point, composing practice over the generations seems reasonable. (talk) 20:39, 2 July 2012 (UTC)

I think that that is in the discussion of consecutive octaves, but it's never been shown to be an acoustical basis for parallel fifths; most books just say that it sounds "hollow". -- Michael Scott Cuthbert (talk) 00:35, 3 July 2012 (UTC)


How about "consecutive interval", its plural, or "consecutive fifths and octaves" suggested above? Hyacinth 01:43, 30 April 2006 (UTC)

[First: Many thanks, Hyacinth.] I myself would still go with "Consecutive fifths and octaves", since consecutive intervals broadly are not the topic. Then we could also have a redirection from "Consecutive fifths" to go with the redirection I have already put in place for "Consecutive octaves". See also, by the way, redirections I have done for "Hidden consecutives" and a couple of other things phrases like "Parallel octaves", etc. Noetica 05:11, 30 April 2006 (UTC)
What about unisons? Hyacinth 00:01, 1 May 2006 (UTC)
Ha ha! Unisons? They are almost completely covered by anything we could say about octaves, in this context. A small passing mention, with yet another redirect or two, from "Parallel unisons" and "Consecutive unisons", perhaps. "Hidden unisons"? I'd be very surprised if that were ever needed. (The inevitability of crossing parts in cases of consecutive unisons might be touched on, I suppose.) Of much more pressing importance is the matter of how inessential notes fail to remove, but may introduce, consecutives (standard or hidden), and mention of the fact that practice varies from period to period and composer to composer. (We can find camouflaged consecutive fifths and octaves in Mozart and Haydn, for example.) And then there is the matter of consecutives being more acceptable when there are other constraints, such as between inner parts when writing for many parts, or between some parts in the accompaniment and the accompanied solo line. I might get around to writing something on these matters. Noetica 02:40, 1 May 2006 (UTC)


  • Why are four-part and SATB writing specified?
  • "Partially due to the overtone series, this individuality of two parts a fifth apart can be weakened while they move in parallel." If partially, what are the other reasons? It doesn't explain why the overtone series has this effect.
  • "generally ruled out entirely"—huh?

I think it needs a thorough copy-edit.

Tony 11:21, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

PS Isn't the 'ban' on parallel fifths connected with the rise of the triad? Tony 11:22, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

Tony, the article is by no means perfect as it stands. But I don't think the changes you offer in your recent edits help matters. Let's take a look.
You replaced this:
In music, consecutive fifths (also known as parallel fifths) involve two or more fifths (between two voices) which follow one another immediately in parallel motion.
with this:
In music, consecutive fifths (also known as parallel fifths) involve the occurrence of successive intervals of a perfect fifth between two voices.
But you have lost the essential reference to parallel motion. After all, the reader needs to know that a mere repetition of the same perfect fifth (between the same notes: e.g., C and G followed by C and G), is not problematic. Nor can I see what is gained by the rest of your re-working.
Next you replace this:
During the common practice period, use of consecutive fifths was strongly discouraged. This is primarily due to the nature of the voice leading involved in four-part or SATB harmony, which stresses individual voices maintaining their identities. Partially due to the overtone series, this individuality between two parts may temporarily be lost when two voices a fifth apart move in parallel motion.
With this:
During the common practice period, the use of consecutive fifths was strongly discouraged. This was primarily due to the nature of the voice leading involved in four-part or SATB harmony, which stresses individual voices maintaining their identities. Partially due to the overtone series, this individuality of two parts a fifth apart can be weakened while they move in parallel.
Now, whatever the dubious advantages may be of "the use" over "use", or of "this was" over "this is", something is certainly lost if we change things as you propose in the last sentence. The way you have it is slightly less logical than the way it was. But in this case, I think you have pointed to a genuine difficulty. This might be a better way to go:
...the individuality that is expected in the two parts is perceived as weakened while they move in parallel fifths (or octaves).
As for the rest, there is a reason for wording things this way: any passages in which the parts in question are expected to be melodically independent.
After all, it is common for there to be passages in which the parts move in unison, in octaves, or even in fifths (less often, for special effect – as discussed in the article). Think of many string quartets (Classical or Romantic period), in which passages with four, two, and just one independent part alternate. It is not just a question of "where", as you prefer it: it is a question of distinct passages eliciting distinct expectations regarding the behaviour of the parts.
In view of these observations, I am restoring things to the way they were, except with the change I have noted above (the one I propose, prompted by your work; and also the material in "Special uses and exceptions in early music", which may also require discussion, though). I agree that things need improving here. See my own earlier changes, and my earlier observations, above. Let's work together on this! Noetica 12:43, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

However, parallel fifths still occur frequently in 14th century music, and it is only with the transition to Renaissance-style counterpoint that the use of parallel perfect consonances becomes universally prohibited." Wouldn't this be better in past tense? It works in the first clause, but to carry it through is, in my view, uncomfortable. Tony 13:37, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

"As classical music progressed, the sound of consecutive fifths was deemed universally to be unpleasant." "Progressed" is ambiguous and vague. It would be interesting to specify the time of the onset of the attitude. Tony 13:39, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

Parts or voices? Can it be consistent? Tony 13:46, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

Tony, it's clear that you and I are both intent on bringing clarity and directness to the article. But I think some of your most recent edits do not help. I spent a long time showing my reasoning for some material that I had a hand in, above. Rather than go through all of that once more, to illustrate my concerns I'll now single out the subsection on hidden consecutives, which I contributed and you have now sought to improve. I say that you have lost precision and clarity. Here is how it was:
With hidden consecutives there is a single perfect fifth or an octave, occurring between two parts intended to be melodically independent, that is approached by similar motion and with the higher of the two parts not moving by step. There is sometimes an expectation that these will be avoided altogether; but sometimes they are permitted between inner parts only, and not between the outermost parts. Or similar complex contraints may be applied; the details differ considerably by date within the common practice period, and even by individual composer.
And you edited it to this:
In hidden consecutives (also known as exposed consecutives), a single perfect fifth or octave between two independent voices is approached by similar motion, with a leap or skip in the higher voice. In some contexts, hidden consecutives are avoided altogether; in other contexts, they may not involve an outer part. Other contraints may apply, and may vary by date within the common practice period, and even in the work of individual composers.
Some observations:
  • For a start, note that I had left out a letter in one word: "contraint". One role of the copyeditor is of course to catch such inadvertencies. Boring and humble work, but most useful! I now see it myself.
  • I have "with" at the start for a reason. Since there is strictly only one fifth involved in "hidden fifths", one might like to be subtle and circumspect with one's prepositions. My point is that there are not fifths that are hidden: there is a phenomenon that is called, for better or worse, "hidden fifths".
Um ... so why aren't there fifths that are hidden? I'm tired of seeing clauses that start with "with", which is why I changed it.
[Here and below I insert my comments on Tony's interpolations indented and in italics. Noetica 14:07, 9 June 2006 (UTC)] The phenomenon may in fact be better called "exposed fifth [or octave]" (singular), if only because accepting the term "hidden fifths" almost requires acceptance of the theory I mentioned (that the ear fills in intermediate pitches, one of which pitches forms part of a fifth, which is then heard as the first of a pair of consecutive fifths; with me?). That's why I say that in so-called hidden fifths there are not really fifths that are somehow hidden: there is in fact only one fifth, and it is not hidden. You might argue that something, at least, is hidden: consecutive fifths! But then, the term "hidden fifths" still fails to be transparent in its meaning, and remains a mere misleading label, which unfortunately we appear to be stuck with.

What about this:

Hidden consecutives (also known as exposed consecutives) consist of a single perfect fifth or octave between two independent voices that is approached by similar motion, with a leap or skip in the higher voice."
It would help if you could propose a text, as I have. Otherwise, I have to second-guess what you're proposing. I'd be pleased if you:
(1) expressed yourself in fewer words (perhaps you don't realise how it comes accross in tone, and, by the way, almost all of your sentences here need editing);
(2) avoided using "you" quite as often (could be accusatory); and
(3) avoided a blunt "no", and such phrases as "is simply not right" (could be bossy).
Are you happy with the sentence above minus the parenthesis?
No. See below, concerning the impropriety of "exposed consecutives". And once more, this version is confusing because it looks as if something is predicated of consecutives that are hidden! Let's face it: there are no consecutives in these cases, really. There is a phenomenon involving just one fifth (or octave), bearing an unfortunate and misleading name – and the phenomenon is conventionally and usefully treated along with genuine consecutives. (I now think that there should be something in the article about the misleading nature of the term; otherwise confusion is inevitable and hard to dispel.)
  • Still on the naming of the phenomenon in question, "exposed consecutives" is simply not right. It is not part of any standard terminology. One may call the single fifth or octave that is involved an "exposed fifth" or an "exposed octave"; but then there is not directly any question of consecutives, properly so called. Even the plural "exposed fifths" is not exactly equivalent to "hidden fifths": the former must refer to several occurrences of the phenomenon, while the latter may refer to just one occurrence. Note that hidden fifths are, we are told, so called because "the ear fills in" (as it were) some intermediate pitches, giving the sense of full-blown consecutives; but this cannot make the plural "exposed consecutives" apt, since it is the exposure of one single interval that justifies the phrase "exposed fifth [or octave]".
  • I had "...occurring between two parts intended to be melodically independent,...", and you edited to "...between two independent voices...", with changes in what follows also. Now, I agree with you that we should be careful and consistent in using the terms "part" and "voice", especially to make things easier for the reader wrestling with difficult new concepts. But "voice" is likely to be the worse choice, if things are not explained. To the beginner, "voice" means "vocal part". Why not easily preserve the appropriate generality in this article?

OK, all should be "part(s)", then.

  • I next note your aversion to my "intended to be". But this is desirable, as I have pointed out earlier. To speak again in terms of string quartet, if the viola and the cello are intended to be melodically independent in a certain passage, the sorts of consecutives we are discussing are traditionally taken as a fault, and it is supposed that a lapse in that independence is perceived when there are consecutives.
IMV, it's unnecessary; the text is neater and more concise without this. The topic is complex enough already, without the addition. As well, explicitly stating "intended to be" is from the composer's angle, not the listener's.
You and I both long for a neat and concise text, I'm sure. But I think that in some matters more words are indispensable if mix-ups and uncertainties are to be reliably avoided. I have exhibited some sample mix-ups and uncertainties in these long notes. I maintain that "intended to be" is important here for this sort of reason. Without it, how can we explain the very problem with consecutives, and with hidden consecutives? There is an expectation of independent movement in the parts, built on evidence of their intended separateness (that is, in the passage so far they have been independent): and then this expectation is let down, by parallel movement in fifths.
I'm not convinced of the need for "intended". Who's doing the intending? It begs too many questions. It's just not necessary.
  • Finally, just what justifies your aversion to "melodically independent"? The parts may have independence with respect to rhythm, dynamics, timbre, articulation, or melody (that is, sequence of pitches). But consecutives are only to do with melodic independence! And this needs to be made explicit for the reader, who is groping for certainties.
Melody is more than just sequences of pitch. It's more than a musical line. For example, the alto part in SATB writing is rarely melodic; the soprano part usually is. I recommend that we avoid the term in this context. Independence of musical parts/voices/lines I can cope with. The issue is similar to counterpoint vs voice leading.
In the rather common sense that I have intended, the alto line is always melodic, in that it is analysable as a series of discrete pitches. This is fairly common ground. (See for example Melody, an article that begins like this: "In music, a melody or tune is a series of linear events or a succession, not a simultaneity as in a chord." And those "linear events" are pitches, or changes of pitch.) Anyway, even if we grant that melody is more than just a sequence of pitches, your version fails even more fully to isolate the feature of the parts that is relevant when we speak of their independence. We know what is meant; many readers would not.
Just because melody is defined that way in a WP article doesn't mean that it's the most useful/accurate definition. I'm not comfortable using "melody" as a synonym for "line".
  • I had "...with the higher of the two parts not moving by step", and you wanted "...with a leap or skip in the higher voice". First, why name two things when one will suffice? There is no relevant distinction between skips and leaps for the present discussion; and the alleged difference is, so far as I am aware, only made clear at one location in Wikipedia (see Counterpoint).
I'm fine with one of these terms alone, but was worried that two are in currency. Which do you prefer?
I prefer "leap", since that's just the term I learned years ago. But why not avoid any problem here, by speaking only of steps?
  • Second, if you put yourself in the place of the struggling reader, you may see This tone is pissing me off—don't put me down, please ... that "the higher voice" might, for all you know, mean some other part than the two just mentioned – possibly some additional vocal part!
So: "the higher of the two parts"?
Fine. That's what I had.
  • You have this: "In some contexts, hidden consecutives are avoided altogether; in other contexts, they may not involve an outer part." But the meaning of "context" is not clear, or perhaps it introduces a spurious appearance of specificity, where circumspect generality is to be preferred. Historical context, or context within a composition, or context within a genre or style? My "sometimes" was intended to cover all of these.

I find your comment difficult to understand. I don't mind "sometimes".

If you don't mind "sometimes", then I'll not labour to explain my point in defence of it any longer.
Yeah, that's a problem: your writing is laboured. Sorry, now I'm being blunt myself, having accused you of it; but there it is. Why not try simple, plain language? The over-elaborate usage—full of redundancies that I have to wade through—does not impress. If you want me to point them out, I will.
  • Also, in your "may not involve an outer part", the sense of "may not" is not clear. Is it prescriptive, or in some way merely descriptive of certain cases that are exempt from the prohibition? After all, you could be taken to mean this: " other contexts, they do not involve an outer part, in which case there is no problem." The final results of the various readings might turn out to be equivalent, but it would be good to know what route you are taking to those results. Next, did you intend to include here cases in which only one outer part was involved? I had "not between the outermost parts", which was perfectly unambiguous, and also highlighted the most usual location of problem hidden consecutives. It is rare for hidden consecutives between an inner part and the top part to be considered a problem. After all, with four parts, say, the other constraints are so numerous that such allowances must be made in voice leading.
So: "must not involve both outer parts"—is that your intended meaning? Your previous text wasn't unambiguous.
I now see that there was a difficulty with my text: I don't say anything about putative hidden consecutives between an inner part and an outer part. I admit that this should be fixed; but, for the record, it is not an ambiguity. In the context, I could simply have used "or" instead of "and" in the sentence, especially given what followed it. But I might have done better to say this, in fact: "There is sometimes an expectation that these will be avoided altogether; but sometimes they are permitted except between the outermost parts." By the way, I prefer "outermost" because that more reliably refers to the actual outer parts of the passage in question, not just the outer parts of some subset of parts that we may happen to be focusing on, for some reason of analysis.

Oh, give me a break. Outer means outer: whatever subsets you're inventing, they're a complication that we don't need. I do not accept your convoluted explanation.

  • I don't think your last sentence helps things at all. I single out this part for comment: "...[the constraints may vary] even in the work of individual composers". What do you mean? The natural reading of what you wrote is "within the work of an individual composer". Did you mean that? It is more important to note that practice varies between composers rather than to note that some composers are inconsistent (which would simply be tantamount to them not having a unitary "practice"). And I had something about variation from composer to composer: "the details differ considerably by date within the common practice period, and even by individual composer."
Well, "even between composers" would have been better.
Do you think so? I had achieved conciseness and neatness (which you esteem)"esteem" isn't the right word: "the details differ considerably by date within the common practice period, and even by individual composer." One structure (with "by") serves in both parts of the sentence. But I have no objection to "even between composers".
More could be said! But that's more than enough on just one small portion of the article. Look, I don't propose to edit it any more, now. As far as I'm concerned, the article is badly named, badly structured, incomplete, and wayward in some of its detail. The most important consideration is overall structure: but if detail is improved only through such an ordeal, I have little hope that structure can be fixed at all readily. I'll leave it for now, with the exception perhaps of fixing the odd obvious quirk. Noetica 02:07, 9 June 2006 (UTC)
Why is this an ordeal? Best that a highly technical text such as this be negotiated in detail. Then we can be pleased at the end of the process.
It takes ages to do all this! I don't mind if the result is better and will be of lasting value. If you look at some discussions I have had elsewhere (and also on this page), you'll see that I put in a lot of effort on seemingly minute points. But with Wikipedia, too much can be swept away on a whim. There's too much else to do in life, and much of it will resist entropy for longer than Wikipedia text.

Can the article be renamed, with redirects?

Sure it can. What name do you like? "Consecutive fifths and octaves" is my choice, as I explain above. That's better, although I'd prefer "Parallelism (music)" with redirects; I don't mind yours, though, if the other commonly used terms can be redirected to it. But then, with that title the article would demand a better structure even more urgently than it does now, so that consecutive fifths, octaves (and yes, unisons and fourths – with redirects for them to this article) could be dealt with first in what they have in common and then in their peculiarities. That's the salient structural innovation I'd like to see first. Then there would be others. Noetica 14:07, 9 June 2006 (UTC)

Tony 05:51, 9 June 2006 (UTC)

Tony, I'll now leave this article to you and others. I am not interested in the sort of conversation this has become, with your latest comments (shown in brown). I have worked hard so far, but as I say there are other things to do. Your observations on my style are understandable, but of little interest to me. I know very well that I can be prolix, and I sometimes enjoy that. I can also write economically, and I sometimes enjoy that too. The way I write in this discussion section is of no consequence. Clearly you have not been able to follow me on some subtle points (points which require more words than you are comfortable with, it seems); and other points (e.g., the matter of your "exposed consecutives", in a proposed rewriting, above) you appear to have wilfully ignored. You ask me to propose a text? Well, I have already done so in parts of the article as it was before you came to it. I have explained at length my reasons for certain choices, and why I think you have taken away something of value. I have now had enough. No more. Good luck. Have fun! Noetica 06:03, 10 June 2006 (UTC)
Well, it's been more than a month and nothing more has happened with this article, so I have come back and fixed the vexed section Hidden consecutives. I hope it now reads well enough; in any case, I am pretty sure that its content is now accurate and informative in its rather considerable detail. Noetica 22:48, 24 July 2006 (UTC)

More July 2006 edits[edit]

I've taken a stab at editing the copy. I've corrected some grammar, reworded a few things for brevity or clarity, and reorganized the structure of the essay. I've also left several comments within the copy itself. There are several strongly worded assertions that need corrections or citations, such as the claim that Renaissance counterpoint universally prohibited parallel perfect consonances and later classical musicians universally deemed parallel fifths to be unpleasant. In general, I'd like to see more discussion of when and by whom parallel fifths began to disappear in Renaissance music, since my understanding is that there was no single set of rules for counterpoint in the Renaissance period. It's contradictory to say that composers "universally" avoided parallel fifths, when Haydn is cited as violating that common practice. It would be nice to see more exceptions that proved the rule, such as Haydn's "hurdy-gurdy" effect, coming from the Renaissance (during the evolution of the rule), the common practice period (when breaking the rule was a real violation), and from late Romantic and 20th-century music (showing the weakening of the rule).

I flat-out removed a couple things, such as the claim that the note a fifth away sounds like a unison to the untrained ear. I certainly don't accept that a fifth could be mistaken for "the same note" in the same way that an octave could. Seems to me an "untrained ear" that could mistake a fifth or a fourth for a unison would also have trouble distinguishing any other interval. Some citation, or at least explanation beyond the bald assertion as to why fifths are especially prone to being mistaken for unisons, is needed if you want to restore that line.

I'd also suggest inserting musical samples, either notated scores using Sibelius software or sound recordings, to demonstrate some of these concepts, such as consecutive fifths, consecutive octaves, hidden fifths, consecutive fifths buried within the piano left hand, a sample of consecutive fifths in Grieg or Haydn, etc. Seeing or hearing would add a lot to the verbal explanation.

Ideally, the article should be expanded to discuss the use of consecutive fifths in non-Western music, but that's a whole other kettle of fish to fry.

I can see that copyediting has been contentious on this page, so let me say up front that my copyedits are just suggestions. Feel free to correct, improve, or outright revert them as you feel appropriate. Peirigill 00:21, 26 July 2006 (UTC)

Nice work, Peirigill! Yes, things were a bit unpleasant here a while back. I always thought the article needed radical re-working. You've now done something systematic, and you have removed things that I am glad to see banished. I'll look through the whole thing carefully, and come back with some thoughts. Having just glanced at your changes, I'll make some quick observations right now:
  1. Octaves and fourths are quite different, and differently treated in practice and by theorists. While the two sections I had provided for these don't look good because they are so short, I don't think the two types belong together in a single section. It would be straightforward to make a new article that is not biased towards consecutive fifths, in which we could deal equably with all these intervals, with suitable redirections converging on it.
  2. I have a particular sensitivity concerning so-called hidden consecutives (you noticed?). Until I made this section, and also added something at Counterpoint, there was nothing in Wikipedia on the topic at all. It needs to be treated with special care, since it is one of those areas treated with absurd insouciance in most reference works. So expect some apparent pedantry from me there!
  3. Generalising from the preceding point, I should say that a great deal of music theory is illogically and inconsistently presented, both in Wikipedia and in more established works of reference. I have many criticisms of Grove's, Encyclopedia Britannica, OED, etc., in this regard. Wikipedia has an opportunity to set many things right, but we need to work hard to achieve that. An example I would urge you to look at is the term chromatic interval (search also on "chromatic" at Talk:Interval_(music), for detail), on which I have laboured. Since then, I have found not two but five senses in which the term is bandied about; but these senses are nowhere regimented or collated. Similar effort needs to be spent on the present article, perhaps.
  4. In view of all that, some things cannot be expressed with the elegance we would hope for. The material itself is murky!
OK, back soon. Noetica 01:31, 26 July 2006 (UTC)
Peirigill, a year later an explanation for the "fifth equivalence" phenomenon that seems to have long-disappeared from this article. "I certainly don't accept that a fifth could be mistaken for 'the same note' in the same way that an octave could. Seems to me an 'untrained ear' that could mistake a fifth or a fourth for a unison would also have trouble distinguishing any other interval. Some citation, or at least explanation beyond the bald assertion as to why fifths are especially prone to being mistaken for unisons, is needed if you want to restore that line." Why is an octave special? It isn't. Why should any notes be mistaken for each other? Acoustically, the phenomenon amounts to similarity in the pattern of harmonics and frequency. An note an octave higher than another note has exactly double the frequency. If the pitch has harmonics, then the octave higher will have all even harmonics. Now, what is the next simplest possible ratio -- 3 to 1, which is a perfect twelfth, or an octave and a fifth higher than the first note. It stands to reason that if someone doesn't develop a strong sense of hearing octave equivalence (through training in singing or in playing instruments and what octaves sound like), one will sometimes hear similar equivalence relationships. Perfect fifths and perfect fourths have the simplest frequency ratios next to octaves.
As for studies, unfortunately there aren't that many, but I've seen at least one that suggests it is more likely for untrained people who follow the contour of a melody well to sing consistently between a fourth and fifth away. (There are also plenty of examples from music around the world that suggests this as well.) The problem is that people who are untrained enough not to be able to hear and sing octaves well are unlikely to be able to be precise in singing other intervals either, so we can't expect someone with no musical training to sing in perfect fifths if they can't sing in perfect unisons or octaves. Nevertheless, even though this area hasn't been well-researched, almost all my musician friends anecdotally know what I mean when I say that people tend to sing "Happy Birthday" being off between a fourth and a fifth (sometimes hitting tritones, of course, due to inaccuracy).
Regardless of acoustical reasoning and actual empirical studies, the reason this passage was in the article in the first place is because it's a common theory among chant scholars. The standardization of scales, modes, and the gamut in the Middle Ages made octave equivalence very prominent, particularly with the introduction of the Guidonian staff notation. After that happened, educated musicians would undoubtedly practice hearing octaves much more consistently than any time in the past, because now notes an octave apart were actually referred to by the same letter. But why would we assume that if they weren't called by the same letter. Note the development of Dasian notation here, because that suggests that before octave equivalence was assumed by using the same letters in notation, there were some people who built a system implicitly working on a kind of "fifth equivalence" (i.e., notes a fifth apart, rather than an octave, had a similar "letter" name).
Try to imagine a time when music sung in churches was always sung by male cantors, and it was monophonic, and chant rarely exceeded the range of an octave, so why would they even need to worry about calling notes an octave apart by the same name? That was mostly true for the Greeks, and mostly true until the 11th century. Now, if you had no reason to train yourself to hear octave equivalence, and you had no music constantly being pounded in your ears (like in modern culture) where octave equivalence is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the pitch structure... imagine that. In such a situation, now imagine you're a man trying to match pitch with another man, but the range is too low -- he's a bass, you're a tenor. An octave higher is too high, so you settle in on a good resonant note that acoustically blends well... where would it fall? Probably a perfect fifth or fourth above the other. Keep singing like that for a few days, and if octaves are too far apart, you'll begin to feel like fifths may be a more "natural" equivalent interval. Look at early errors in chant notation where chants were accidentally notated a fifth apart from where they should be. Look at how Dasian notation solves certain problems that caused those notational errors. If you consider all of these things, there seems to be good evidence that at some point some people in the Western chant tradition heard "fifth equivalence" as equal to or even more important than octave equivalence.
Just my two cents, but I think the theory that chanting in parallel fifths developed out of confusion of equivalent notes is a reasonable one, and one that has had some currency in the scholarly literature. 05:09, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Both parallel fifths and octaves weaken the acousitical integrity of the parts, yes? Octaves are special in that their 2:1 nodal coincidence is way above any other interval. Tony 11:19, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

A way forward?[edit]

Well, I have now looked through the article and given it some thought. Meanwhile, I note that Tony has come back, and has edited. ("O dear", should I say? No.) I'll now give my own considered view of things. I've changed my mind on some points.

Background: The article is now significantly better than it was before I, Tony, and Peirigill (in that order) came along. A glance through the history and the talk will show how things have developed. We have all played a part in that improvement, but with different emphases and styles. I first added some structure; I then added something on consecutive octaves, and so-called hidden consecutives, since Wikipedia had practically nothing on either topic. Tony objected to a lot of the style, and to some treatment of detail, and copyedited throughout. I in turn objected to his changes distorting the story (as I saw it), and sacrificing precision for readability. There was some regrettable talk, and I withdrew. But I came back when I found weeks later that a glaring error (as I saw it, anyway: "exposed consecutives") was still there, and no one was looking after the page. I edited the section about hidden consecutives, and also added something about fourths. Then Peirigill came on the scene, and copyedited. I think those edits were sensitive and constructive. I also think that Tony has added something useful, and that my ways have not always been the best.

Present status: The article's name is misleading. It now addresses at least three kinds of intervals (fifths, octaves, and fourths); and it deals with hidden consecutives. It attempts to do all this for all periods of Western music. But practice and therefore theory change drastically as we move from period to period. One major shift is this: from "automatic" and regular duplication of a part at the interval of a fifth (say), to a totally different régime of independent parts, whose independence is compromised by lapses that we call consecutive fifths, or consecutive octaves. Really, the whole topic changes when we make this shift; and the article does not show this well enough. There is still some awkwardness in expression (myself, I don't like concurrence, the sequence of tenses here and there, nor the recent re-introduction of voices instead of parts). But I think that the overall structure needs attention before anything else; and this calls for cooperative effort.

A proposal: A lot in the article is fine! But, without making it too long and unwieldy, it could be re-organised and improved some way like this:

  1. Move all of the content to an article called Consecutive intervals.
  2. Establish redirections from Consecutive fifths, Consecutive octaves, Exposed octave, and all of the many other terms that are relevant. (Most of those redirects are already in place, in fact.)
  3. Decide on a structure to reflect, first, the radical differences in motivation, practice, and theory for the different periods of Western music, and second, the rather divergent ways with octaves, fifths, fourths, and other intervals.
  4. Editors adjust details in their areas of expertise, but harmoniously (in basic use of terms, etc.).
  5. Add something on non-Western practices.
  6. Discuss things here before making any major changes, or any that are likely to cause confrontations.
  7. Provide illustrations in score.
  8. Add some core references.
  9. Provide citations for any specific substantive claims (like the one about the Toccata in D minor not being by Bach).
  10. Review the whole article for internal consistency of treatment (style, conventions, etc.); manage links with other articles rationally.

How does that sound? Noetica 00:19, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

I suggested calling the article "Parallelism (music)" with redirects. "Consecutive intervals" is OK, but intervals could be thirds or sixths too (same problem with "Parallelism", I guess. Alternatively, "Consecutive fifths and octaves"?

I really don't like the Toccata and Fugue example. Bach wrote, and typically corrected later, parallel fifiths in his choral harmonisations. The existence of consecutives in that work doesn't suggest that he didn't write it; perhaps the MS that came down to us was uncorrected. And there are other reasons for doubting Bach's authorship of that work. All too complicated.

I think that something should be included about the way texture—figurations/ornamentations—affect the perception of, and thus the avoidance of parallel fifths and octaves.

"Concurrence"—maybe you're right there. Tony 02:16, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

Yes Tony, I recall your suggesting Parallelism (music). I actually like it, but I hesitated because it's pretty non-standard. I had suggested Consecutive fifths and octaves myself, though now I hesitate with it too, since we do want fourths in there too. But we might now agree that even thirds and sixths, etc., should be included, yes? After all, there have been proscriptions concerning extended parallel movement at these intervals; and even a pair of major thirds moving by step has been frowned on by many theorists (not by Palestrina, in his practice, despite what the pedants say). Then you have Ravel, Debussy, and others at the fringe of common practice, so parallel sevenths and ninths may need treatment also. Hmmm... Why don't we defer the question of the title till we have thought more, and have something from other commentators? I can see advantages in several suggestions. Parallel motion (music), perhaps. (As it happens, I've just now made a redirect from that term at the start of Parallel motion, which is about mechanics, to Contrary motion.)
As for the Toccata and Fugue thing, I don't know what's going on there. Of course there is considerable duplication of parts (at the very start, for example); but that's not a matter of proscribed consecutives. Do people claim that there are proscribed consecutives as well (that is, lapses in the independence of distinct parts)? I'd have to examine the score.
I agree with you about the need to deal with how figurations and the like affect matters. I mentioned something similar above, along with relaxation of the rules as the number of parts is increased. We might also want to mention certain non-parallel fifths and octaves (G up to C above C down to F, for example), and various rulings concerning those.
What do you think of the overall ten-point plan I sketch above, though? I don't think it would take too long, since a lot of good work is already done. Noetica 03:03, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

Your plan looks good at this stage. I wonder whether it's not best to delimit the scope to fifths and octaves, since they are a special case. Otherwise, the article might end up losing focus. It would be nice to get it done in a reasonable amount of time, too. Notational illustrations would be great. Tony 16:52, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

It's been more than two months since anything substantial happened here. I thought we'd have a little more interest, actually. I'm not enthusiastic to do much here myself, now. I think the article needs a carefully maintained focus and structure, as I and others suggest above. I could confidently undertake to renovate the common practice section, which I think is central, given that it's only during that time that the prohibition made any strong sort of sense. But I'm not currently equipped to produce the musical illustrations that we agree would be useful. If others do come in and volunteer their work, I'll be back also. Meanwhile I have simply amended things to remove the word "contemporary", which was ambiguous. – Noetica 11:43, 4 September 2006 (UTC)
Sorry, my WP and real-world editing budgets are kind of full at the moment. I'd like to return at some stage to discuss the article, but perhaps not for a few months. Tony 15:15, 6 September 2006 (UTC)

Did you mean parallel octaves rather than fifths in the BWV 565 Toccata?

I studied this piece quite a bit and found no parallel fifths as I understand them. There are many parallel octaves in the piece. Parallel octaves were also prohibited along with the fifths, and Bach mostly respected that prohibition. However, the prohibition is less strict and as I understand it, later composers (e.g. Beethoven) abandoned the parallel octave prohibition completely, while preserving the parallel fifths prohibition (e.g. in the last movement of Op. 106, Beethoven expressly requires that two parallel trills be played at different speeds to avoid parallel fifths). Beethoven also used parallel fourths and triads, but usually presented the triads in the 136 or 146 inversion to avoid the fifth. Romantic composers (e.g. Chopin) used parallel octaves many times, while still mostly avoiding parallel fifths. I decided to enter the discussion rather than editing your otherwise well presented page directly, in case I am misunderstanding. Igor —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:13, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

There are both in that work (the fifths are in the fugue). The octaves are what I call textural octaves, anyway—not grammatical ones. Tony (talk) 11:40, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

‘Parallel’ Is a Misnomer![edit]

Not all consecutive fifths are parallel! A fifth followed by a twelfth is still consecutive fifths, even though contrary motion is used, and the same is true in reverse. Likewise, an octave followed by a unison is still consecutive octaves, and vice-versa. The ear will hear the consecutive fifth or octave regardless of whether it is parallel or not.

Further, when teaching music theory, it is dangerous to use the term “parallel” in explaining the concept, because it may cause the student to overlook consecutive fifths and octaves with contrary motion when she is checking her work.

In conclusion, consecutive fifths should not be “also known as parallel fifths.” Felicity4711 (talk) 21:52, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

The concept is traditionally taught under the name "parallel fifths" referring to the function of the apparent sonority, not necessarily the relative motion between voices. "Consecutive fifths" doesn't really mean anything and IMO it is the misnomer. Going from d5 to P5 is mandatory from vii dim7 up a step for instance. The purpose of the concept of avoiding parallel fifths is to retain voice independence and contrapuntal style which true parallelism would go against. Therefore, contrary motion between 5ths and 12ths is much less noticeable, and less important. Ormaaj (talk) 17:01, 1 June 2009 (UTC)

Horn fifth[edit]

I can't believe there is no article on horn fifths, nor are they discussed in this article. This is an important concept, especially for historical reasons which should really be mentioned.

For those who don't know what this is, it is a traditionally acceptable sonority under certain circumstances involving parallel fifths. It originates from the nature of the ratios of available pitches on natural brass instruments. Ormaaj (talk) 14:58, 1 June 2009 (UTC)

I added two paragraphs on horn fifths. Note that horn fifths are not an example of parallel (consecutive) fifths, but rather of direct fifths.--Stuart2135simon (talk) 15:14, 8 December 2009 (UTC)

Are power chord riffs consecutive fifths?[edit]

Would the employment of guitar power chords in popular music count as the use of consecutive fifths? (talk) 02:49, 19 April 2010 (UTC)

Yes, but notice that with power chords there is no intention to have independent voices. Notice the example of Haydn imitating hurdy-gurdy drone's (a popular music style in which homophonic chordal accompaniment rather than polyphony was used). Hyacinth (talk) 02:55, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Diagram 1, Bach and || 5ths, use in jazz[edit]

Why is the diagram on Hidden [consecutive] fifths displayed at the top of the article, when it would be more relevant near the appropriate heading?

Where are the "abounding" consec. 5ths in the Toccata and Fugue in D minor? I can only see consecutive 4ths. You should give measure references or delete this claim.

You have a link "(See below for later developments.)" which doesn't go anywhere. I should think some reference to the ubiquity of consec. 5ths in jazz, rock, etc, should be mentioned. Chord sequences such as Cmaj7, Em7, Ebm7, Dm7 played in parallel are stock in trade for jazz players, with consec. 5ths abounding. Gerry246 (talk) 01:29, 24 April 2010 (UTC)

I fear the diagram should not only be moved, but also re-captioned. It illustrates hidden fifths (two parts moving by similar, not contrary, motion towards a fifth), but does not illustrate consecutive fifths (two parts moving by similar or contrary motion from a simple or compound fifth to another simple or compound fifth), as it would if the lower note of the first dyad were an A or the upper note a G. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 23:27, 27 January 2012 (UTC)
Hmm, on further thought it doesn't even illustrate a hidden fifth, or at least not a "forbidden" hidden fifth, as the upper voice moves by step. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 13:55, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Which Johannes?[edit]

The article attributes the first proscription of consecutives to Johannes de Grocheo. However, Drabkin in Grove attributes it to Johannes de Garlandia, although Baltzer in her article on him refers to the Optima introductio in contrapunctum pro rudibus as merely "edit[ed] ... under Garlandia's name" by Coussemaker. What is the source for de Grocheo in this context? Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 14:15, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Additional citations: Development of the prohibition[edit]

Why and where does this section need additional citations for verification? What references does it need and how should they be added? Hyacinth (talk) 16:37, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

I don't think this section needs to be treated in any way differently from any other Wikipedia content. It should be sourced to reliable references. In my view, any sentence that does not already have a reference should have one or be removed, with the possible exception of the one about fourteenth-century use, which is unlikely to be questioned and is anyway easily sourced to Grove. The sentence regarding Leonel Power contains two separate statements, and might need two references. The assertion that the Toccata and Fugue in D min "abounds" with consecutive fifths is particularly likely to be challenged, and should I suggest be referenced to precise bar and note numbers as well as to the secondary sources that discuss it; an image of relevant bars might also be good here.
I tagged this particular section because of that assertion, the Johannes question (see above), and the bit about diminished fifths, which contradicts everyday sources such as Grove, which refers to "consecutive perfect consonances", Eric Taylor's AB Guide to Music Theory, Part II, where he specifically states "perfect fifths", or Anna Butterworth's Harmony in Practice, where she writes "the interval of a perfect 5th to a diminished 5th (or vice versa) is acceptable in the inner parts but not between the bass and another part". But that is not to say that the rest of the article does not need references too. I'll move the tag. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 17:32, 29 January 2012 (UTC)
See WP:CITE. Hyacinth (talk) 17:47, 29 January 2012 (UTC)
I've seen it, many times. Among other things, it "requires inline citations for any material challenged or likely to be challenged, and for all quotations, anywhere in article space. However, editors are strongly advised to provide citations for all information added to Wikipedia; any detail risks being unexpectedly challenged or even eventually removed." That has always seemed pretty clear to me. Is there any part of it that in some way might not be applicable here?
Re-reading what I wrote in my previous reply, I think it may appear a touch confrontational, and if so, I apologise. It's not intended to be. My only interest is in improving the article. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 18:14, 29 January 2012 (UTC)
The assertion regarding the Toccata was already challenged when you added the tag and the above comment. Hyacinth (talk) 17:59, 29 January 2012 (UTC)
You are right. I'll go ahead and remove that part right away, in the hope that appropriate references will soon be found so that (if true) it can quickly be restored to the article. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 18:14, 29 January 2012 (UTC)


  • The strict avoidance of consecutive fifths is one of the major reasons some musicologists doubt whether Johann Sebastian Bach composed the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Bach was an accomplished composer, highly skilled at avoiding consecutive fifths, but the toccata abounds with them.{{fact|date=January 2012}} However, more recent arguments suggest this is not the case at all, and that the Toccata was written by Bach but written for violin and transcribed for organ.

The above text was removed as unreferenced. Since it was hoped that it could be re-added I have moved it here so people may actually see it so that could actually happen. Hyacinth (talk) 18:43, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Good thinking, thank you. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 18:50, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Additional citations[edit]

Why and where does this article need additional citations for verification? What references does it need and how should they be added? Hyacinth (talk) 17:47, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

Tag removed. Hyacinth (talk) 04:24, 29 November 2012 (UTC)

What is so unusual about the resolution of the German sixth in Mozart's Jupiter?[edit]

It's only the way it is approached that is unusual (D and F held on from a B major chord, with the bass descending chromatically to A and the D being then interpreted as E, then resolving normally to V7 of C major to lead into the recapitulation). Double sharp (talk) 14:39, 6 March 2014 (UTC)