Volume 10, Number 2, June 2004
Copyright © 2004 Society for Music Theory

2.1 Doubling Rules

[1] The question of what note to double in a four-voice triad has generated divergent views. Schoenberg(3) claimed that in root position the “first choice [is] for doubling is the root, second the fifth, and only as a last resort the third.” Yet Prout,(4) writing only a few decades earlier, asserted that “In the root position of a chord, it is seldom good to double the fifth.

[2] As for first-inversion triads, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that composers should “double the fundamental tone or the fifth, but not the third,”(5) but Tchaikovsky noted that usually “the third appears doubled.”(6) According to composer-theorist Walter Piston, “a tonal degree in the chord is chosen for doubling,”(7) whereas another author observed a “preferential doubling of the Soprano in the first inversion.”(8) The most popular contemporary harmony textbook argues that for first-inversion triads “the doubling to use is the one that results from the best voice leading.”(9)

[3] These disagreements might give the impression that a consistent theory on voice doubling might be hard to extract. Yet there are points of agreement on a very few principles, for example:

  • double the root (except in second inversion or diminished triads)
  • in second inversion, double the bass

[4] There is substantially less agreement, however, on how these rules can be justified. (See §2.1.1.) Tabular summaries of the rules from 40 different texts are given in the following tables, separated according to inversion:

Back to §2 (Rules for Doubling and Spacing)

Go on to §2.1.1 (Past Doubling Theories)
Go on to §2.2 (Spacing Rule)

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Prepared by Brent Yorgason, Managing Editor and Tahirih Motazedian, Editorial Assistant