Easy multiple voices
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Aid for playing with multiple voices at the same time

harmonic theory

Steps (progressions)

Double dominante

multiple voices

Main melody line

"Überschlag" (2nd voice on top of the main voice)

Unterstimme (2nd voice below the main voice)

3rd voice

4 voices for tunes

Counter melody

Bass voice and alternating bass (Wechselbass)

Aid for playing with multiple voices at the same time

Alpine folk music is mainly set out with two voices. The leading voice (1st voice) and a second voice is accompanying above or below the 1st one. Usually this two voices go along with each other in an parallel way. This means the distance between these two voices is a 3rd, this means that in an diatonic scale every second note is taken, or left out.

First the minimum of harmonic theory needed for this subject

The following is important for all kind of Instruments, some parts ar more important for Steirische.

We have twelve major scales. Sorted in the order they occur 1n the circle of 4th or the circle of 5th:

Circle of 4ths C F Bb Eb Ab
E A D G (C)
Clef signature - 1b 2b 3b 4b
4# 3# 2# 1# -
Circle of 5ths C G D A E B
Eb Bb F (C)
Clef signature - 1# 2# 3# 4# 5#
3b 2b 1b -

At the web page www.musiklehre.at you will find a picture that shows the circle of 5ths a bit different, in major and in minor.

On the Steirische the scales are arranged as they are usually needed in alpine folk music. The difference from one row to the other is a 4th (Quart). If you look at the scales you will notice going from the outside row one to the inner row one clef (#) is removed or one (b) is added. Theoretically all 12 scales would be possible, but usually A-D-G-(C), G-C-F-(Bb), Bb-Eb-Ab-(Db), but others are in use too. I do own a C-F-Bb Instrument, for use in combination with an clarinet. And a A-D-G-C for playing along with fiddles and singers.

Every diatonic scale has its own specific series of tones made up by seven tones, for C major C, D, E, F, G, A, B, (C one octave higher) [English notation]
C, D, E, F, G, A, H, (C one octave higher) [German notation]
The German B is the English Bb, so please be carefull in some German texts or pictures the German way of writing notes may be used, be aware of this.

One can also name the scale in the Italian or France manner.
do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, (do).

For me it is easier to number the tones, similar to the numbering of step progressions.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, (8 = 1).

Some of the major scales are given below: 

C-major C D E F G A B C
G-major G A B C D E Fis G
D-major D E Fis G A B Cis D
Ab-major Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Solemnisation do re mi fa sol la ti do
Numbering 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 (8)
Steps 1.Step 2.Step 3.Step 4.Step 5.Step 6.Step 7.Step 1.Step

All other major scales are built up in the same way.top


You can imagine the scale as a staircase, beginning at the basement and ending on the first floor. This staircase consists of seven steps, the 8th step brings you into the 1st floor. For the second floor the same system applies. Every tone is represented by a stair step and every octave with a floor.

On each of these tones (steps, numbers) one can build up a chord triade and this chord is also named after the first tone in the triad. The most important chord is the one belonging to the 1st note in the scale and is made up of the tones 1 3 5. This is always true for every scale.

The tones printed bold in the table above are the major cord notes, also called tonic or 1st harmonic step progression.

The triad on top of the 1st note in the scale is also called “gerade” (even) in Alpine folk music. In a lot of standard music notation you will find big letters for the bass indicating the scale of the measure and small letters for the accompanying chord, so C or c for C major. On the Steirische you find direction these chord (notes) 1 3 5 repeated in different octaves (positions), when pushing the bellows. The 5th note of the scale on the middle position is the Gleichton except in row one.

The next chord used in alpine folk music is very important too and it is the harmonic step progression 5 (Dominant 7th chord). In reality a 4 note chord and it is made up with the notes 5 7 2 and 4 of the scale. In Alpine folk music this is called 'verkehrt' (turned around). In standard notation for accordion or Guitar this is often indicated with an 7, so in C-major G7 (or g7). In reality this chord is made up with 4 notes and it is not a triad as most other chords. On the Steirische you find this chord in the pull direction. Here too, the 5th note is the Gleichton. The least important note in in this chord is the 2 and so this note is often left out, if only 3 notes are played.

Another often used chord and step progression is the 4th step, the Subdominant, the triad built on the 4th note in the scale. This chord is built by the notes 4 6 1 of the scale and is indicated as a capital letter, so F would be the 4th in C-major. On the Steirische this is in most cases the next inner row in push direction.

These three progressions are major chords. The other three progressions (2nd 3rd and 6th) are minor chords (the 7th step is almost never used in “normal” music). Minor chords are very rarely used in alpine folk music, but in some tunes they do occur. But caution: If you have a tune mainly in major and you find very short passages with minor chords, then this minor chords often should not be harmonized with the rest of the tune, they should be left as they are.

Double dominant

Strictly speaking the double dominant is not a progression step, it is rather a change of the scale within the tune (a modulation, as they say in musical circles), in the midst of the melody or very often toward the end. The scale changes to a scale an 5th higher. The key signature is changed as well, the number of # gets one more or the b gets one less. In most cases this starts with an step 5 progression in the new scale, so one gets this double dominant. The end is in most cases the 5th step progression of the original scale. The following melody starts then very often with the 5th step progression of the original scale. On the Steirische you find the double dominant in pull direction on the next inner row.

Example: in C-major the 5th Step progression is G7. The new scale staring on the 5th note would be G major so the 5th step progression of G major is D7. Don’t get it confused with the 2nd step of the original scale, this would be D minor, not D7 major. You can have an look at: Erzherzog-Rainer-Marsch.

If you like to play with notes on the Steirische you can change back to playing the steirische with standard notation.top

correct use of multiple voices

If you click at the staff you will start a midi file.

The main voice

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This is always the voice that ends with the basic tone, the 1st note of the scale, In C major this is the C. Is this note is the deeper note like this, then in most cases the right second voice is on top of the main voice (“Überschlag”).

In witch position (octave) the main voce is situated or in witch scale, is unimportant with respect to the musical theory.

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However the use of the type of multible voices is very much a matter of personal taste. There are always more ways of doing it.top

"Überschlag" (2nd voice on top of the main voice)

First one has to add the correct chord progressions to the tune, if not already done. In the example this is C for the 1th step in C major and G7 for the 5th step progression.

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To every note of the triad in the melody simply the next higher note of the triade of the assigned progression is chosen. The notes follow, in most cases, parallel along with the main melody. In most cases the whole melody can be played an 3rd higher. For exemle, if the melody uses the notes C D E the second voice would be E F G. If the measure is in the 5th step progression (pull) the 2th note often is replaced by the 4th or the lower 7th note, like in this example in the measure before the last measure.

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An special variation that is often used is, if an „Überschlag“ is chosed but then transposed an octave lower. This results in an interval of a 6th. (large interval; 6th below)top

Unterstimme (2nd voice below the main voice)

If the main voice (melody) is mainly in the upper part of the octave, and the tune finishes with the 8th step, the 1th note of the octave above, then the proper 2this usually the "Unterstimme". In the chosen example the "Unterstimme" is not the greatest, this version of the second voice does not sound as good as the previous example. 

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As in the first example the second voice is again a note, lower than the melody, taken from the chord assigned to this measure. But in some cases this note is not a 3rd apart from the first voice, so for the ending of a part it is usually the 6th step below the 1st voice. In this case the  two voices are not completely parallel anymore.

Sometimes the second voice does not move much, but stays almost constantly on the same note. This is sometimes necessary, and there is sometimes no way around it. For me, it sounds better if the second voice is a melody on its own, and moves parallel to the first voice.

For this way of playing the second voice, i chose to use the Ennstaler Polka as an example. You see, the top voice is the main melody and this melody ends with the 1st note of the scale, the basic tone above. The second voice is below the first one and goes along in 3rds, except on the final chord. To illustrate this idea more clearly I have made two different note sheets, one for the first main melody and one for the second voice, both with bass letters added.top

3rd voice

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If a 3rd voice is desired, the above must be applied in a similiar fashion. However in my opinion the main melody and 2nd voice should always be correct first so the 3rd note of the individual chord can be added to fill the gaps to get the correct chord.


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The 3rd voice should usually not be on top of the other voices (except in some “Jodler”). It should be found below - or between the other two voices if they were in a 6th interval before with two voices.

Here is an example for this 3rd voice. I again used the Ennstaler polka as example.

The 3rd voice does not usually move much, and is nearly on the same note all the time. That's the way it is and it can't be changed in most cases. A 3rd voice on its own usually is very uninteresting if viewed as a separate melody. For this reason it should not be used as the highest voice. Sometimes this is also the case with the second voice. In some cases this can't be done a different way, for me it is nicer if the second voice has its own melody, and is parallel to the main melody.

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The audience notices the top voice better. This is one reason why it should be the main voice. If the 3rd voice is used as the top voice it hides the lower voice too much and simplifies the melody in an unfavourable way, like in the example shown. The main melody can hardly be heard.

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Tunes with 4 voices

In the alpine folk music in principle there are two possibilities to arrange a song for singing or for instruments with 4 voices:

Soprano = Main voice, finishes with the 8th note of the scale, this is the 1st note an octave higher,
Alto = 2nd “Überschlag“ (3rd voice, one octave deeper), it ends with the 5th note of the main voice,
Tenor = 1st “Überschlag” (2nd voice, on top of 1st voice, but sounding one octave deeper), it ends with the 3rd relative to the main voice 1st note,
Bass = Functional bass, Fundamental note, very seldom with „Übergängen” transients or arpeggios.

Soprano = 1st Überschlag, it ends with an 3rd above the main voice (1st note),top
Alto = Main voice, finishes with the 1st note of the scale,
Tenor = 3rd voice (2nd “Überschlag”, one octave deeper), it ends with a Quart (fourth) under the 1st note of the scale,
Bass = Functional bass, Fundamental note, very seldom with transients or arpeggios.

Counter melody (Gegenstimme)

In combination to many melodies a counter melodie is suitable. A second melody that is not really in connection to the main melody, this voice is more free, but it should reinforce the main voice and not pull the main voice down. This voice is in most cases below the main voice in a lower position. It often fills the pauses of the melody or carries the rhythm during the long notes common in waltz melodies.

Often this mirror voce is first implemented when the tune is repeated the second time. First the main voice plays on its own, and later a second counter melody is added as decoration.

Some more on the pages: Counter Melody, Ennstaler Polka with counter melody and Counter melody in fast polka rhythm.

Bass voice and alternating bass

On the next pages you find examples for alternating bass (example alternating bass). The example is based on the Ennstaler Polka in different types of scales.top

I explained the principle of alternating bass, on the page: Bass play and alternating bass.

1st voice (main melody) ] 2nd voice (lower voice) ] Ennstalerpolka with two voices ] 3rd voice  (2nd  lower voice) ] Ennstaler Polka with three voices ] Counter Melody ] Ennstaler Polka with counter melody ] Example alternating bass ] Counter melody in fast polka rhythm ]

Nach oben ] Questions about the Steirische ] Playing technique ] Playing with standard notation ] "Griffschrift" explained ] [ Easy multiple voices ] Bass play and alternating bass ] swinging music ]
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