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Parallel Harmonic Movement

     This harmonic device consists in moving a chord or a harmonic interval and maintain the relative distance between pitches, or put another way, it’s when all the voices of a chord move in the same direction. It can be used to connect with a more important chord or to thicken a melodic line. In tonal music, it is common to hear the use of the first and/or second inversion of the triad and not so much the chord in its fundamental state.

     The reason why was because using the chord inversion you avoid the occurrence of parallel octaves and fifths. Nevertheless, in post-tonal music, these conventions no longer apply and also there is a free use and treatment of dissonance:

Chords in 1st inversion forming a melodic line over an A pedal note

     This example uses chords in the first inversion and they are based on the C major tonality. But, as discussed, the chord sequence can either be tonal as is the case, or real. If it is real parallel harmony, then an exact transposition of the chord or harmonic interval occurs, meaning that the chord or intervals will be moved around in a fixed formation.

     In the next example you will notice that the harmonic melody is tonal, being the same from the previous example, while the parallel chords move in a fixed formation and thus using chromatic tones in relation to the C major tonality:

Same harmonic melody as the previous example but with real parallel chords – in perfect 4ths

     The next two examples show how you can use a chromatic parallel approach to underline the importance of a target chord while the other back-cycles to the target chord using a minor third cycle:

Chromatic approach to Dm7 target chord

Minor third cyclic approach to target chord using altered dominants (#5, #9)

     When you are using parallel harmonic movement, you don’t need to be concerned with voice-leading. Instead, the focus is on the harmonic melody and its role in a particular musical context. A real parallel chord sequence can be used as a modulation device, to briefly leave that tonality as a way to create contrasts and variety, or even to heighten the transition to a musical section, or a target chord.

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