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ChoraleGUIDE: writing four-part harmony in the style of Bach

Voice-leading in Bach chorales: Suspensions

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What do I have to remember?

In Bach's chorale style dissonant notes (including sevenths) are treated very carefully, so as not to disrupt the balance and flow of the music. Dissonant notes are almost always unaccented passing notes or suspensions.

The suspended note is always treated in the same way, so as to lessen the impact of the dissonance, as shown in the example below:

  • the note must be prepared by appearing in the same voice in the previous beat
  • the suspension must resolve by descending step

In this suspension, the G is dissonant against the A - it is prepared and resolved downwards by step in the alto voice.

What are the most common suspensions?

The following dissonances are always treated as suspensions:

  1. 4-3 suspensions (see above)
  2. the seventh in II7b (Example A below)
  3. 7-6 suspensions (Example B below)

What are the most common mistakes?

Here are some common errors that you might make:

  • forgetting to check that the preparation fits with the previous chord
  • adding the third as well as the fourth in a 4-3 suspension (see example 1 below)
  • suspending a seventh above the bass rather than the seventh of the chord in II7b (see example 2 below)

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© Copyright Thomas Pankhurst