Lessons for Rufus: parallel 5ths? Don’t listen to them

January 11, 2007



I overheard some students working on their harmony exercises at the cafe last night. One said “No! You can’t do that; that’s parallel 5ths.” The other sighed in disappointment.

I don’t recall your telling me why you couldn’t tolerate being a music student, but if this is what they were feeding you, I don’t blame you! Look at ms. 45-46 [above] in Beethoven’s Op.28 D major piano sonata (1) and see the naughtiest parallel 5ths you can imagine.

In my day, as we studied harmony and counterpoint, parallel 5ths were always marked wrong, and we felt like complete idiots if our teachers found them. Now days, I am shocked that nothing has changed. Do they not know of my young brothers Claude and Erik who shattered that silliness once and for all? But no! They insist on perpetuating this silly rule. Granted, if a student wants to parody music of the classical era (and WHY would one want to?), yes, they should avoid parallel 5ths. Think how less interesting the musical world would be if Henry Mancini had not written “The Pink Panther” theme––all in parallel 5ths. Don’t listen to that silly rule, m’boy. Celebrate parallel 5ths!



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