Parallel Fifths Music Theory: An In-Depth Look

When it comes to music theory, there are a lot of concepts that can be difficult to understand, especially for beginners. One such concept is parallel fifths.

Parallel fifths occur when two voices move in perfect fifths in the same direction, creating a sound that is considered to be undesirable by some music theorists. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what parallel fifths are, why they are considered problematic, and how they can be avoided.

What Are Parallel Fifths?

Parallel fifths occur when two voices (or parts) move in perfect fifths in the same direction. For example, if one voice plays a C and then moves up to a G, and another voice plays an F and then moves up to a C, this creates parallel fifths. The interval between C and G is a perfect fifth, as is the interval between F and C.

Why Are Parallel Fifths Considered Problematic?

Parallel fifths are considered problematic because they create a sound that is often described as “empty” or “hollow.” This happens because when two voices move in parallel fifths, they maintain the same interval relationship throughout their movement. This causes the harmony to become stagnant and predictable, which can make it less interesting or engaging for listeners.

Additionally, parallel fifths violate some of the principles of traditional Western music theory. In particular, they violate the idea of voice leading – the idea that each voice should move independently and have its own melodic shape. When two voices move in parallel fifths, they become essentially indistinguishable from each other – they’re just playing the same notes at different octaves.

How Can Parallel Fifths Be Avoided?

There are several ways to avoid parallel fifths in your compositions. One common technique is called contrary motion.

Contrary motion occurs when two voices move in opposite directions – for example, one voice moves up while the other moves down. This creates a more interesting and complex harmonic relationship between the two voices, and can help to avoid the predictability that comes with parallel fifths.

Another technique is to use different intervals between voices. Rather than using only perfect fifths, try using other intervals such as thirds or sixths. This can create a more varied and interesting harmonic texture, while still allowing you to maintain a sense of coherence and unity in your composition.

Finally, it’s important to remember that parallel fifths aren’t always bad. They can be used intentionally to create a specific effect or mood in your composition. However, it’s important to use them judiciously and intentionally – don’t simply rely on them as a default harmonic device.


Parallel fifths are a complex concept in music theory, but understanding them is essential for any serious composer or musician. By avoiding parallel fifths in your compositions, you can create more interesting and engaging harmonies that will keep listeners engaged and interested. Remember to experiment with different techniques and intervals in order to find the right balance for your music – there’s no one “right” way to compose!