Parallel Motion Music Theory: Understanding the Basics

Music is an art form that has the power to move people in different ways. As a musician, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of music theory to create harmonious sounds that connect with your audience.

One of the concepts in music theory that you may come across is parallel motion. In this article, we’ll delve into what parallel motion is and how it affects your music.

What Is Parallel Motion?

Parallel motion is a term used to describe when two or more musical elements such as chords, intervals, or melodies move in the same direction at the same time. In other words, if two notes are played together and they both go up or down in pitch simultaneously, then they are moving in parallel motion.

The Types of Parallel Motion

There are two types of parallel motion- perfect and imperfect parallel motion. Perfect parallel motion occurs when the intervals between two notes remain the same while moving either up or down. For example, if two chords move from C major to D major while keeping the same interval distance between each note (C-E-G to D-F#-A), then it’s perfect parallel motion.

Imperfect parallel motion occurs when the interval between two notes changes while still moving in the same direction. For example, if you’re playing a melody where one note moves from C to D while another note moves from E to F#, then it’s imperfect parallel motion because even though both notes move up simultaneously, their interval distance changes.

How Can You Use Parallel Motion in Your Music?

Parallel motion can be used for different purposes in your music depending on what you want to achieve. Here are some ways you can use it:

To Create a Harmonic Progression

You can use perfect parallel motion between chords to create a harmonic progression that sounds pleasing to the ear. For example, if you’re playing a song in C major and you want to transition to G major, you can use perfect parallel motion between the chords to create a smooth transition. You could play C major chord followed by D major chord (perfect parallel motion) then D major chord followed by G major chord (also perfect parallel motion).

To Create an Interesting Melody

Using imperfect parallel motion in your melody can create an interesting musical effect that catches the listener’s ear. It’s essential to use it sparingly as too much of it can make your music sound predictable or repetitive.

To Create a Sense of Tension and Release

Parallel motion can also be used to create tension and release in your music. You can use perfect parallel motion between chords to build up tension, then resolve it with a different chord progression.

The Importance of Avoiding Parallel Fifths and Octaves

While using parallel motion in your music can be beneficial, it’s essential to avoid certain types of parallel motion- namely, parallel fifths and octaves. Parallel fifths and octaves are considered taboo in classical music because they create a hollow sound that lacks harmonic richness.

For example, if you’re playing a melody with two notes- let’s say C and G- if both notes move down one step simultaneously, they form a fifth interval (C-G to B-F#). If this happens repeatedly throughout the melody, it creates parallel fifths that sound dull.

Similarly, if two notes form an octave interval (C-C or G-G) and they both move up or down together simultaneously, they form parallel octaves that also sound hollow.


In conclusion, parallel motion is an essential concept in music theory that every musician should understand. Perfect and imperfect parallels have different effects on your music depending on how you use them.

Remember to avoid parallel fifths and octaves to maintain harmonic richness in your music. By incorporating parallel motion into your music, you can create harmonious sounds that resonate with your audience.