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#1923015 - 07/05/12 02:13 PM Counterpoint... I'm lost
jscomposer Offline
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Registered: 10/27/08
Posts: 537
Loc: The Boogie Down
First time trying it. I figure it's a huge subject, but any tips to get started? For example, do you start with a melody and then figure out a chord progression to fit the other layers to? Basically, what are effective routes for composing counterpoint?
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#1923222 - 07/05/12 11:45 PM Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: jscomposer
. . . do you start with a melody and then figure out a chord progression to fit the other layers to?

In a word, "Yup".

The path you describe is an optimum way to start playing with counterpoint. (Assuming the work will be tonal), a couple of other decisions to make early-on is whether to have second and third "voices" entering on DO, or on FA, or on SOL. That will help guide your harmonic structure. Also, will the subsequent "voices" entering be precise mirrors of the original voice, or "rough" copies.

Obviously, as your post implies, that accounts for about .001% of the subject.

Ed
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#1923673 - 07/07/12 07:34 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
Exalted Wombat Offline
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Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 1207
Loc: London UK
It's maybe more productive to think of harmony resulting from counterpoint, rather than the other way round. Take a melody. Now, what could a second voice do that was INTERESTING? Are there opportunities for imitation - one voice echoing the other? There's a basic principle that when voice 1 is moving, voice 2 should be sustained (and vice versa). But generally try not to get stuck into note-for-note following, like a hymn tune!

At times, chords may be implied. If (in the key of C) there's a B over an F, they'll probably tend to move to C and E. Hey! you've just invented a dominent 7th chord!

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#1924166 - 07/08/12 11:00 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
Steve Chandler Online   content
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Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2789
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
Both of these posts hint that harmonization is an important aspect of counterpoint. If you're comfortable with 4 part writing (like hymns) then you're ready to explore further. If you have no clue what goes into 4 part writing then IMO you need to get up to speed with that first. The rules of 4 part writing apply in contarpuntal writing as well so you'll be learning the first lessons on writing counterpoint in learning harmony.

If you're fluent in harmony then Wombat's suggestions would be where I'd go because that's how I write counterpoint. The ear can only follow so much so only one or two voices in a four part texture are very active. The others are filling out the harmony though they all usually have important roles to play.

Analysis is another way of getting a grip on the matter. If you haven't analyzed any Bach fugues I'd start doing some dissection of one or two (or more). Presumably you can play some so start taking them apart. How does the harmony change, what is the long term harmonic structure (structure of modulations)? In how many different ways is the theme harmonized? Are there any counter subjects? What thematic material is used in episodes (those spots where the theme is not present)? Are there any canonic segemts or use of diminution or augmentation?

It's a great subject, good luck!

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#1924480 - 07/09/12 02:19 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
JorgeBol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/22/11
Posts: 123
I would Normally suggest taking some classes or reading about this subject, but it this case (and considering that this is a piano forum) I would suggest (as suggested in the previous post) learning and studying a lot of the Bach Fugues. I would suggest looking at the Well Tempered Clavier pieces, and even getting comfortable playing some of them. By the time you are done, you might be surprised by how much you know.

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#1924563 - 07/09/12 08:44 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: Steve Chandler]
Exalted Wombat Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 1207
Loc: London UK
Originally Posted By: Steve Chandler
Both of these posts hint that harmonization is an important aspect of counterpoint. If you're comfortable with 4 part writing (like hymns) then you're ready to explore further. If you have no clue what goes into 4 part writing then IMO you need to get up to speed with that first. The rules of 4 part writing apply in contarpuntal writing as well so you'll be learning the first lessons on writing counterpoint in learning harmony.

If you're fluent in harmony then Wombat's suggestions would be where I'd go because that's how I write counterpoint. The ear can only follow so much so only one or two voices in a four part texture are very active. The others are filling out the harmony though they all usually have important roles to play.


Well, I was really suggesting the opposite! Don't think of counterpoint as "decorated harmony". Start off with a 2-part texture, concentrate on melodic shapes, and the tensions/resolutions set up by different intervals.

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#1924645 - 07/09/12 12:41 PM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: Exalted Wombat]
Veelo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/07/12
Posts: 24
Loc: Germany
Giovanni Dettori has some lessons on counterpoint on his youtube channel artofcounterpoint:



He is known for his Lady Gaga Fugue which was performed at BBC Proms:



And here his Britney Spears Counterpoint version:



Edited by Veelo (07/09/12 12:44 PM)
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#1937557 - 08/05/12 12:54 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 556
I agree with wombat. Harmony is the result of counterpoint. The original poster did not specify what kind of counterpoint he was talking about. I assume he's talking about 16th-18th century counterpoint. There are lots of books on this topic out there. If you are talking about that area, then you do need to understand the rules of harmony, voice leading, and some standard types of progressions.

However, the real purpose of counterpoint in my view is to release the imagination from the fetters of homogeneous harmony. Counterpoint is the very life-blood of much beautiful music. Of course, I've been doing this for many years, so it may not be easy for a beginner to do, but when I write I create a line, then I let my imagination create a second line in my head (I suggest letting yourself sing the new line it in your head). I do NOT create a harmonic progression to follow beforehand as a rule. Then I may try it out to see if the real effect is what I want. If you do this you automatically create texture AND harmony simultaneously. I find the most effective counterpoint does not necessarily rely on the rhythm of the first line. Rhythmic homogeneity is fine, but it can be deadly to the independence of the counterpoint and has to be considered carefully. I have to say that these hints may work better for someone more comfortable creating counterpoint than a beginner, but I don't know.

If you are not concerned too much about traditional harmonic progressions, your options are greatly multiplied, but it's still important to understand voice leading traditions (they are traditions because they work). Each line must be felt as a true melodic line in its own right. If you are a singer or an instrumentalist, think about how you would like the line in question if you had to play it. THIS will also aid you in deciding how effective or well written your musical line is. Sometimes you might find that the new line is so appealing, you'll find yourself adjusting the main melody to work better with it.

Now, another thing to consider and maybe the first, is your bass line. The bass line may not be melodic in the same sense as the upper voices (unless, of course, it does have a true melody). Nevertheless, the bass line cannot simply be a succession of roots of triads. It must proceed in a way that still has some grace to it, or at least, some logic. It's hard to put into words, so I would suggest looking at and listening to as much well-written music as you can. Or look at the music that moves you and see what it is that does it for you. That's a good way to learn what's effective and possible.

I rambled a bit and probably caused some confusion, but I hope some of my points will help.
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#1937714 - 08/05/12 12:41 PM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 556
I should also mention something very important. Do not forget to use rests!!!
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#1937715 - 08/05/12 12:42 PM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 556
Also remember that passing dissonances are allowed (and practically unavoidable, even if you wanted to).


Edited by ScottM (08/05/12 12:44 PM)
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#1938053 - 08/06/12 08:55 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11847
Loc: Canada
I find this thread fascinating because before I knew anything and was totally self-taught my thinking was in this direction. While I did have some fashion of reading music, I did a lot by ear. If there was a melody or if somebody was singing, I might sing a harmony or play one on my recorder which would mostly dance in thirds or fifths or fourths above or below. Obviously if you have three voices, each of them avoiding dissonance, you will end up mostly with a third and a fifth which resembles a triad chord, without ever thinking about chords. I understand that historically this is how Western musical thought started. When I first joined PW, somebody threw a Fux first species exercise at me, and it seemed very familiar.

Meanwhile some years ago somebody pointed out that melody and harmony are intertwined, and when you sing or create a melody, harmony is naturally implied. When you create a melody with a backdrop of a major scale in the back of your head, at some point you conclude with a Ti Do or Re Do or Re Ti Do or even So Do. You probably will not be inclined to ascend Fa Do because it "feels odd". This dance around the Tonic implies V-I or V7-I.

It seems as if one is embedded in the other. Only, usually in traditional harmony teaching, they teach the melody as arising out of chords, and everything is centered on chords and chord progression. To me this was a foreign world, one that I needed to have so I concentrated on it. This thread seems to be giving the other side of that and I'm reading avidly.

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#1938542 - 08/06/12 11:16 PM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
I originally agreed with jscomposer that one starts with a melody, and then develops a harmonic structure to guide the subsequent voices.

Exhaulted has a different view,
Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
It's maybe more productive to think of harmony resulting from counterpoint, rather than the other way round. Take a melody. Now, what could a second voice do that was INTERESTING?

I like this approach also, but probably not for a beginner. Most novice composers, using the “add a voice and see where it takes us” approach, end up with a rambling piece that lacks cadences, which in tonal music, give us harmonic form. Even more advanced students usually turn pieces written this way into “through composed” or “arch without an arch” form, where tension is generated from the addition of voices, and relieved when voices drop out, one-by-one.

Adhering to a definable harmonic progression, and building the various counter-melodies around that progression, give the piece shape, form, and substance (perhaps at the expense of some creativity.)

By the way, has anyone heard from jscomposer? Is he truly lost??

Ed
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#1938689 - 08/07/12 09:31 AM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11847
Loc: Canada
.


Edited by keystring (08/07/12 01:13 PM)

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#1941386 - 08/12/12 12:41 PM Re: Counterpoint... I'm lost [Re: jscomposer]
Aaron Garner Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/24/12
Posts: 56
Loc: Sacramento, Ca
If you know basic music fundamentals: scales/key sig., intervals, chords and cadences, pick up any number of great counterpoint books. The Fux book is entertaining and will teach you quite a bit. I also like "Counterpoint in Composition" by Salzer. The Salzer book is pretty deep and it has it's shortcomings, but it's still a well written book IMO. These days, many of the music theory books out there now include short, but pretty good overviews on species counterpoint. I started teaching species counterpoint (usually only 1st and 2nd species) to my first year theory students before 4-part chorale writing and it's made a big difference in their understanding of voice-leading. Composers thought linearly before they thought vertically.
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