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Thread: What's Counterpoint?

  1. #1
    Registered User Revenant's Avatar
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    What's Counterpoint?

    Whenver reading about classical composing i notice the word "counterpoint" mentioned several times. Also, a lot of composers say its the holy grail..
    What is counterpoint???

  2. #2
    Ibreathe Follower Kinoble's Avatar
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    Hey there,

    My very limited knowledge of counterpoint is that its when simultaneous lines of melody are played at the same time. It has a very strict form, where contrary motion should be a main feature - when melodic lines oppose each other in direction and/or pitch.

    This said, i would not know how to write one just yet.

    Ben

  3. #3
    Registered User leppard81's Avatar
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    @Ben : LOL thats the exact answer I´d have given. I wanna buy a book on counterpoint for ages, havent done so yet............
    We get the dreams that we deserve.... - Marillion

    http://www.myspace.com/alexsiedlermusic


  4. #4
    Ibreathe Follower Kinoble's Avatar
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    Haha Alex,

    Well i havnt studied counterpoint at all, its on my rather long 'to-do' list, but its really not a priority for me just yet. If you find a good book, please lemme know about it

    Ben

  5. #5
    Detroit VidKid's Avatar
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    Teaching counterpoint starts out with studying two part (Inventions), to three part and four part creating independent harmonic lines/melodies. Bach Fugues and Two-Part Inventions are good examples of mastery of Counterpoint. There’s a bunch of part-writing rules to follow and difficult to master and is best learned in an advance theory/composition course in a college setting. I studied Counterpoint in Composition/Theory Grad course and have to admit I’ve forgotten most of it, but still recognize it’s importance.


    Fux’s method is the primary textbook used in college.

    Here’s a link that gives an overview of Counterpoint and outlines basic principles. There's also other IBM posts related to Counterpoint.


    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/personnel/Belkin/bk.C/index.html


    VidKid
    Last edited by VidKid; 10-02-2006 at 02:23 AM.
    Yesterday's dissonance is today's consonance, while today's atonal is tomorrow's consonance-Liebman

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Basically, it's all about how a melody relates to an accompanying harmony line, note by note. What happens is a series of "intervals" are formed - some consonant, some dissonant. (This is how the art of harmony began, well before chords were invented.)
    There are different levels - or "species" - of counterpoint, beginning simple - where you have very limited rules as to which intervals are OK - and going on to highly complex.
    As the number of harmony lines expand, the intervals that need to be considered expand exponentially. E.g., at any one point, a 2-line harmony contains just one interval; a 3-line harmony contain 3 intervals; and a 4-line harmony contains six intervals.
    There are also rules about how each line moves, and about what intervals can and can't follow which others.
    To fully understand it requires years of intensive study (which admittedly, I haven't done ).

    Even tho it was fully laid out centuries ago, its rules still apply in any harmonised music, because it's simply a theory (or "grammar") of how notes relate to one another acoustically. Classical composers and jazz arrangers alike study it.
    However, in pop and rock today, we have CHORDS (hooray!), which act like crude, predesigned counterpoint "modules" that we can just slot together under a tune to get the harmony to work, well enough. We no longer have to build our own - we lose out on subtlety and perfection of detail, but we gain in speed of composing/arranging.

    Here's another link:
    http://www.etproductions.com/gsa/pag...nterpoint.html

  7. #7
    Detroit VidKid's Avatar
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    Counterpoint (Counter-melody)

    Just to clarify further, Counterpoint and Harmonized chord progressions are not quite the same animal. In Counterpoint, you begin not with chords but with independent melodic lines. Here the chords are the result of several lines sounding simultaneously and are a byproduct not pre-arranged as in typical part-writing (SATB Bach type chorals). Counterpoint is more difficult in that, all parts/voices have an independent melody, but also at the same time to develop the chordal combinations as fully as possible. A simple example would be children “rounds”, like "Are You Sleeping". One voice starts off with a motive, then continues one with the entrance of another voice repeating the same motif a few bars later. This is called Polyphony, but usually you would have contrasting motive ideas. Fuges and Inventions are constructed in the same matter. In typical choral part-writing, only one melody is occurring which is harmonized with the other voices (SATB)

    Typically, you first study all the choral part-writing rules, like parallel 5ths, doubling, voice leading, contrary motion, leaps, etc. with just one melodic line, usually on the top voice but not always, which you harmonize with the other voices.

    Counterpoint is much more difficult, in that you have maybe 3 independent, contrasting melody lines all occurring at the same time. “First the lines and then, in spite of them, the best possible harmonies”; or as in the teaching of harmony, “First the chords and afterwards, so far as possible, good voice leading.” Many mistakes and misleading explanation in counterpoint and more especially in harmony are due to failure to understand this simple fact. (Knud Jeppesen, Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the 16th Century)

    You hear "counter-melodies" all the time in Marches, Symphonies, Jazz (Metheny type), background strings/violins on older pop tunes etc. I'm sure you can think of more examples and is easily recognizable when you hear it.

    I hope this helps also,
    Vidkid
    Yesterday's dissonance is today's consonance, while today's atonal is tomorrow's consonance-Liebman

  8. #8
    Registered User ashc's Avatar
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    One small thing to add to the above, is one small statement that I read (possibly slightly misquoted) that really put the point across for me, something like:

    "the aim is that each voice (line) should be of equal melodic interest"

    The 2 part inventions is a great place to hear that in action for the first time.

  9. #9
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VidKid
    Just to clarify further, Counterpoint and Harmonized chord progressions are not quite the same animal. In Counterpoint, you begin not with chords but with independent melodic lines. Here the chords are the result of several lines sounding simultaneously and are a byproduct
    Well put!
    Just to underline, I fully agree, even tho my post might not have been clear .

    "Chords" are an unintentional byproduct of counterpoint. But I see chords (crudely, obviously) as a way of harmonising a melody and avoiding all the messy calculations involved in counterpoint. Of course, you also avoid the artistry, the fluidity of counterpoint, and the harmonies can rarely become melodic lines in their own right.
    Quote Originally Posted by VidKid
    “First the lines and then, in spite of them, the best possible harmonies”; or as in the teaching of harmony, “First the chords and afterwards, so far as possible, good voice leading.” Many mistakes and misleading explanation in counterpoint and more especially in harmony are due to failure to understand this simple fact. (Knud Jeppesen, Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the 16th Century)
    Great quote!

  10. #10
    Detroit VidKid's Avatar
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    You nailed the essence of Counterpoint, ashc - equal melodic interest with each voice!!! A really good bass player will sometimes play dynamic counter-melodic lines to the main melody/theme to make things interesting instead of just static 4x4 root/triad/stepwise playing.

    JonR - I was more concerned with yur link, which had more part-writing rules than an explanation of Counterpoint.

    VK
    Last edited by VidKid; 10-04-2006 at 02:51 AM.
    Yesterday's dissonance is today's consonance, while today's atonal is tomorrow's consonance-Liebman

  11. #11
    Ibreathe Follower Kinoble's Avatar
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    Hey Vidkid,

    Without trying to confuse the subject, isnt 'equal melodic interest' subective?


    One person may deem one line more 'interesting' than another, and someone else may take the opposite view, therefore this seems to be quite hard to pull off.

    Do you get me?

    Ben

  12. #12
    Registered User ashc's Avatar
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    Well it's the "goal" of course, so not many composers will achieve it.

    JS Bach's ability to accomplish that with incredible regularity is one of the main reasons he remains so highly regarded.

  13. #13
    Detroit VidKid's Avatar
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    Ben,

    I'm no expert in writing Counterpoint, but you may be right. The top voice will most likely be the standout because we naturally want to hear that first, but a "trained ear" will be able to hear the other voice interaction.

    In actual writing of equal melodic voices, each voice should take the lead restating the melodic theme, which could be some type of melodic development from the original motif, such as sequence, extension, fragmentation, inversion, retrograde etc. Equal melodic treatment of voices need not be a lyrical melodic line, which we like, but how each voice has been equally developed through variations of the original motif. Bach basically composed these works because it was his job to routinely supply secular and sacred works each day/week/holiday for the church.


    As a side note on Bach, I think it was musicologists who ripped apart Bach's chorals and organized his chord progressions into the basic framework of ( iii-vi-ii/IV-V7/viidim > I ), which is taught in college.

    VidKid
    Yesterday's dissonance is today's consonance, while today's atonal is tomorrow's consonance-Liebman

  14. #14
    Registered User ashc's Avatar
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    Not wanting to be picky, but sacred works for church, secular works for pleasure

    Incidentally the division was pretty serious for Mr B, musicologists have found re-use of ideas from secular compositions in his sacred works but never the reverse. (yes, that does assume they got the chronology correct)

  15. #15
    Registered User ashc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FRETPICK
    So what's the difference between Counter point & Pitch Axis?
    There isn't is there?
    They are totally different things. Counterpoint is described in the thread (no point starting again). Pitch Axis is pivoting between modes on a common key note.

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