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Old 05-06-2016, 11:56 AM   #1
esa.lackstrom
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So, have i got this right about counterpoint?

It's pretty much found everywhere where's two overlapping, independent melodies?

It doesn't have to be played with the same instruments, guitar and keyboard can form a counterpoint? Bass and keyboard etc?
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Old 05-06-2016, 12:32 PM   #2
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Instruments do not have to be the same.
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Old 05-06-2016, 03:35 PM   #3
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The above is correct. Although I would add that counterpoint cannot exist if melodies are 'independent'. While I believe you have the right idea, wording it like that will cause some confusion, or worse, make people get technical, like I am now.

In any case, to put it plainly, for counterpoint to be able to exist all melodies ARE dependent on one another. Because if the relation between the two is incorrect, there is no (or faulty) counterpoint. Counterpoint implies a set of rules that dictate relations between notes, roughly put it rules intervals and what direction a melody is allowed to move in regards to the other melodies, so neither is ever independent.

Any such melody can of course be independent and stand on its own, but given that such a judgment is a very subjective idea, it's not something one ought base a theory on. I can go on about it for a bit more, as it is a very interesting subject. So if you'd like to know more let me know and I'll dig up my books.
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Old 05-06-2016, 04:05 PM   #4
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Would like to know more yes, if you want to share the info. I tried googling, but information seems so scattered, so some kind of "dumbed down" explanation would be great. Once i got the basics down, i can start looking into it better on my own.

I know intervals, and basics of harmony,
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Old 05-06-2016, 05:39 PM   #5
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Any time two things play at the same time and those two things aren't playing in unison you have some type of counterpoint.
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Old 05-06-2016, 08:59 PM   #6
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Warning: Long Post Ahead.

Alright then, let's see how concise I can make this. Mind you, this is all based on what I was taught at conservatory, which was a while ago now, and it came up in various classes over a span of several years. So it is a lot, and not without reason a subject quite nearly inexhaustive, worthy of years of study. Which is why we'll be perfectly fine rummaging through it in a mere three posts. The material used in all of these classes was good however, so I shall try and see if I can wring out the gist of it.

For starters, I am writing this under the assumption that you have a basic understanding of intervals and know the names of the notes on a guitar. If not, don't worry, because while I keep writing down disclaimers like these, I never seem to actually follow up and not elaborate where I think it might be necessary. And asking more is no harm either of course, don't be shy in doing so, because theory of this level can remain quite abstract if it is merely frets on a neck.

The history of it all I'll largely ignore, simply because wikipedia can do better in that department (edit: They can't, I checked. Perhaps I shall be bothered to write some of it down after all.), and while I've always found history mighty interesting, my mind is unfortunately not the kind to actually memorize any of it. I do sounds, colours, and stupid details. That's it. Right then, here goes...

To first understand the function counterpoint has in music one needs to know their intervals and their modes (the concept of major and minor hadn't come into play yet after all), an interval being the distance between two separate notes. They may be in chords, but as a rule; one note is a note, two notes is an interval. More is what we call a chord. The modes are just that, a set of intervals at which the 7 notes we use be played. No more. Don't think of them in their context of chords or scales. Chords themselves had hardly a place in classical music at this time, and you'll certainly not find compositions based on this concept at the point in history we'll be starting. (Disclaimer ((again)), that doesn't mean you won't be able of 'finding' chords in the music if you try. It simply wasn't the point of the music, nor the method of creating it.)

The second part we ought know is where counterpoint came from. When approached from a classical point of view, the most logical place to start is with Dufay, shortly followed by Des Prez, and then Palestrina. More particularly, where he and other composers of his time used to start with their works. The cantus firmus.

The cantus firmus is essentially an already existing melody, generally borrowed from the gregorian chant (though plainchant became a common source of material as well), music from before the renaissance period and written (if at all) in what I seem to remember was called 'neumenschrift', I'm afraid I don't know the english translation for the word. Compositions were based around one such melody.

It is however not mandatory that you borrow a particular melody, it's just an easy starting point. But depending on the value of the notes and musical period, the same rules of counterpoint also apply to writing a cantus firmus on a greater or lesser degree.

So, to get down to the nitty-gritty of it then. Or as I like to call it, professioneel mierenneuken (you can look that up while you ponder the above).

Your cantus firmus can have 8 to 13 notes, whole notes, and the last note (and often also the first) is the 'root' (more commonly known as the finalis). That's it. Boring? Quite so indeed, but this is the starting point, and the more detailed it gets, the more terrifyingly difficult it becomes, and despite this deceptively simple beginning it is quite easy to write oneself into a corner. Consider it sudoku's for musicians, except that you're starting without any numbers in the grid.
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Old 05-06-2016, 09:00 PM   #7
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Try writing a melody of twelve notes in any mode of your choosing (please, ignore Locrian, this theoretical abomination has an extra set of rules all its own), in whole notes, in an 'arch-like' form. So it starts at the root, goes up to its highest point (generally no further than the 5th or 8th depending on whether we're composing in an 'only-above the finalis' form which is called 'authentic' or a 'above and under the finalis' form which is called 'plagal'), and then descends again to the 'root', or finalis. The preference here is to move in seconds, so half and whole tone-steps, or 1 and 2 frets, and no note can be used twice in a succession. See how it starts getting narrowed down? That gets worse. A lot.

< is for an ascending step, > is for a descending step

Please remember that these are NOT all the rules, simply the small general idea.

A melody is allowed to take greater steps than a second (a < c), but only if such a step is followed by a second in the opposite direction (a < c > b). It is also possible to rebound with a third (a < c > a), but that also then needs to be followed by another second in again the opposite direction (a < c > a < b). Steps may also not be greater than a 5th (a > e), or large 6th when moving up (a < f# > e, this worked because the 6th feels as were it an elaboration of the actual 5th which mandatorily followed it through that descending second), or an octave (a < A). Nor can similar intervals follow one another (a < c > b < d), or is it allowed to repeat a certain melody (redictae). We also have one saving grace per cantus firmus, where you're allowed to let a note ring. One. And only once.

If steps in the same direction follow one another, such as a second and a thirds (a < c < d), it is mandatory that when moving up the larger step of the two comes first, followed by the smaller one. And when moving down this is the other way around. Should there be such a situation where one goes against this rule (a < b < d), that last note must be followed by a descending second (a < b < d > c).

As a last note, try to avoid ascending or descending steps that (from their highest to lowest point) span a tri-tonus, the augmented 4th/diminished 5th (b < d < f).

A few examples...

d < a > g > e < f > e > d > c < e > d

Right. Starting and ending at the root and moving in archs, bending back down after the first large step (5th), no sequens in the two descending melodies, and properly set in steps with the right amount of notes.

d < e < f < g > d > a < c < d < e > d

Wrong. The jump in red is not treated properly, the a should be followed up by a second, not a third. So a b would be appropriate.

Now, as we've written a proper cantus firmus, it is time to write its counterpoint. It is done through the simple method of writing another melody. With the same rules as the above. Except that the intervals between the notes for each set can be a prime (no difference, the same note), a 5th, a minor or major 3rd, and a major or minor 6th. Exceptions being the first and last note, where the 3rds were not yet commonly accepted, being limited to a prime, a 5th or an octave.

So like this. The CP is an octave below the CF.

Cantus Firmus: d > c < d < e < f < g < a > g > e < f > e > d
Intervals-----8---6--6--6--6--3--3--3--8--3--3---8
Counter Point: d < e < f < g < a > e < f > e - (e)> d > c# < d


This is where what is commonly associated with counterpoint comes into play as well, the voices moving in opposite directions, which isn't actually always the case. But as you can see, that is simply the tip of the iceberg. There are more rules to follow that apply here, but given that it's already a very long post I'll save that for another time and simply finish up with the following.
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Old 05-06-2016, 09:01 PM   #8
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What you should first and foremost take into account, is that these 'rules' are not set. They are dependent on the time and style of music you are writing. Intervals that were considered dissonances during the early decades of the renaissance period (1400-1600), major and minor thirds for example (this applies to the finalis, where the counterpoint was allowed to be either a prime, a 4th when playing the root in the higher voice than the counterpoint ((A + > e)), or a 5th when the root is in the lower voice ((a + < D)), were perfectly accepted a few hundred years later, during the baroque period (1600 - 1750), and you can hear that development in the various compositions of the renaissance period throughout the years. (These years are very rough estimates by the way, and depending on what artform you approach them in they may vary. Certain movements in the separate melodies also varied from one musical period to the next.)

And as complicated as it all may seem, it is actually all very much based on a very simple principle. Can it be sung?

That was the primary rule. It is why most melodies moved in steps, because else it'd be too difficult for the casual church-attendant, who hadn't exactly time to practice. Hear it, sing it. That is the rule here. And if you were to study other western music, be it classical or even jazz, you'd see something else.

All these rules are used in many melodies and licks you already know, you just don't realize it. They're prevalent in an incredible amount of our musical library, because they apply a simple principle of auditive satisfaction. Does it sound good? Then it's good. It's why the cantus firmus borrowed from gregorian chant were already working according to these rules despite the fact they hadn't yet been written, and this is also why the rules changed and evolved over time. It is why the counterpoint used by Bach is not the same as that used by Dufay.

And that is something one must always remember. The ears preceded the rules. If you were to look at classical music, you'd see that all of these rules are no more than natural when it comes to the elaborations one would play in a melody in baroque music, it's very normal to move in small steps and counter large steps with opposite direction, because not doing so makes the music completely lose focus. If you don't believe me still, look below.

----------5----------
------5-------8-----
/7-------------------
------------------------
------------------------
------------------------

Just analyse this blues-lick and you'll see it nearly fits perfectly. The beginning melody ascends with a second (the d < e) followed by a fourth (e < a), which would appear to ignore the rule where ascending melodies are required to make their larger step before the small step (so d < f < a instead of d < e < a), were it not that it is countered afterwards by at last a descending second (a > g).

Quote:
If steps in the same direction follow one another, such as a second and a thirds (a < c < d), it is mandatory that when moving up the larger step of the two comes first, followed by the smaller one. And when moving down this is the other way around. Should there be such a situation where one goes against this rule (a < b < d), that last note must be followed by a descending second (a < b < d > c).


Or this particularly common jazz-lick.

-8---4---7---5-----
--------------------
-------------------
---------------------
---------------------
---------------------

The descending melody first takes a large step (the c > g#), then where it should take an ascending second (g# < a), ascends a third instead (g# < b), which must be followed by a descending second (b > a). Lo and behold, it does, ending perfectly on the finalis (root).

So, I hope it was useful. Well done if you made it all through that, and if there is anything else, do let me know. I'll be happy to help.

Good luck
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Old 05-07-2016, 08:19 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esa.lackstrom
It's pretty much found everywhere where's two overlapping, independent melodies?

It doesn't have to be played with the same instruments, guitar and keyboard can form a counterpoint? Bass and keyboard etc?

Yes.

There is nothing wrong with the word "independent". Many of the "rules" of counterpoint are to achieve independence between the melodies.

Try this site:
http://www.listeningarts.com/music/...pecies/menu.htm

or this book:
http://www.opus28.co.uk/Fux_Gradus.pdf

Practicing counterpoint exercises is very useful for learning to compose music. They are just exercises though. Guys like Beethoven and Haydn studied counterpoint. But they would not hesitate to break the rules when writing music. Contemporary music is also not concerned with the rules of traditional counterpoint and is often written instinctively.

Nevertheless the understanding of how melodies achieve harmony together while maintaining independence is a worthwhile topic of study if you want to write music.

Also I didn't read all the posts above. But I was pretty sure that leaps of a third were not required to be recovered.
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Old 05-09-2016, 04:00 AM   #10
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FretboardToAsh, thanks for your posts. I've never properly studied counterpoint as you're describing. Interesting. I can see how the "rules" make it possible to sing this, and naturally form a kind of "zig-zag" framework for the melody. I've studied melody, and clearly the material I had took concepts from counterpoint.
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Old 05-09-2016, 10:20 AM   #11
esa.lackstrom
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That's a lot of information! Thank you, mate, for putting it up! If questions arise, i'll post them on this thread.
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