#1
Well, I said I'd do a thread on this, so.... I wish there was some way I could just jack a plug into my brain and siphon all of this out. There's a lot of thought s I have on the subject, and I'm not really sure where to start.

Here's what I'm thinking I'll do: When I have time, I'll add to the thread as I can, and in between additions I'll run it as a Q&A session if you guys want to grill me on it. That way it'll be kind of like a periodic column, combined with discussion. Expect this thread to become graphics heavy.

First lets get some of the basics out of the way. You can't really talk about counterpoint in tab. If you can't read music, go learn. I mean, I could, but it would be tedious as all hell, so I'm not even going to try. I may, however, use any of powertab, finale, or a scanner to provide examples.

Second, I have a feeling that I'm going to have to mix discussion of species counterpoint and functional counterpoint. What's the difference?

Species counterpoint is an educational tool, there are five (six) "species" and they break down pretty straight forward. In order, you have note against note, then two notes against the note, then four; fourth species deals with syncopation, fifth species is the combination of the previous species. (The sixth is "free counterpoint").

Functional counterpoint is what you care about though, which is actually applying what you know to writing music. In some ways this is pretty much the culmination of music theory... this is where you learn to actually apply what you know about music. If you were to view theory as the "what", this is the "how". It should be pretty obvious this isn't going to be a quick or easy topic to go over.

For those of you who don't have a clue what anybody is talking about when they say "counterpoint" we need to figure out what it is first. Strictly speaking, counterpoint is the relationship between notes over time. That is to say, music has two components, a vertical part (the harmony), and a linear part (time). Counterpoint is the interaction of all of the parts that make the harmony, over the course of time.

It's worth noting that at no point here have I said anything about melody. When you think of 'melody', what you're actually thinking about is the counterpoint of the most prominent line (I'll talk about lines and voices in a bit). All contrapuntal activity is melodic. Harmony is simply the points where all of the melodic activity reaches stasis -- melody is a part of the harmony. Melodic action is simply the contour of a single musical line.

I just wanted to start this off with some general thoughts on counterpoint, and get things rolling. I'm already working on the next post, and I'll have it up in a bit.
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#2
nice. Already cleared a lot up!
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#3
So species counterpoint is unimportant?

This is pretty much remodelling my views on music. I've always thought the melody completely separate from the harmony. I'm used to seeing music like a fake book, melody over the top with a chord progression underneath.

I guess this would make more sense if I was a choir boy or something, right?

Please continue...
#4
Okay, species counterpoint... I want to get this out of the way, because I don't really want to talk about it that much.

I already went over the various species, so we'll skip that. Usually when learning counterpoint what you'll do is go through all five species in 2 voices, then do it in 3 voices, then in 4. Each step along the way, rules get added in one by one until you know how to manage N voices properly. Four part counterpoint is actually fairly complex, when you're working it in all four voices.

It's done this way so that each stage along the way you can learn how the counterpoint actually sounds and functions, which is not a simple process. The most important part about writing counterpoint is the more you do it, the better you get at it. So, when learning, you want to do it as much as possible.

Each species exercise is built around a "cantus", which is a line that you can't change. You work each cantus so that you write against it in every part (that is, if you're working in 2 voices, you write against it once in the bass, and then once as the upper voice).

Species counterpoint is very much about both writing counterpoint, and hearing it. So you want to play, or sing, each of the lessons you work. You learn, both by making mistakes, and having rules introduced, what does and doesn't sound acceptable to you as a composer. Things such as how to treat the interval of an octave (the two voices seperate by step in contrary or oblique motion... anything else sounds oddly harsh); which you don't generally notice before you're well exposed to it, but becomes glaring once you're listening to it.

Generally speaking, the more voices you're working with, the more lax the rules get, it's incredibly difficult to write for say 8 different parts, and not introduce parallel intervals at some point. You start to notice this after four voices, which is why that's as far as we go with it.

Where species counterpoint fails is when you no longer have someone holding your hand (even if it's yourself), and there's no longer a cantus present. Suddenly, you're responsible for realizing a harmonic sequence that makes sense, and does what you want. This is not so easy when you're starting from nothing. This type of counterpoint also fails to teach you to understand how counterpoint functions against itself... that is, again, it doesn't teach you the harmonic implications of the counterpoint previous to it, and other than the immediate change in a voice, why what happened previously matters.

It also doesn't teach you how rhythm affects a texture. In all species, the rhythm is fixed; generally the cantus is in whole notes, and you're merely writing in a predetermined rhythm above it depending on the particular species. Species counterpoint also forbids the use of motives, which simplifies both the learning and writing processes, by freeing you from the constraints that motives introduce to structure.

Thus there are a lot of drawbacks to species counterpoint, but it's really the only way to learn the subject in it's own right; separate from counterpoint as a subject of composition. That is to say, everything I've listed here is an enumeration of the faults of species counterpoint, and none of its benefits.
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#5
very nice, i've been wanting to learn more about counterpoint but i've never been able to find a good explanation
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#6
No questions so far. Keep it comin'
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Quote by MudMartin
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#7
Quote by corwinoid
You work each cantus so that you write against it in every part (that is, if you're working in 2 voices, you write against it once in the bass, and then once as the upper voice).
When you say writing voices against other voices, what does that mean?
Does that just mean those two voices would be in harmony with each other? if so, what would be going through your mind when writing this?

Could you post some sheet music (or guitar pro tab) to a simple 2 or 3 voice counterpoint exercise?
#8
Not necessarily in harmony, all I mean is that, say you have a cantus, and you're writing 2-part counterpoint. You'd write once in a section above it, and once in a section below it... I'll edit this in with some music in an hour or so.

Actually I won't, it'll happen tomorrow. I feel like crap tonight, sorry.
Quote by les_kris
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Last edited by Corwinoid at Jun 2, 2008,
#9
counter point and four moving voices is an extensive study...a good reference would be "the shaping forces in music" by earnest toch...a bit dry but excellent info...

the study of js bach four part harmonies is very useful

howard roberts has a good primer in "chord melody playing" gives basic examples and rules to understand the principles for guitar...not for beginners..extream chord construction and sight reading of chord notation is a must..shows the dynamics of moving voices within chords while keeping the melody fluid.

wolf
#10
I'd really like to attempt to write some counterpoint pieces, so I'll be watching this thread like a hawk. All the power to you man!
#11
so i need to be able to read sheet music? i have a basic understanding but im really slow at it, i can still do it right ?

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#12
^ it will help alot. i'm pretty slow at reading sheet music too, but if you can just look at it and say to yourself "F-A-D-C" and pick out the notes and their lengths you should be ok. when i learned it initially thats all i did. it will help cement it in though if you can practice the examples on an instrument.
#13
Quote by Corwinoid
Not necessarily in harmony, all I mean is that, say you have a cantus, and you're writing 2-part counterpoint. You'd write once in a section above it, and once in a section below it... I'll edit this in with some music in an hour or so.

Actually I won't, it'll happen tomorrow. I feel like crap tonight, sorry.
So the sections are playing at the same time? How do you do this without sounding weird? Just alot of hard work using harmonic intervals?
#14
Just to throw in my two cents on species counterpoint: I hate it. I personally think anymore it is a worthless educational tool. I wrote a really long note to the head of my university's music department explaining why I see it as a now defunct methodology. Anymore if you want to learn counterpoint you're probably really gonna learn it by doing 4-Part writing. But if you're really really interested in learning it, check out the book "Counterpoint in Composition" by Salzer and Schacter (http://www.amazon.com/Counterpoint-Composition-Felix-Salzer/dp/023107039X).

I just wanted to put my two cents in on this one. If I get time alone with my scanner, I can scan in a TON of my music theory homework from last semester, since it was pretty much all 4-Part writing stuff, slowly introducing new rules.
#15
^ 4 part writing is kind of like pre-counterpoint. It's not actually counterpoint.

Sorry I haven't been around, I've been really sick, will do more stuff soon(tm).
Quote by les_kris
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#16
^
Please, do that. If I can learn it all correctly (don't expect this, though), I could record it.

But here's a question that I have about counterpoint. Traditionally, is it played on the same instrument, or is it written more for an orchestral setting, or bits of both? Would you consider a guitar harmony of some form to be counterpoint?
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#17
Quote by Corwinoid
^ 4 part writing is kind of like pre-counterpoint. It's not actually counterpoint.

Sorry I haven't been around, I've been really sick, will do more stuff soon(tm).


Well I meant as in that you can pick up a lot of the basic rules of counterpoint through chorale composition.

And in my theory classes, my professors have always referred to the relationship between the soprano and bass parts as 'counterpoint.' We may just be dealing in semantics right now.

^
Please, do that. If I can learn it all correctly (don't expect this, though), I could record it.

But here's a question that I have about counterpoint. Traditionally, is it played on the same instrument, or is it written more for an orchestral setting, or bits of both? Would you consider a guitar harmony of some form to be counterpoint?


In my opinion, and remember, none of us here are music theory PhD's ((even though I wanna go to grad school for theory)), counterpoint is any two parts, be they on the same instrument or different, that are going in concert (that is, intentionally at the same point in time.......that's actually a really hard term to define in this context...).

So I've written pieces for string quartets and used the theories and maxims of counterpoint as tools in my composition.
Last edited by Guitar_Theory at Jun 4, 2008,
#18
Quote by Guitar_Theory
Well I meant as in that you can pick up a lot of the basic rules of counterpoint through chorale composition.

And in my theory classes, my professors have always referred to the relationship between the soprano and bass parts as 'counterpoint.' We may just be dealing in semantics right now.

(other quote here)

In my opinion, and remember, none of us here are music theory PhD's ((even though I wanna go to grad school for theory)), counterpoint is any two parts, be they on the same instrument or different, that are going in concert (that is, intentionally at the same point in time.......that's actually a really hard term to define in this context...).

So I've written pieces for string quartets and used the theories and maxims of counterpoint as tools in my composition.
I do have a terminal degree in music, actually... but that's irrelevant. What your professors are referring to as counterpoint between the bass and soprano is the semantics of it, because there is counterpoint there. But the four-part minimal-movement choral style writing that you use when learning theory isn't functional counterpoint across all four voices.

I'm not sure how to relate that better... what you do when you're doing part writing is worrying about how the voices act together at the pillar moments, rather than considering how they move against each other. Contrapuntally, the harmony doesn't matter, it's the motion that's important. There are a lot of things counterpoint explains, compositionally, that part writing simply doesn't allow.

"Counterpoint is any two parts, be they on the same instrument or different, that are going in concert. . ." this is one of the biggest misconceptions I want to clarify with this thread. Functional counterpoint doesn't have to be between two voices, a single line can, and very often does, play counterpoint against itself; this is -especially- true for guitar.

When I settle things down and can go into more details, I'll definitely be providing examples of all of this. I need to get caught up on some other stuff that slacked while I've been sick though first; sorry guys, it might be a day or two.
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#21
^ Species counterpoint is extremely limited, but that is the point. Everything, to better facilitate the learning process, must be completely controlled. If anyone here is seriously interested in learning counterpoint, then I suggest you go buy yourself a translation of Gradus Ad Parnassum as soon as possible. (For the English speakers here, I find the Alfred Mann translation desirable) It is by no means complete, but as an introduction it is fantastic, and deserves to be read and studied for historical reasons at the very least.
#22
^ I endorse this post completely -- but note that all of the things I mentioned about species counterpoint apply specifically to Fux. There are other texts also, Modern Tonal Counterpoint (iirc) is pretty highly recommended, for instance. One of the biggest issues with the Fux book is that it's based on renaissance modality, which is very distinct from modern modality -- so if you study it (and you should), be prepared to re-learn some things also.
Quote by les_kris
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#23
very good thread, I've never really looked at counterpoint this way, I've always just sort of done it.
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#24
Quote by Erc
^ Species counterpoint is extremely limited, but that is the point. Everything, to better facilitate the learning process, must be completely controlled. If anyone here is seriously interested in learning counterpoint, then I suggest you go buy yourself a translation of Gradus Ad Parnassum as soon as possible. (For the English speakers here, I find the Alfred Mann translation desirable) It is by no means complete, but as an introduction it is fantastic, and deserves to be read and studied for historical reasons at the very least.


Yeah, but species counterpoint should only be used for learning then right?
If lets say you mastered species counterpoint, you shouldn't apply it to compositions for example?
#25
Quote by Guitar_Theory
Yeah man, I think we're just on semantics

Also, glad to see someone else here has an almost unhealthy love of this type of stuff.


next year I return to school for this kinda stuff.. its been 2 years since I last touched counterpoint though, which is why I'm reading this thread rather than posting in it. I could try to add, but i'm too fearful I've lost memory of somethings...
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#26
Quote by Guitar_Theory
Yeah man, I think we're just on semantics

Also, glad to see someone else here has an almost unhealthy love of this type of stuff.


I do too. You'd be surprised how many UGers are closet theory nerds.
#27
Yeah, but species counterpoint should only be used for learning then right?


Yes.

If lets say you mastered species counterpoint, you shouldn't apply it to compositions for example?


If there was nothing to apply, then it would be useless. Species counterpoint lays down a series of rules for writing "pure" counterpoint. These rules are set in place so that the student may write counterpoint and maintain the independence of the line, which must exist, or there is no counterpoint. After the student has say, graduated, and begins serious composition he is no longer bound (if you could have ever said he was) to the rules introduced in species counterpoint but this does not mean he forgets the rules, as they remain quite useful, especially if you want to compose in that idiom.


But no, you do not compose in species as if it was a sort or classical form such as a sonata or symphony, or even as a compositional method like a fugue. It is uniquely pedagogical.
#28
ummmm............sticky?


please?
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#29
Quote by Freepower
I do too. You'd be surprised how many UGers are closet theory nerds.


I think guitarists get knocked around too much due to undue assumption.

Many Universities still won't allow us to be Music Education majors, I had to hunt all over the place for a decent one that did and had a good music program. Most schools think we're all drug addicts or something.
#30
Quote by Guitar_Theory
I think guitarists get knocked around too much due to undue assumption.

Many Universities still won't allow us to be Music Education majors, I had to hunt all over the place for a decent one that did and had a good music program. Most schools think we're all drug addicts or something.


Well, most guitarists are retards as far as "classical" music goes. Seriously, look at the pit or something, most people can't play in a key, let alone read music. Even most serious rock/metal guitarists aren't all that great...
#31
hmmm, so it would be useful to know the rules you keep talking about?
#32
Quote by erc
Well, most guitarists are retards as far as "classical" music goes. Seriously, look at the pit or something, most people can't play in a key, let alone read music. Even most serious rock/metal guitarists aren't all that great...
Whats the ratio of guitarists who improvise and can write music to other musicians that improvise and can write music?

And to anyone asking whether counterpoint is usefull. Read corwinoid post's. Functional counterpoint is usefull in writing any style of music. Species counterpoint is just for educational purposes.

Also, what do you MT'ers think about this book: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/16342