Counterpoint Explained: Contrapuntal Motion

A quick lesson explaining the four types of contrapuntal motion along with examples for each.

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Ultimate Guitar
19
There are four types of contrapuntal motion: Parallel, Similar, Contrary, and Oblique. Parallel. Parallel motion is when 2 parts move the same interval in the same direction simultaneously. So when one part moves up 1 step, the other must also. This is based more on intervals than note names. It will almost ALWAYS go out of key. This can be done in any interval you want to. I used 6ths in this example.
Example:
   Original Line:
e|--------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-8-10-10/12-8-------------------------------------------------|
G|---------------7/9-7~--/7-7-5-4--5-4-------9-9-7\5-7----------|
D|-------------------------------------5~--------------7~-----7-|
A|----------------------------------------------------------7---|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------|

e|---------------------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|-9-9/10--9--7/9--7h8p7-----|
A|-----------------------10~-|
E|---------------------------|

   Harmonized using Parallel 6ths:
e|-12-14-14/16-12--------------------------------------------------|
B|-8--10-10/12-8---12/14-12~-/12-12-10-9--10-9------14-14-12\10-12-|
G|------------------7/9--7~--/7--7--5--4--5--4-9~----9-9---7\5--7--|
D|---------------------------------------------5~------------------|
A|-----------------------------------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------------------|
G|-11~----11-13--13/14-13-11/13-11h12p11------|
D|-7~--11--7--9---9/10--9--7/9---7h-8p7---14~-|
A|------7---------------------------------10~-|
E|--------------------------------------------|
Similar. Similar motion is when 2 parts move in the same direction simultaneously while compensating for the key. This is quite a bit more complicated than parallel motion. In order to harmonize using similar motion, you must first determine the key of the original part. The example's key is the key of C. Now, figure out the scale degrees of each note for that particular key.
..Note: C D E F G A B C
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
Pick an interval you wish to harmonize in. Most common are 3rds and 6ths. I'll use 3rds as an example. Find the note of the interval above the key. For the example this would be E, since E is the 3rd of C. Now determine the mode that suits that note - in our case this would be E Phrygian. Line up both keys along with degrees as shown:
...C major: C D E F G A B C
...Degrees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
E Phrygian: E F G A B C D E
Now you know that whenever a C occurs in the original part, you must harmonize it with an E. D harmonizes with F, E with G, etc. Note that the interval between D and F is a MINOR third, not a major one. This will bring out the characteristics of your harmonization and key. Notice that all the notes are in the key of C (except for the A# and harmonized C#, which is used as a passing tone in this case. )!
Example:
   Original Line:
e|--------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-8-10-10/12-8-------------------------------------------------|
G|---------------7/9-7~--/7-7-5-4--5-4-------9-9-7\5-7----------|
D|-------------------------------------5~--------------7~-----7-|
A|----------------------------------------------------------7---|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------|

e|---------------------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|-9-9/10--9--7/9--7h8p7-----|
A|-----------------------10~-|
E|---------------------------|


   Harmonized using Similar 3rds:
e|-7-8---8/10-7-------------------------------------------------|
B|-8-10-10/12-8--6/8-6~--/6-6-5-3--5-3-------8-8-6\5-6----------|
G|---------------7/9-7~--/7-7-5-4--5-4-4~----9-9-7\5-7-5------5-|
D|-------------------------------------5~--------------7~---5-7-|
A|----------------------------------------------------------7---|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------|

e|---------------------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|-7-7/9---7--5/7--5h6p5-----|
D|-9-9/10--9--7/9--7h8p7--9~-|
A|-----------------------10~-|
E|---------------------------|
Contrary. Contrary motion is when 2 parts move any distance in opposite directions.
Example:
e|--------------|
B|--------------|
G|--------------|
D|-3--5--7-9-10-|
A|-12-10-8-7-5--|
E|--------------|
Oblique. Oblique motion is when one part moves and one remains constant.
Example:
e|-------5-7-8-|
B|-5-6-8-------|
G|-------------|
D|-------------|
A|-3-3-3-3-3-3-|
E|-------------|
Well, that's it for now. If you have any questions feel free to post them or PM me.

49 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    beatallica_fan
    the lesson is perfectly clear, if you dont understand it then you need to go back and revise the basics of music theory and intervals.
    SilentDeftone
    Thanks Simon. I suppose I should have put that you must know your basics before reading this lesson. I'm not familiar with any of those bands to the point of writing a lesson on their specific styles, sorry.
    goog7
    good lesson should of talked about how parallel 5ths and octaves are THE DEVIL if you are writing 4 part voice harmony straight out of the books...i think it will also apply for this too but here on ug books r for fags so lets break the rules!
    SethMegadefan
    Wow, I've been meaning to learn more about this stuff for quite some time. Glad I stumbled upon this little lesson! 10/10, man, this is great stuff.
    LightningboltX
    Isn't the contrary example, Example: e|-----| B|-----| G|-----| D|-3--5--7-9-10 -| A|-12-10-8-7-5--| E|-----| Supossed to be: Example: e|-----| B|-----| G|-----| D|-3--5--7-8-10-| A| -12-10-8-7-5--| E|-----| I think it should be 8 instead of 9. Great lesson by the way.
    eddie/randy_101
    wow! thanx for the crash course in counter-point! this will help me a lot in my solos, rhythms, and gettin ahead in music theory at school! it was pretty kick-ass!
    PabloTaco
    i guess it was a good lesson (from the comments ive read), but it just made me realize how much i need to learn...
    Nightfyre
    Oh thank god, i was having trouble with counterpoint in my harmonies, thank you so much for this lesson. i see i was getting it sometimes, but now i can do it right and know how to write it out.
    ambarnag
    nice lesson! useful for understanding guitar harmonies (eg: iron maiden twin-guitar, brian may guitar overdubs etc.) but more useful for voice harmonies (eg: "more than words" by extreme has 2 voices and utilizes similar, oblique and contrary motion in different places).
    seedmole
    Great lesson. It helps to have names to put to all these different types of harmonization. And yeah, these different styles are all really common if you look into madrigal-type choral arrangements. I guess it was a good thing I was in a choir since 6th grade.
    mnic001
    Forgive my newbishness, but can you detail how you chose E Phrygian? I can't seem to wrap my head around it. I understand why you chose E (duh, it's a third away from C), but why Phrygian?
    mnic001
    And as a corellary, what other (common) modes could you substitute for E Phrygian in your example?
    Arpeggio X
    I beleive the first example to be the first solo in Dream Theater's "Surrounded".
    Kurai X
    Arpeggio X wrote: I beleive the first example to be the first solo in Dream Theater's "Surrounded".
    hah so funny, I have Dream Theater's complete discography, yet I've never heard it yet (only octavarium). I read this yesterday, and played the little solo he tabbed for fun. I've decided just now to listen to Dream's dicography, I was listening to the second album and all of a sudden "woah! I recognize that melody!" xDD
    666BPM
    Thanks for the article I've found the subject of counterpoint interesting ever since i learned the tune Bouree in E minor by J.S.Bach and this has made it a lot easier to understand. I am however a little confused about the Contrary counterpoint; does the distance (in interval)from one note to the next in the melody and counter melody have to be the same or can it vary?
    rae_5000i
    WHAT?? Better eleborate, man before i say "this sucks!".
    flameguitarcody
    if you need elaboration then you're probably diving in too deep it's pretty simple concepts you just need some understanding of theory.
    jamstation
    ok.. so now we know wht these harmonies are called.. why dont u extend this to distinguish between harmonies.. say for example the Alice in Chains style, or the Pink Floyd harmonies in comfortably numb, or sum 41's vocals, or CSNY or Extreme... i like where u've started.. now take this somewhere!
    farcry
    you should mention the levels of dissonance too. how the octave and fifths are the most consonant and 2nds and fourths and etc... are the most dissonant.
    SilentDeftone
    No need to be an ass about it. I learned it from Doug as similar, so that's what I put in this lesson. Also I've seen it as similar on multiple other sites.
    Andrewbiles
    Personally I think that's a good lesson. I didn't have a clue there were different names for different harmonising techniques, to be completely honest, I didn't even realise there were practiced techniques, I just assumed that people went on what they liked the sound of most of the time. The one I'd normally use would be the Parallel one, just seems less effort most of the time, and still sounds good, although a few notes sometimes get changed here and there. The Oblique one seems pretty pointless really to me, just like a lead line over a very basic rhythm, I don't know if I'd classify that so much as a harmony, but I guess in a way it is, just not what I'd immediately think of. Anyway, good lesson
    SilentDeftone
    Oblique motion is used quite often in church music (based on the church music I look at on Sundays), not for a long amount of time but just short passages, maybe a measure or so. Thanks
    Moroten
    When you use parallel 6th's, isn't it wrong when you harmonize the g string with the b string? If im not mistaken you harmonized with b6 there
    Rockfall
    good lesson i thought, i aggree with andrew though, i wouldnt necessarily have called oblique a harmonic but i can understand why it is
    acidbass
    Great lesson...it really makes the basic principles of harmony a lot clearer in my mind. Thanks
    jof1029
    very good lesson. good refrence for anyone trying to harmonize. i can never remember the names of those last 2, meh i guess know how to use them is more important.
    kdo
    bingo....i think u2 have found what they have been looking for...good work sunshine
    shadows666
    Finally!! someone who knows what they're doing!!! Thank you for this awesom article!!! Peace out homies hahahahahahahahahahah