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Topic: Counterpoint rules

  1. #1

    Counterpoint rules

    I have been reading The Study of counterpoint by Johann joesph Fux and came across certain four rules regarding movement.
    1. From one perfect consonance to another perfectone must proceed in contrary and oblique motion.
    2. From a perfect to a imperfect consonance one must proceedin any of the three motions.
    3. From an imperfect to a perfect consonance one must proceed in contrary and oblique motion.
    4. From an imperfect to an imperfect consonance one may proceed inany of the three motions.

    3 motions-Direct, Contrary, Oblique. The last i i do not understand. and i am not so far in the book yet, so are there any more rules?

    perfect consonances are:unison fifth and octave
    imperfect:sixth and thirds
    dissonance are the rest.
    Is this statement true?

    I would appreciate any corrections, additions and comments. Thank you very much.
    Dean Milenkovic

  2. #2

    Re: Counterpoint rules

    The rules of counterpoint are a lot like the Pirates' Code in Pirates of the Caribbean -- they're more like guidelines. Of course, they're useful guidelines, but I prefer not to trust them over my own sense of hearing (which usually follows my own fascimile of the rules of counterpoint in the first place).

    But to answer your question, oblique motion is when one part remains the same while the other moves.

    One rule that isn't directly stated in what you have here is to avoid parallel fifths, octaves, and unisons. You can kind of deduce this from the rule of only using contrary or oblique motion when going from one perfect consonance to another, but that's a useful practical rule to keep in mind. The reason for this is that perfect intervals in parallel motion tend to sound more like one voice than two, thus negating the whole point of counterpoint, which is to have two or more independant voices sounding at once.

    As for more rules to counterpoint, there are plenty of them! But they have to do with more advanced concepts like treatment of dissonance and voice leading. As a beginner, you should get some practice with two-part consonant writing at first, and these rules (along with help from your own sense of hearing) should serve you well for the time being.
    The Ravenclaw Musician
    my_blog, my_t-shirt_shop

  3. #3

    Re: Counterpoint rules

    Here are some notes I took a few years ago while studying Fux. Remember these are just general guidelines and some rules only apply to Fux's time - example: can't use tritone (F/B).

    Counterpoint – Cantus Firmus
    1.) Must start and end on tonic.
    2.) Must generally use stepwise movement.
    3.) Can not use F/B combination in melody.
    4.) Should be singable.

    Counterpoint – First Species
    1.) Start with a perfect interval (1, 5,8)
    2.) Every interval must be consonant (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10)
    3.) No F/B combinations (tritones)
    4.) No F/B combination in the melody either
    5.) Contrary, oblique, and parallel motion allowed (contrary preferred)
    6.) No parallel perfects (1, 5, 8)
    7.) Approach perfect intervals (5, 8) with contrary motion
    8.) On bass clef, try starting octave down from tonic
    9.) Try to avoid repeated notes
    10.) Watch high jumps – should all be singable with mostly stepwise motion
    11.) Try to avoid jumping in parallel motion
    12.) Perfect-perfect is ok if in contrary motion (example going from perfect fifth to octave)
    13.) No similar motion to perfect intervals (5, 8)
    14.) Should sound nice - not just follow the rules of counterpoint (should be singable)
    15.) Most problems occur around F, B, 5, 8 so review these
    16.) Must end on tonic (1)

    Counterpoint – Second Species
    1.) May begin with half rest.
    2.) May use jump of minor 6th or octave if two lines are too close together to use contrary motion.
    3.) Two half notes are set against a hole note
    4.) First half note must be consonant (1,3,5,6,8,10)
    5.) Second half note may be dissonant if moves from preceding note and following note with stepwise motion.
    6.) If second note moves by a skip, it must be consonant.
    7.) The skip of a third cannot prevent a succession of either two fifths or two octaves.
    8.) Next to last measure should have a fifth followed by a major 6th if cantus in bass.
    9.) End on tonic in root position.


  4. #4

    Re: Counterpoint rules

    Thank you very much. I appreciate all comments. As a beginer, i will limit myself to only two voice until i know it as a back of my hand. also, those other guidelines are too far upfront for me, so i will keep them as a future reference.

    Thank you very much.

    Dean Milenkovic

  5. #5

    Re: Counterpoint rules


    There are beginning to be a lot of resources on the web that will make understanding Fux a little easier. I've placed a few below...but search around for university music sites that place their course materials on the web. Great stuff!!!

    Nice intro with a Java app for evaluating 1st Species=>
    (there's also some commercial software available at other locations that will actually grade your work for you).

    A good, concise overview with some midi examples=>

    Russell PDF on species counterpoint (including info on cadences) see "Species Counterpoint Help" under "Course Handouts"=>

    David Smey PDF on First-Species Counterpoint (with some nice tips on line building)=>

    If you get interested in counterpoint from the earlier Medieval times, take a look at=> http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/harmony/13c.html

    There are also many university syllabi published on the web that can help you structure your studies. I recently found a syllabus that stated "a year of study is necessary to master 16th-century counterpoint...", so if you're teaching yourself, give it time!

    Good luck in your studies...this is a fascinating subject!


    Jim Jarnagin - no not THAT Jim Jarnagin, the other one.

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