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Topic: Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition

  1. #1

    Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition

    I want to write more complex pieces and improve my harmony and voice leading, most people say the same thing when I ask this. They complain about the american way of studying harmony which places too much emphasis on the vertical (I'm from england but go to an american conservatory) and they say I should focus more on the horizontal and counterpoint. Now I've studied counterpoint as far as 2 part species and invention / fugue writing. I'm aware that I should incorporate counterpoint in my works and have done so, but I don't understand how learning harmony a different way would change my compositional process. I guess what I'm asking is:

    1) How do they teach harmony outside of the united states, if not harmonizing chorales etc.

    2) Am I supposed to come up with a melody then harmonize it one contrapuntal line at a time?

    3) Isn't there such a thing as too much counterpoint?

    4) I've taken 1 semester of counterpoint, 1 of invention writing and 1 of fugue writing and (not to show off) I excelled in all, which has me wondering is there something i've missed? is it meant to be so straight forward and grasped so quickly?

    5) We don't learn 3 and 4 voice counterpoint aside from fugue writing which is an art on to itself, is there a book you can suggest for this, I've read the fux, well like half of it, but I really honestly hate the sound modal countepoint, I do like my V-I and as I'll be writing mainly tonal point I would like to deal with that.

    6) With the study of counterpoint, when applying it to real life, are we to assume that our composed melody is the cantus firmus to which we are writing to?

    7) Which Tonal harmony books would you recommend? I've read: The complete musician by steven laitz, the kostka/payne, aldwell and schacters, and am considering the contemporary harmony book by ludmila ulhela being a massive fan of rachmaninoff's harmony (I know you'll all say to go read his scores, but I found that score reading made more sense when I pinpointed what it was I liked and knew what to look for)

    Here is a string quartet I wrote, please take a look and offer suggestions on writing etc, there are definitely influences of jazz though:


  2. #2

    Re: Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition


    You ask a lot of questions, but maybe I can answer a few from my perspective.

    Regarding counterpoint: Too much of anything can diminish its useful purpose; so, that should answer that question.
    If you have studied enough counterpoint to be able to compose in "free style," then you are on your way to incorporating your creativity in orchestral/ensemble compositions; and, if you are interested in fugal writing, I would look at Alfred Mann's book, "The Study of Fugue" or Kent Kennan's study of "Counterpoint."

    As far as harmony goes, there are a lot of good texts that give a standard foundation in that art. Many educational institutions use harmony/theory texts written by Roger Sessions, George Wedge, Walter Piston and others. They are all good texts that give you "rules" to follow in order that your individual parts/musical lines include material that will enhance your overall composition. What notes to double/not double, spacing intervals between parts, creating and using modulatory passages, etc. Some texts even go into construction of small forms: Period, double period, song forms, etc.

    I studied theory with Ludmila Uhlehla at the Manhattan School of Music. Her text, "Contemporary Harmony" is worth perusing if you are interested in studying Romanticism through the Twelve-Tone Row. As you may know, Dr. Uhlehla passed away a few years ago. She was such a wonderful teacher and a super lady.

    My reply doesn't answer all of your questions, but you will probably hear from a host of serious musicians regarding your quest about using counterpoint in your compositions. I try, where appropriate, to use counterpoint in most of my compositions where additional motivic emphasis is needed.

    Welcome to the Garritan Forum. You will like it here I'm sure.



    P.S. Your string quartet was very well written and it's professional performance was awesome. Nice jazz influences.....

    Jack Cannon--Toshiba laptop, 2.8 GHz CPU, 1.5 GB RAM, GPO4-JABB3-Auth. STEINWAY-Gofriller CELLO-Stradivari VIOLIN-COMB2-WORLD, FINALE 2009/11, RME Digiface, Cardbus, V-Stack---Mac Pro 2.66 GHz CPU, 8 GB RAM, DP 8, MOTU Traveler, MOTU Micro Express.--MacBook Pro 2.2 Ghz CPU, 8 GB RAM.

  3. #3

    Re: Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition

    Hello, Dante "Runnerbean"-- Welcome to the Garritan Forum!

    I'm a mostly self taught "I write what sounds good to me" type, so really have nothing to contribute in response to your academic questions.

    BUT, my wife and I just now played "Recollections" twice and wanted you to know how much we really like it. Wonderful melodies, equally wonderfully arranged - and lucky you to have that great quartet perform it!

    Thanks for the music and your post - I'm hoping the smarter guys will chime in and go through your list of questions, like Jack already has done so ably.


  4. #4

    Re: Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition

    As I am a long-time composer, your music is pleasureful to my ears, young chap.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Larry G. Alexander

  5. #5

    Re: Using Sophisticated Harmony & Counterpoint in Composition

    Hi Runnerbean91

    I may be able to help you, particularly if you are a Sibelius user. I have been teaching harmony, counterpoint, composition and orchestration for years over the internet, using Sibelius scores as attachments. But it might work with other scores.

    Email me at td@quorndon.com

    Terry Dwyer (I am a Garritan professor, username poolman.)

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