I studied theory and harmony. I will be learning counterpoint this fall. I heard that there are a lot of benefits when it comes to composition if I study counterpoint. I heard the greatest composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart all used counterpoint in their compositions. Bill Evans wanted to understand counterpoint. Not even aware or even trying, Lennon and McCartney has some elements of counterpoint in their songs.
I want to be a good melody writer, I'm kind of hoping that by understanding counterpoint, my melodies will evolve to something better. Right now I'm just imitating licks that I transcribed off recordings. I understand the chord tone and non- chord tone concept, but I feel that there is more to learn beyond that.
Is counterpoint a powerful tool in composition or is it just a pointless theoretical exercise that you are required to take at school?
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04-28-2015, 02:27 PM #1
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What are the benefits of learning Counterpoint?
04-28-2015 02:27 PM # ADS
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04-28-2015, 02:58 PM #2
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It's absolutely a powerful composition tool. I'm not an expert in it, but I did study it a little in school. It's basically about studying and thinking about how voices interact with each other. It's not really specifically about writing good melodies. Although, good use of counterpoint can make a bland basic melody sound much better, so it is certainly a way to improve your melodies. So it's great for developing really your understanding of harmony and voice leading, and just using more than one voice in an intelligent way. While I'm not an expert at applying it, I've played enough solo guitar pieces (70+) that use counterpoint to varying degrees, to know that skillful use of it can be the difference between a good piece and an amazing piece.
A good general rule of thumb is any music technique or theory that has been used effectively, past or present, is worth learning if you are serious about being the best musician you can be. There is no such thing, imo, of a 'useless' bit of theory or technique. Especially when it has been used and proven to be effective, from hundreds of years ago up until today. It's only a persons lack of creativity that makes something 'useless', because they are too ignorant, close minded, or lazy to know how to make use of it. Learn everything!
Last edited by Guitarzen; 04-28-2015 at 03:01 PM.
07-17-2015, 12:08 PM #3
which it is the difference between counterpoint and walking bass?
I thought it was the same but with different names.
Experts speak xD!
07-17-2015, 12:42 PM #4Jason Combs
07-17-2015, 03:50 PM #5
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I had one semester of counterpoint in college (I was not a music student, but took a lot of music courses), and loved it. I found it fun and interesting in and of itself, and have found it to have a lot of practical application in my music.
07-19-2015, 06:43 PM #6
If it interests you, then go for it.
Species counterpoint is the traditional way to learn this.
07-19-2015, 08:55 PM #7
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but studying counterpoint will in fact help your melodies. I play some solo guitar; I will play basslines with my index and middle finger, then ring and pinky plays the melody (or a similar combination of fingers). I will play, for example, a basic melody, then try different triad's (I like playing 1 3 and 7 a lot) on the bass strings and what happens is the melody has a completely different feel depending on what the bass is doing.
So I think understanding counterpoint will help you realize what note combinations will feel like. Since I have never studied counterpoint, I probably have just scratched the surface, but encourage you to focus on it.
Last edited by eh6794; 07-19-2015 at 10:32 PM.
07-20-2015, 05:55 AM #8
The term 'counterpoint' has a few meanings...
1) it means a polyphonic compositional system that dominated in late renessaince and early (in some cases high) baroque period... it's not just theoretical system - it's the way of thinking, the way of understanding music and it reflects how people understood life and world.. the traces of counterpoint thinking in compositions go much further beyond this period...
But counterpoint as method became a part of European musical education and is still now... mostly so called 'old style' (or strict couterpoint) is taught through compositional style of late rennaissance Flamish school. And so called 'free couterpoint' through Bach and some contemporaries
So in this case it means a huge subject and usually it is meant when they say 'learn counter point' approx. = 'learn classical polyphonic compositional rules'
It is about 'counterpoint music'
Do you need it or not? I don't know... from my pov it will not spoil you anyway.. but to understand it truely you will have to go much more into early music, to feel its liveing spirit.. its language... otherwise it will stay just as aset of theoretical rules and excercises.
2) term 'counterpoint' is often used also for any secondary rythmic, melodious or even sonoric figure, motive, phrase (even very short) when it shows out from teh texture to be enough self-sufficient in comparison to leading voice... it is not necessarily related to classical counterpoint... here it's just the idea that some secondary musical element become alsmost as important as a leading element... (I would not call it a voice even in strict sence)
Usually speaking of 'non-counterpoint music'in general
It could be said: He improvized kind of brief counterpoint for the soloist...
So in this case it is more how you feel hear and understand these realtions than just a definition...
Last edited by Jonah; 07-20-2015 at 05:57 AM.
07-20-2015, 11:52 AM #9
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- Jun 2014
I learned the nuts and bolts of music through counterpuntal music, specifically Bach.
Start with the inventions and work your way through a fugue or two. You won't regret it.
07-21-2015, 11:20 AM #10
I learned the rules of counterpoint with the book "Gradus Ad Parnassum" by johann joseph Fux and completed with internet informations.
My comping has clearly improved after that.
Particulary in a quartet setting, because you need to play the harmony and a kind of second voice.
for chord melody, playing two voices can be fun, but I'm not at this level.
06-27-2016, 08:00 AM #11
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Bach.....in my mind the master.....never boring....I did manage to memorize his air in G....or a version of it.....you don't even realize your doing counterpoint...... it was so well intergraded into the tune.....
06-27-2016, 11:29 AM #12
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before Rameau wrote his Treatise of Harmony in 1722, there was no concept of chords like we understand them today. Everything was a consequence of the voice leading according to the rules of counterpoint of the day. I say it that way because the 16th century style of Palestrina is considered equivalent to the style of Bach. Both styles have their proponents.
If you want to play gigs at the Ramada Inn then no, you don't need to know anything about counterpoint.
but if you were passing yourself off as an educated musician, and I heard you say something like that I would be busting your chops until my throat was sore, the thought that counterpoint is just a pointless theoretical exercise is that ridiculous.
06-27-2016, 11:51 AM #13
06-27-2016, 12:29 PM #14
It's really interesting finding out a little more about how they composed music back then (C18th) using partimenti as a learning tool (i.e. unfinished pieces that needed to be filled in by the student.)
A lot of the counterpoint was 'baked in' to melodic/bass modules that could be expanded and elaborated without risk of breaking the rules (except for some stylistic exceptions like horn fifths etc.)
Explains how Mozart and Haydn etc were able to write so fast. (Though perhaps not JS :-) Although not everything JS wrote was full on fugue of course)
Mozart spent a year (IRC) shedding fugue shortly before writing the 41st Symphony. Verdi (who learned the same tradition) seems similar to me - Falstaff and the Requiem are really counterpointy. But in their case it was something that sat on top of their existing knowledge.
I wonder how Bach learned - was it all species counterpoint?
So it's interesting - you can learn the rules, no consecutives, etc etc - but you don't have to use them all the time if you have some 'licks' that work to avoid them most of the time. Obvious things like the rule of the octave where you only have 5/3 chords on the I and V degree, and so on, allowing you to harmonise basses moving stepwise without worrying about bad voice leading. Skilled partimento realisation features imitative counterpoint, but the students knowledge of the licks means they can work fast and fluently, rather than having to worry about every note like when I write counterpoint.
Here's an example of what a skilled modern student can do:
MTO 18.3: Byros, Review of Sanguinetti
Makes it all a bit less mysterious to me, because it's the kind of stuff we use as jazz musicians - ii V I's, turnarounds etc.
Last edited by christianm77; 06-27-2016 at 12:35 PM.
06-27-2016, 01:37 PM #15
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Actually, I've been doing something similar, but earlier, Palestrina style 16th century counterpoint. Our music director at the parish (I'm Catholic, remember) started our choir working with the old Gregorian hymns. They predate meter, so there' no time sigs, no bar lines, none of that
then the counterpoint style is different because you have to begin and end all phrases with a perfect consonance (a 4th is considered a dissonance) and then in between just about anything goes except parallel 5th and octaves. I'm simplifying the rules for the sake of this just being a forum post and not a technical manual, but the resulting music is subtly different from what we are used to hearing
I've also been plowing through a lot of lute music from that period to get a sense of the idiom.
anyway, my charge is to set some of these "Catholic classics" for classical guitar in 16th century polyphonic style for use at Mass
I'll be playing "Adoro Te Devote" at all the Sunday Masses on July 24th, so that's the first time I'll be doing one of these
but I'm getting to where I can improvise on the spot 2 voice stuff in this style, which is a big step
another thing that is a big part of the 16th century style is imitation, and imitation at an interval. A lot of these old Gregorian melodies lend themselves to one voice starting late in imitation, almost like fuge subjects.
I've not read the book you refereced on The Galant style, but I have read CPE Bach's book on the TRue art of Keyboard playing and I have a copy of Couperin's Treatise of Ornamentation, which were 2 period classics from that era
the thing that always strikes me about JS Bach's work is that the last 30 years he was writing absolutely NOBODY else wrote music that way. We would think that given the way we revere his work that everybody would be copying his style, but that was not even close to reality
06-27-2016, 07:47 PM #16
BTW - if you get a chance to play a Renaissance Lute, go for it. It's not too tough to adapt well enough to get started... Although if you are doing it 'properly' the right hand is quite different.
Myself, I want to get my hands on a Baroque guitar...
The book's heavy going, so I recommend a listen to this podcast to get you started. Interesting stuff even if you don't end up reading it...
BTW not sure if you know, but the heavy choral tradition (Oxbridge etc) in England is pretty much a high church Anglican thing... But the Catholic church (I went to a Catholic school) tends to be more modern worship music - at least where I was, which is a shame IMO.
But the high church Anglican thing is very much about being more Catholic than the Catholics. Sung mass, Palestrina, lots of incense, Gothic cathedrals, the works...
Low church on the other hand is protestant...
Not sure if you have the same with the Episcopal church in the US? Somehow the whole thing seems very English. Class system in religion.
Henry VIII's legacy still felt today. Apparently he's also the reason no one takes English folk music seriously, in comparison to Scotland and Ireland.
Last edited by christianm77; 06-27-2016 at 08:13 PM.
06-27-2016, 11:54 PM #17
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- Twin Cities
What do you call two guitarists sight reading the same part?
Counterpoint.Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke
06-28-2016, 02:34 AM #18
Having taken classical guitar for a semester in college about three centuries ago, I have not otherwise studied counterpoint formally; but what I learnt in there, and what I heard growing up in a househould where Mom was a classical keyboardist in love with Bach, has certainly given me some grasp of it.
As a songwriter and arranger, it certainly helps me in those crafts. For me, the key benefit is that from my admittedly limited knowledge-base, I am better able to integrate melody and harmony -- I can use counterpoint to imply chords in a finger-picking piece, or play a melodic line in a solo against a bassline to get the same effect when recording a song in the context of three/four-piece-rock-band, and maintain a more interesting sense of motion to the song.
I'm not nearly so skilled that I can use it in my jazz playing, limited as that is; but the concepts are in place, and my fingers will have to get more fluent, because in my mind's ear they are just as important to jazz as classical and rock.
06-28-2016, 05:01 AM #19Myself, I want to get my hands on a Baroque guitar..
Baroque lute is real beast... you should really dedicate time to ti to get t on the level...
but jazz is my preference and takes all the time...
To me baroque guitar is very different from lutes...
It requires lots of strumming techniques to be involved...
and counterpoint rules are very often neglected just due to sonority or limited possibilities of the instrument...
Besides strumming with chords was quite common - so-called alfabeto song-books where there are just chord symbols
At teh same time there are very intricate counterpoint pieces for Baroque guitar like Francisco Guerau's Poema Harmonica.
I recommend complete Xavier Diaz-Lattore record...
06-28-2016, 05:37 AM #20
With the lute, I've been playing on and off for a year and now it's 'now what?' It's not like there are any grade in it sadly. As with anything if I wanted to get good, I'd need to dedicate time and effort... What would help is if I had a group to play with....
Baroque Lute frightens me.
The recording is fantastic. I love the sound of the BG...
06-28-2016, 06:23 AM #21
That was my idea too... with baroque guitar you can quickly get to playing very good and decent music... without that much effort (though of course for playing Guerrau you should practice much more)...
My idea was also to join groups or singers to play continuo quickly ...
But I had to sit down with various strumming patterns - some original, and some I bofrrowed from flamenco...
I would recomend Framcois LeCocq's Chaconne and Francesco Corbetta's Chaconne... they are quite simple but very impressive... awith all strumming things.
With baroque lute it's kind of mess.. though I got to the point where I could play Weiss suite but agein yu have to support and develope it all the time... I picked it up couple of days before just to tune it up and play some chords... but I could not play all these pieces back again.
I do nto want to sell it anyway - I had pretty good one at decent price... they are too expensive and not so easy to find
Besides I noticed I feel pains in hands or back from changing instruments with different scales, technique, shape and all...
I love classical music - listen a lot, explore, playe scores and all... but to be true... I never doing it I never feel teh same creative excitement that I have when I go for jazz...