What is Counterpoint in Music?


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What is Counterpoint in Music?
1x1.trans What is Counterpoint in Music?

Imagine for a moment that somebody told you that they had a melody they wrote and they would like you to write some intertwining parts around that melody. Not only that, there were certain rules that you had to follow in order to do it to their specifications. Sound like a daunting task? Not only do you have to play the melody on the piano, organ, or harpsichord, but you also have to play your intertwining parts at the same time.
Sounds impossible, right? Did we mention that you had to do this on the fly? You didn’t get a few days to write it down. All you got was a few minutes to look it over and then off you go. Nobody could really do this, could they? Actually, in the early days of modern musical notation, the days of greats like Bach, Mozart, early Beethoven, and Haydn, that was what they did. It was customary for keyboard players to take counterpoint lessons as a part of their keyboard lessons and as you progressed you were expected to improvise on a melody using the traditional rules of counterpoint.

What is Counterpoint?

Counterpoint is simply the way two different musical parts or voices intertwine. Unless the counterpoint is very slow, it is not based on harmony as much as it’s based on how the independent lines relate. If you’ve taken piano lessons, play a C major scales and play each note as a whole note. With each note receiving four beats, it’s not the most interesting thing to listen to but try something else. With your left hand, play that same scale but with your right hand, start and end on the same note but play an improvised melody using only half notes. That’s counterpoint. It may be called 2:1 counterpoint or first species.
In the early days of counterpoint, there were all kinds of rules. This first species counterpoint had to start an end on the same note but couldn’t have any unisons in between, no parallel fifths, and parallel thirds had to be minimized.

It gets even more complicated because you could play quarter notes over your whole note scale, you could employ other melodies and if you’re really good, you could combine half notes, quarter notes and many others.

Counterpoint Today

You’re likely not taking classical piano lessons and supplementing that with counterpoint lessons but some musicians use counterpoint nearly every time they play. If you’re a jazz player, you’ve likely learned to improvise over a chord progression or other accompaniment. Although not counterpoint in its true Baroque Period sense, jazz musicians have to learn how to combine rhythm and melody in order to be a soloist in a jazz band. This also happens in rock bands and even some orchestral music.

Finally

The early days of counterpoint had a lot of rules in order to fit with the style of the day but the modern day counterpoint has abandoned many of those rules in order to give musicians a more open framework for composition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterpoint

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