Species Counterpoint In Short

Counterpoints are bit advance level topic in composition; But since i am feeling to write about it, i will go with it. In this post  i will summaries the rules of species counterpoint and will give short definition of vocabularies used in Species counterpoint. In future supplementary post i will define these vocabularies and counterpoint theory in more elaborate manner. Counterpoint by the definition is the technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules. Due to these limitation of rules, Species counterpoints are also know as “Strict” counterpoints. Species counterpoint is more relevant in classical music forms. In modern counterpoints there less restriction.

Definitions :

1. Related to intervals

Perfect consonances: Unison, perfect fifth, octave.
Imperfect consonances: Any third, any sixth, any tenth.
Dissonances: Second, Perfect fourth, tritone, seventh, ninth, any augmented or diminished interval.

 

2. Related to motions

i) Parallel Motion : Parallel motion is kind of motion, in which both melody line progress in same direction with same interval between them. Like one melody moves one step/semitone up other will also move up with one step.

ii) Similar Motion : Similar motion is same in manner that both melody line progress in same direction but with different intervals between them. It is also known as Direct motion. Like one melody moves half tone up other moves whole tone up.

iii) Contrary Motion : Contrary motion is a kind of motion in which if one melody line progresses up the other will progress down and vice versa. If both the voice move with same interval difference in contrary motion through out the whole composition. It is know as “Strict Contrary Motion”. Like one melody moves one step up other moves one step down.

iv) Oblique Motion : Oblique motion is kind of motion in which first melody line either go up or down the scale while the second line stays at the same pitch. Like one melody moves one step up while the other melody retains its previous pitch.

Rules

Melodic Rules Common to all species :

  1. “The counterpoint must be in the same mode as the cantus firmus.” In other words, avoid accidentals, and strongly establish the mode in the opening bar. Practically speaking, when the cantus firmus is in the upper part, the counterpoint in the first bar must be an octave or unison (not a perfect fifth). When the counterpoint is above the cantus firmus, the opening interval may be a unison, octave, or perfect fifth.
  2. Forbidden skips: augmented fourths (aka tritones), sevenths, any interval greater than an octave, descending sixths whether major or minor, and ascending major sixths.
  3. “Exposed tritones” are forbidden. That is, no run of notes in a single direction should be an augmented 4th from end to end.
  4. Leaps of an ascending minor sixth or octave, or a descending octave must be “recovered.” That is, such a leap must be followed immediately by a step back into the range covered by the leap. (Fux often “recovers” using a skip of a third back into the leap.)
  5. Avoid repeated notes. (Though Fux makes many exceptions in Species One, repeated notes are rare in the other species.)
  6. Avoid multiple skips in the same direction. (This is a guideline—Fux contradicts this advice all the time. See, e.g., page 46, in the 2nd species phrygian example, he skips 4th, 5th, and 4th in the same direction: c-f-c’-f’.)

    Species Rules :

 i) First Species

First species counterpoint consists of a whole note set against each note of the cantus firmus; dissonances are forbidden.

  1. Never enter a perfect consonance (an octave, unison, or fifth) by means of direct motion.
  2. “Contrary and oblique motion should be employed as often as possible.”
  3. “More imperfect than perfect consonances should be employed” (lest the result be lacking in harmony).
  4. Closing formulas. “In the next to the last bar there must be a major sixth if the cantus firmus is in the lower part; and a minor third, if it is in the upper part.”

 ii) Second Species

Second species counterpoint consists of two half-notes set against each whole note in the cantus firmus.

1. The first half-note in each bar must be consonant with the cantus firmus.
2. The second half-note in a bar may be dissonant, but only if it is approached and left by a step.
3. Fifths or octaves on the downbeat of successive measures are only permitted if the intervening note leaps by an interval larger than a third.
4. Closing formula: above the cantus firmus is 5, 6, 8. Below is 5, 3m.

iii) Third Species

Third species counterpoint consists of four quarter-notes set against each whole note in the cantus firmus.

  1. The first note of each bar must be consonant with the cantus firmus.
  2. The second, third, or fourth notes may be dissonant only if they are step-wise passing notes between two consonant notes.
  3. The counterpoint may also use the cambiata formula: above the cantus firmus, this is 8, 7, 5, 6. Below, 3, 4, 6, 5.
  4. Closing formulas. A counterpoint above the cantus firmus may close two ways: either with a cambiata formula, 8, 7, 5, 6, 8; or with a scale run, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8. A counterpoint below the cantus firmus must close as 3m, 5, 4, 3m, 1.

iv)  Fourth Species

Fourth species counterpoint, also called ligature, consists of two half-notes set against each whole note in the cantus firmus. The second half-note in each bar is tied to the first half-note in the following bar.

  1. The second half-note in each bar must be consonant.
  2. The half-note on the downbeat, carried over from the previous bar, may be dissonant. It must be resolved by stepwise movement downward.
  3. Dissonant ligatures resolving to an octave or a unison in successive bars are forbidden. However successive resolutions to a perfect fifth are permitted.
  4. In some situations, no ligature is possible. In these cases, the half-notes may be separated, as in the second species. Return to ligature as soon as possible.
  5. Closing formulas. A counterpoint above the cantus firmus must close 7 (tied to the previous bar), 6, 8. A counterpoint below the cantus firmus must close 2 (tied to the previous bar), 3m, 1.

v) Fifth Species

Fifth species counterpoint, also called florid, consists of the combination of the first four species.

  1. In florid counterpoint, there are three substitutions that can be made on the second beat of a suspended (or dissonant) ligature. 1) The second beat may be replaced by two eighth notes, a second and a third below the dissonance, resolving to a single step below the original dissonance. 2) The second beat may be replaced by a consonant quarter note a fifth lower than the dissonance, followed by the resolution on the third beat, a step below the original dissonance. 3) The second beat may be replaced by a quarter note a step below the dissonance, which resolution is then repeated on the third beat of the bar.
  2. “Two eighths may occasionally be used… on the second and fourth beats of the measure—but never on the first and third.”
  3. “Not as a rule but by way of advice: since the melodic line seems to lag if two quarters occur at the beginning of the measure without a ligature following immediately, it will be better—if one wants to write two quarters at the beginning of the measure—to connect them by a ligature with the notes following, or else to make it easier for these two quarters to go on by using some additional quarters.”

      4. The required closing formulas for species five are the same as species four. A counterpoint above the cantus firmus must close 7 (tied to the previous bar), 6, 8. A counterpoint below the cantus firmus must close 2 (tied to the previous bar), 3m, 1.