<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
A basic introduction to the element of music called counterpoint, with some useful terms.

Introduction

Counterpoint is an important element of music, but it is not one of the basic elements. Many pieces of music have rhythm , melody , harmony , color , and texture , but no real counterpoint. In fact, when describing the texture of a piece of music, two of the most important questions that need to be addressed are: is there counterpoint, and how important is it?

When there is more than one independent melodic line happening at the same time in a piece of music, we say that the music is contrapuntal . The independent melodic lines are called counterpoint . The music that is made up of counterpoint can also be called polyphony , or one can say that the music is polyphonic or speak of the polyphonic texture of the music. Traditionally, vocal music is more likely to be described as polyphony and instrumental music is more likely to be described as counterpoint . But all of these terms refer to two or more independent, simultaneous melodies. "Simultaneous" means the melodies are happening at the same time. "Independent" means that at any given moment what is happening in one melody (both in the rhythms and in the pitches ) is probably not the same thing that is happening in the other melody.

First, some examples of music that is not counterpoint. Obviously, there is no counterpoint if there is no melody at all. If there is one melodic line accompanied only by rhythm, or drones, or only by chords, there is no counterpoint.

Even if different people are singing or playing different parts, it is not necessarily considered counterpoint if the parts are not independent enough, or if one of the parts is very clearly a dominating melody. Many traditional choral pieces are a good example of this. There are four very different singing parts (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), and each part, sung alone, can seem like its own melody, a melody that does not sound at all like the melody of the piece. But the parts have basically the same rhythms, so that the effect, when sung together, is of chords being sung. "Barbershop"-style music is another good example of this homophonic , or chordal, kind of texture, which is not considered counterpoint.

Now for some familiar examples of counterpoint. One of the simplest and most familiar types of counterpoint is the round. In a round , everyone sings the same melody, but they start singing it at different times. Although everyone is singing exactly the same tune, at any particular time different people will be singing different parts of it, so the final effect is of independent parts. You may also have heard some Bach fugues or inventions; there are no better examples of counterpoint than these. Another example that may be familiar is the soloist in a pop or gospel song who, after the refrain has been repeated a few times, takes off on a countermelody or descant part while everyone else continues to sing the refrain. The melody instruments in a dixieland band are also generally playing independent parts, giving this genre its "busy" sound. In fact, when music sounds very "busy" or "complex" or when there is so much going on that it gets difficult to decide where the melody is or what part to sing along with, it is likely that you are hearing counterpoint.

Although there is plenty of music that has no counterpoint, independent parts are one of the most basic ways to make music sound rich and interesting. Even if a piece of music cannot really be called "counterpoint" or "polyphony", because it clearly has one melody, the accompaniment lines may still be quite contrapuntal. Even music that most people would describe as homophonic or chordal , because all the lines have exactly the same rhythm, is often written following the voice-leading rules of counterpoint. This gives the music a much richer, more interesting texture . Next time you are listening to your favorite song or your favorite piece of music, don't hum along with the melody. Instead, listen to the bass line. Listen to the harmonies , the inner voices and the instrumental accompaniment parts. Chances are that you will hear some interesting lines, even little pieces of melody, that are completely different from the part you normally hear.

Some useful terms

  • Canon - In a canon, different voices (or instruments) sing (or play) the same melody, with no changes, but at different times. The melody is usually sung at the same pitch or an octave higher or lower, but there are also canons in which the second part sings or plays the melody a perfect fourth or fifth higher or lower than the first part.
  • Round - In a canon, obviously every section of the canon must "fit" with the section that comes after it. (In other words, they must sound good when sung or played at the same time). A round is a special type of canon in which the last section also fits with the first section, so that the canon can be repeated over and over without stopping. Rounds are usually pretty short and always start at the same note, or the octave.
  • Fugue - A fugue usually has at least three independent parts, or voices . The different voices enter at different times on the same melodic theme (called the subject ), so that the beginning may sound like a canon. But then the different voices develop the theme in different directions. A second melodic theme (called the countersubject ) is usually introduced, and the middle of the fugue gets quite intricate, with the subject and countersubject popping in and out of various voices, sometimes in surprising ways (upside-down, for example).
  • Countermelody or descant - Sometimes a piece of music that is basically melody-with-accompaniment (homophonic) will include a single part that is truly independent of the melody. For example, a choral piece might be chordal for a few verses and then, to keep the music interesting and fresh, add an independent part for a flute or for the highest sopranos on the third verse. This is a countermelody, sometimes called a descant part. Gospel and pop singers often add countermelodies, sometimes imrovised, and classical music also contains many, many examples of countermelodies.

Questions & Answers

what are cluster A disease?
Saee Reply
because psychology is a natural science as well as a science. it's a interdisciplinary subject
Kamakshi Reply
yes absolutely we cabt out Psychology completely into science dur to its various measuring aspects
utkarsh
cannot* put*
utkarsh
Assess the relationship between heredity and environment in human development
Newman Reply
जिवन कक्षा विकासाच्या एकूण किती अवस्था आहेत
Digambar Reply
what happened Digambar?
sakshi
?
Reina
Is here anybody exactly awared about the medicine used for the schizophrenia?
Fazil
plz can i know if io psychology in demand ou it's better to continu in human resourses management?
Reina
there are many drugs used to alleviate the symptoms, but none are used for curing the disorder itself.
Rupert
Researchers believe that one important function of sleep is to facilitate learning and memory. How does knowing this help you in your college studies? What changes could you make to your study and sleep habits to maximize your mastery of the material covered in class?
whitecat Reply
Well, for starters, both are entirely different aspect for consideration. As a college student, having an adequate amount of sleep is relatively rare especially on instances where we are totally forced to stay all night (whether for studying or doing academic works).
Rupert
benefits of physcology
Irfan Reply
who define first physcology
Irfan
who define first physcology
Irfan
I think it was either Henry James Or William James are the father of psychology.
James
I haven't read the flash cards and memorized them sense 2015.
James
so iv forgotten some info and some has never left me . I'm very passionate about psychology.
James
I study medical psychology
John
the history of psychology usually traces back to ancient chinese practices. but modern times acknowledge Wilhelm Wundt as the first person to establish a school.of thought in psychology.
Rupert
huh
ANGELICA
is it wrong?
Rupert
please can i know what is the difference about io psychology and human resources managment and which is more in demand ?
Reina Reply
What is psychology
Tayyeba Reply
someone who can observe or understand a person's reactions.
Leanne
It is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes
Enos
Sarah is a 30 year old white female. Her occupation is part time chef. She is recently been divorced and has custody of her three children. She has extreme changes in her mood that began to appear in her 20’s but she never went to see a doctor about them. When family tries to talk to her about her u
Ere Reply
listen very carefully for red flags on both sides
Leanne
what does historical racism mean
Unasumming Reply
Means that racism was present in a group of peoples race in there past and maybe even now. Example is the Native Americans and African Americans also Asian people. Anyone of not caucasian resent. So people who are mixed races also experience rascism.
James
racism meaning I would believe is a negative impact on other separate cultures, causing some serious concerns to the human race.
Leanne
How do counsel someone that is kinda depressed, lonely and stuffs but the person is pushing you away with by saying stuffs you don't like? Your age mate
Ajayi Reply
let them figure themselves out met them come to you and listen more than speak
Jascelyn
don't take anything too personal someone who is depressed has more feelings other than being sad. I have been through it we dont alwaya mean the things we say. just give time and space but be there when they are ready.
Deanna
the person should be first dealt with very patience and understanding.......... person's trust should be won first to treat that kind of state if counsel is the priority..... don't rush small steps will lead to get successful results....... after the patient start trusting you conversate with them.
Amisha
OK..... Thank you very much It makes me look desperate for the person's attention Thanks tho
Ajayi
just let them know even if they aren't ready to tall right now, you will be here for them whenever they are.
Deanna
we need to wait till the stage comes when he/ she is ready at mental level to participate as he is the subject and the core of the part of that particular conscelling session
aaqib
A.Are they saying it in general manner or B.they are saying it cz they know something about you personally If it is A. then remember it's a part of counseling...even if you don't agree with their views..it is theirs.. so don't take it personally
PREETI
if it is B. tell them .. we are here to talk about them not you Also remember people takes time with things.. so it does get difficult at times.. but in counseling it's about them not you. And if it affecting you much .. see why is there .. and try to objective about it OR refer them to someone
PREETI
allow them time to always become comfortable by listening to all sorts of thoughts they all sound scattered but if you ,just let it go until their ready to ask for advice ,my thoughts of counciling would go for a few more sessions of them venting until they've had enough to feel they want geedback
Leanne
what is the trait in the given example?
Maya Reply
what's the given example?
SamieMike
my fat cock
Andrea
o.o u seem like u need to read this txt
SamieMike
learning to understand psychological effects of one's mind thoughts
Leanne
mental state and behavior
Mufakir Reply
Feared ,lethargic, self isolated...
Leanne
because psychology basic is observation asa well as science, so people might skeptical about these two but if we look into it people might notice that it's different because psychology is study about mind and science is study about many thing around us and it's not study about mind clearly.
Karona Reply
empirical method is the method of observation on object rather than do experiment .
Karona
ology is the study of theory .
Karona
psyche means soul as well as butterfly.
Karona
psychology is the the study of mind and behavior
Karona
this is where I'm a little sceptical. we learning psychology based on books. but we ourselves r also human. when we to encounter a real life situation how well can we act accordingly
Aileen
im curious more of myself then others
Aileen
psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. scientific mean it's based on observation and experiments. yeah we can observe behavior easily but can't read mind directly that's why we do observe behavior and apply test and therapies to study mind basically we behave according to our mind
Faiza
educates a humans thoughts to expand and explore more of how far a mind will go if allowed
Leanne
wilhelm wundt studied psychology for the purpose of
Rufai Reply
i dont know, all inknow is that he pioneered the practice of introspective and his school of thought aims to study behavior as structured elements
Rupert
Got questions? Join the online conversation and get instant answers!
Jobilize.com Reply

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play Download on the App Store Now




Source:  OpenStax, The basic elements of music. OpenStax CNX. May 24, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10218/1.8
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'The basic elements of music' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask