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MU 182: Theory II

R. Vigil


Compiled with reference to:
Fux, The Study of Counterpoint, trans. and ed. Alfred Mann (Norton, 1971);
Arnold Schoenberg, Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint (Faber & Faber, 1963).

Two-part counterpoint creates intervals; three-part counterpoint creates chords of either three
different notes (called complete triads), two notes plus one doubling (called incomplete), or
one note, tripled (called ultimate, because it is only suitable to begin or end an exercise).
In four-part counterpoint all chords must be complete.
In first-species counterpoint all chords must be consonant.

Consonant Chords varying degrees of stability

Stability is registered in terms of the intervals above the bass. Therefore, as will be seen below,
the presence of a perfect fourth, augmented fourth, or diminished fifth between the upper voices
is acceptable when both voices form consonant intervals with the bottom voice.
Very stable consonant chords may be used anywhere throughout the counterpoint, including
the first and last measures. These could be considered analogous to perfect intervals in two-part
Root-position Major Triad;
Root-position Minor Triad.
Less stable consonant chords not stable enough to begin or end an exercise, but freely usable
throughout the body of the counterpoint. May be considered analogous to imperfect intervals in
two-part counterpoint:
First-inversion Major Triad (between the upper voices, a perfect fourth becomes a
consonant interval);
First-inversion Minor Triad (between the upper voices, a perfect fourth becomes a
consonant interval).

Even less stable, but still considered consonant, and freely usable throughout the body of the
First inversion diminished triad (between upper voices, the augmented fourth or
diminished fifth is acceptable).
NB: this is the only situation in which the diminished fifth or augmented fourth
may be employed.

Dissonant Chords impermissible at all times:
Root position diminished triad;
Augmented triad, in any inversion (does not properly belong to the diatonic system);
Six-four chords (2nd inversion), where the dissonant 4th is formed with the bass;
Any chord containing a dissonant interval (other than the special cases noted above).
Melodic considerations:
Never leap by an interval larger than a sixth;
Never leap by a dissonant interval;
NB: the 2nd and perfect 4th are not melodic dissonances;
After the leap of a fifth or sixth change direction (preferably by step).
The leading tone can never be doubled (proper treatment of the leading-tone tendency to resolve
to tonic would create parallel octaves).
Parallel and antiparallel 5ths, 8ves, and unisons between any two voices must be strictly avoided.
NB: the prohibition on parallels concerns how an interval is entered therefore, the
motion from a diminished 5th to a perfect 5th is prohibited, but the motion from a perfect
5th to a diminished 5th (between upper voices) is acceptable.
Cross Relation (in minor) between an altered 6th or 7th scale degree in one voice, and the
unaltered version in a different voice in the preceding measure is prohibited.

Hidden 5ths and 8ves

Hidden 5ths and 8ves are always acceptable between inner-voices, and between an inner voice
and an outer voice.
Hidden 5ths and 8ves between outer voices are acceptable if the soprano moves by step.

Each voice should be kept within a comfortable singing range.
The distance between the soprano and alto should not exceed a sixth in order to accommodate
a good melodic line, it is acceptable to stretch to an octave once per exercise.
The tenor may group closer to the alto and soprano (and hence be quite distant from the bass), or
may group closer to the bass (and hence be quite distant from the alto)

Tendency of Voices
The following attributes generally hold to the different voices:
Soprano will move primarily by step; may be the most melodic;
Alto and Tenor will move primarily (even exclusively) by step, be repetitive, and keep
to a very restricted range (perhaps not larger than a 4th);
Bass may contain more leaps than the upper voices.

Beginning and Ending

The first and last measures create the only opportunities to employ an incomplete chord (this is
the sole exception to the rule stipulating a complete chord in every measure).
The following considerations govern both the first and last measure:
The tonic must be in the bass;
To this may be added: a 3rd (or 10th, 17th, etc.); a 5th (or 12th, etc.); an 8ve (or 15th, etc.);
The best option is a complete triad with the tonic doubled dont double the 3rd or 5th;
The incomplete alternative involves a tripled root (the tonic), plus the 3rd or 5th.
Ending (cadence)
The penultimate measure must contain a complete consonant chord:
This will either be a first-inversion diminished triad (if the cantus firmus is in the bass):
Or a root-position major triad built on scale degree 5.
The motion into the last measure should contain a clear two-voice cadence (6-8, or 3-1) between
two of the voices;
The remaining voices: complete the chord in the penultimate chord;
Upper voices proceed by step; the lower voice if not involved in the two-voice cadence leaps
from scale degree 5 to the tonic.