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Counterpoint with homophonic textures?

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Hello everyone


I would like to learn about applying counterpoint to large ensemble work. One technique in particular is counterpoint with homophonic textures. For example; a melody that is a group of three notes moving in parallel (so it's all one unified movement) with another melody that is also comprised of three notes moving in unison, and then applying 2-part counterpoint techniques treating both sections as single melodies.


Do you know of a book or webpage that helps give insight on this technique?


Thanks for your time

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That you want your melodies to be played with instruments in unison is a matter of orchestration, not counterpoint per se. It seems that you have a good idea of the overall shape of the gestures (two independent melodic movements) that you want to accomplish. Suggest you just write what you're hearing in your mind's ear and not be too concerned about taking an academic approach.


Not sure that gives you the answer you want, but I feel that a composer is almost always best off writing from a point of emotion rather than sheer technique. Sure, use the concept/cliche of "counterpoint" to give the piece a certain texture or feel, but when it comes to extrapolating notes for purposes of development, suggest taking a musical rather than an academic approach. Hope that makes sense.

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Thanks for your reply


Yeah I completely agree with what your saying, it's best to compose using your own instincts and intuition rather than approaching every single note with what is right/wrong concerning music theory and writing your music with 1's and 0's making sure all the numbers add up. I have a lot of personal frustration however when I achieve a nice sound using my minds ear, purely through trail and error, and then having no idea why it works or how I got to that point. I end up writing things that I don't understand, which yeah it doesn't really matter as long as it sounds good, but because I don't understand it I can't duplicate it. My problem with composing using my minds ear is I take waaay to long and would never make deadlines if I got into the music business, most of the time I don't have any feeling for what the notes I want are so I just have to spend forever finding messing around until I get something I'm happy with. I like knowing the basic "maths" for a technique so If I know what I want I have a basic idea of how it should work. This "Counterpoint between homophonic textures" technique is something that I would find extremely useful and something I would like to have a basic academic understanding about.


I have already tried achieving it myself through trail and error and I just can't do it, or at least it would take way more time than I would like to spend on it.

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Pretty sure I've shared this anecdote before, but when I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a piece based on/inspired by a piece written by a film/video game composer who's work I'd taken an interest in, and thought I did a pretty good job with it. I knew the sounds were familiar, but didn't know what I'd done. It wasn't until I got into Theory II in college that I learned I had successfully used borrowed iv and Neapolitan sixth chords. There are many theory "conventions" I lucked out and wrote something with before really understanding just what I'd done, but much of that I attribute to having heard said conventions in other works and just stumbling across the same idea while writing, and subconsciously recognizing the sound.


Based on what you've said, I get the feeling that you've read about "counterpoint between homophonic textures" somewhere but maybe don't fully understand what you're talking about. A better way to go about it is to listen to scores that use the concept, try to get a feel for how it works, how it sounds, how it feels, and then try to apply the concept to your own writing.

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I had to look this up. ( I seem to have to look everything up)

Apparently this appears quite frequently in mediaeval choral music. I was looking for examples and came across this:



A classic Scott Joplin rag such as "Maple Leaf Rag" or "The Entertainer"


The "graduation march" section of Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance No. 1"


The "March of the Toreadors" from Bizet's Carmen


No. 1 ("Granada") of Albeniz' Suite Espanola for guitar


Most popular music genres strongly favor homophonic textures, whether featuring a solo singer, rapper, guitar solo, or several vocalists singing in harmony.


The opening section of the "Overture" Of Handel's "Messiah" (The second section of the overture is polyphonic)


And this which I found interesting:

They may follow many of the rules of well-written counterpoint, and they can sound quite different from the melody and be interesting to listen to by themselves. But when they are sung or played with the melody, it is clear that they are not independent melodic parts, either because they have the same rhythm as the melody (i.e. are not independent) or because their main purpose is to fill in the chords or harmony (i.e. they are not really melodies).


However, I see no reason why you can't apply the principles of homophony to counterpoint.


Came across this: http://www.folkways.si.edu/TrackDetails.aspx?itemid=9193

At the Smithsonian folkways.

And Amazon has the lecture downloadable in MP3 for 99 cents. http://www.amazon.com/Homophony-Contrapuntal-Composition-Application-Technique/dp/B000S3DNG2

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It seems to me that one of the biggest hurdles when writing counterpoint between homophonic sections would be in dealing with the thick chords. I mean, if you just take some chords in the right and left hands on piano and try and move them around, you'll notice pretty quickly how easy it is to create messy textures.


It's a far more likely scenario that you might have counterpoint between a chordal (homophonic) section and another that is a solo or unison line.


Or, you might limit yourself to diads - two note chords - in each section, which will also make for fewer clashes. Another way of dealing with homophonic sections is to use them more as consequent and antecedent phrases. One section sets up the "question" phrase, the other one answers it. With this technique, the sections only overlap a bit, kind of like they do in big band music.


I'm wondering if there's a specific texture that you heard in some orchestral recording that you think of as "polyphonic homophony" but really, it's some other technique? There's a lot that you can do to create "lacy" effects in orchestral arranging...... divergent lines, held notes against moving lines, busy against slow moving parts, harmonizing lines a tenth apart, echoing lines, etc, etc.


There's a great resource for orchestral writing, complete with sound and score examples, over at Northern Sounds that you might find illuminating.

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If I understand your question correctly you want to have two groups of notes dancing together utilizing the aesthetics and principles of independence inherent in counterpoint. Are your groupings the same pitch class? i.e. A or B flat regardless of octave placement? if so then it is a matter of orchestration and the combination with 2 voice counterpoint, as Ski mentioned. If the notes are different, then you are essentially harmonizing 2 independent melodies in parallel motion, and will run into the problems that Camillo talks about. Some messy chords. But that's not to say it cant be done. I would think to make something as potentially dense sounding as this work, you would have to apply some logic and order in each voice (grouping), that way the listeners ear will be able to discern some sort of logic or form amid the harmonic stew. My composition teacher many years ago gave me the gestalt principles to base some compositions off. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principles_of_grouping

An obvious and easy way to first approach this might be to have a melody based on the circle of fifths in the lower voice, and a step wise idea in the upper. I would make it very obvious and cliche, and then go nuts from there. I aways find it so beautiful that some of the wildest and most sophisticated pieces/composers start with such a basic seed, and then when they get their claws into it, it's something so magical, unidentifiable to the original.

Regarding books, I wold look at some of messiaen's writings, while not exactly what you are asking, he has techniques that come close and may open the door for you to create your own language. Bartok probably would be worth checking out as well. Hindemith's book on composition called "2 voice exercises " is worth a look. Sounds great. Let us know what comes from it.

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  • 1 year later...

coursera.org offers a free course on this' how to write 4 part harmony like Mozart'... The class just finished.. They usually wait a few weeks then start up again.. Search for it, and check the 'I'm interest box'.. It moves along quite quickly. It really should be a three month course instead of 7 weeks.. But if you devote a good amount of time to it, or are already familiar with some of it,, you'd get the knack.. The teacher also gives reference links which explain things more clearly..


There are always 'purists' who say write from the heart.. But having a good working knowledge of what you are attempting to do, is always better. You can choose to follow or break the rules.. Hey someday you might get a gig that specifically asks for 18th century counterpoint.. Without knowing the various rules, and exceptions, and interpretations,, you would be lost..

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