Music Theory

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MUSIC THEORY
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HANDBOOK VOL 1

“ “ “ “ “

Getting Started with Counterpoint”
by BETH DENISCH

FROM THE ONLINE COURSE COUNTERPOINT

Understanding Reharmonization”
by STEVE ROCHINSKI

FROM THE ONLINE COURSE REHARMONIZATION TECHNIQUES
Master the Basics of Rhythm”

FROM THE ONLINE COURSE MUSIC THEORY 101

by PAUL SCHMELING

Learn the Intricacies of the Seventh Chord”
by MICHAEL RENDISH

FROM THE ONLINE COURSE GETTING INSIDE HARMONY 1

Examining the Theory Behind the Blues”
by PAUL SCHMELING

FROM THE ONLINE COURSE MUSIC THEORY 201

GETTING STARTED WITH COUNTERPOINT
FROM THE ONLINE COURSE COUNTERPOINT

BY BETH DENISCH
Beth Denisch is an associate professor in the Composition Department at Berklee College of Music. Her music has been performed throughout the U.S. and in Canada, Mexico, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, China, and Thailand, and recorded by Juxtab, Albany, and Interval record labels.

Consider music from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th century periods. What connects these diverse musical eras? It is the use of multiple melodic lines to create effective music. This is counterpoint. The term counterpoint refers to two or more independent melodic lines working together to create music. In contrapuntal music— music created using counterpoint—each of the melodies works independently as well as together. Together these melodies create a texture called polyphony. Polyphony and counterpoint have been around for about 1,000 years and are at the root of melody and harmony in Western music. You may already be thinking about how good it sounds in contemporary popular music when the bass and lead lines complement each other just right. This happens when 1) each line stands independently as

an effective melodic line and 2) both lines stand together, keeping their independence, but also creating a great sound when heard together. This is counterpoint. The term texture is used to describe the relative “thickness” or “thinness” of musical sound. Musical textures, like the texture of fabric, can be rough or smooth, simple or complex, dense or sparse. Here are three basic musical textures, only one of which defines counterpoint:

1.

Monophony—A solo melody, just one

line of music. This is the simplest musical texture. (From the Greek: mono—one; and phony—sound or voice.) Common monophonic performances include a solo singer or performer on a monophonic instrument like a flute or trumpet.

2.

Homophony—A melody with

chords, like a song; a harmonized

3

melody. The chords (harmonies) do not stand on their own as independent melodies but are heard as sound shapes supporting or “harmonizing” the single melody, often in the same rhythm as the melody. (From the A portion of the Winchester Troper

Counterpoint has been evolving in Western music for about 1,000 years. One of the earliest examples is found in the Winchester Troper from the 11th century, and contrapuntal continues writing

today, as in the music of Estonian

Greek: homo—same; and phony—sound or voice.) Homophony is the dominant texture of contemporary music. The majority of rock music consists of a melody sung by a lead vocalist over a chordal background provided by the band.

composer Arvo Pärt. Today, counterpoint is everywhere, even in popular music. Its influence can be heard in pop music such as the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” progressive rock artists like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson, and even in the musique concrète aspects of hip-hop. Taking a contrapuntal perspective on music means that you are looking at it horizontally—via melody—but are also taking into consideration the vertical (harmonic) sounds or implications of this simultaneous melodic motion. Still, the texture of counterpoint remains: Two or more melodic layers maintain their independence while creating desirable harmonies. Find a piece of music you like and think of at least two of the...
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