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Basic "About Me:" I was a music and actuarial science double major, dropped the music major, and am now working as an actuarial educator full-time. I'd like to get back to composing. The biggest project that I did when I was a music major was compose a clarinet concerto where each movement portrayed a style from different musical periods (classical/Mozartian, romantic, and 20th century serialism).

I did my first voice-leading exercise in about three years today, and I realized that my counterpoint writing is very dull. I'm not as good as I used to be at it anymore, unfortunately.

Sure, I know all of the rules of Renaissance counterpoint, but I'm interested in something that is more... interesting, maybe Baroque counterpoint or counterpoint as used in film scoring.

Are there any resources that are available to learn this stuff (besides the Online Berklee courses, which are quite expensive)?

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Sure, that helps out with Baroque counterpoint, but how about with how it's used in 21st century music (film scoring-type projects)? –  Clarinetist Jul 14 at 13:58
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@Clarinetist - you assume through commentary that much counterpoint (and through implication, polyphony) is evident in 21st century films. Most contemporary film music is energy-derived, not motivic; which forms the basis of long-form counterpoint. –  jjmusicnotes Nov 21 at 5:20
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It may be important to make a distinction: Counterpoint is really about having 2 or more independent lines in the music. Most film scoring is not contrapuntal, it is homophonic. The theory of voice leading in homophonic music is derived from counterpoint but is certainly different. What type of music are you actually trying to create? We can argue that a lot of modern pop and rock music is contrapuntal but in a very different sort of way, specifically voice leading is often not a consideration or the rules of voice leading and counterpoint of old do not get applied. –  Basstickler Nov 21 at 14:27

4 Answers 4

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My take is that, to a large extent, the basic principles of counterpoint remain the same -- composing independent melodic lines which interact with each other harmonically. To that extent, the difference in contrapuntal music of various styles will largely mirror the difference in those style's non contrapuntal music. This means that you can combine a study of "regular" counterpoint, as well as a study of a desired musical style (including it's melodic and harmonic language), and adapt the one to the other. For example, in film scores, various genres are used, but often it is based on a large orchestral Romantic Era aesthetic, so you might look at Romantic conventions (a larger harmonic inventory, freer use of chromaticism in melodies), and incorporate those principles into counterpoint.

This might seem like a cop-out answer, but consider for example, that Fux's classic text Gradus Ad Parnassum, which describes old Palestrina-style counterpoint, was still used and highly respected, by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and probably Beethoven. They merely incorporated its contrapuntal principles into their respective styles (whether Baroque or Classical).

I am not aware of a good source that already does this stylistic synthesis, especially a free one, however I did find the following (rather costly) textbook on amazon that might be of interest, as it seems to take a historic approach: Modal and Tonal Counterpoint: From Josquin to Stravinsky. That said, according to the table of contents, it is the final four chapters (25, 26, 27, and 28) that deal with Classical, Romantic, Serial/Atonal, and "Hindemith, Bartok, and Stravinsky" respectively. That's an awful lot of music history crammed into a relatively small space (each chapter looks to be about 15-20 pages).

Of course, you'll notice this book doesn't cover what you might call "popular" music styles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, Broadway, Film Scores, etc... Which often seems to be a problem with music theory textbooks in general.

Another source you might check out is Walter Piston's Counterpoint. One of the reviews notes that it briefly covers 20th century counterpoint, and another recommends it for Jazz musicians.

One place in popular music where I know counterpoint has been used occasionally is in musicals. I'm thinking, for example, of the end of "A Man's Gotta Do" from Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, where you have a trio (Dr. Horrible, Captain Hammer, and Penny) singing in 3-part counterpoint, with the individual lines clearly differentiated. This style is common enough in musicals that it has its own page on tvtropes: Counterpoint Duet. Granted, it's not a theory textbook, but comparing some of the examples on there may inspire some ideas.

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You might consider http://www.ars-nova.com/cp/ (though I haven't used it myself, so I don't know about 21st-century style). I'd also second A Practical Approach to Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint in the question to which @Dave has linked.

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I did some searching, and while I did not find much in the way of comprehensive and free resources that extend far beyond basic species counterpoint, I did find this page provides some helpful prompts:

http://socrates.acadiau.ca/courses/musi/callon/3103-13/3113.htm

Also, a good early refresher: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16342/16342-h/16342-h.htm

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I recommend picking up a used copy of "Essentials of Eighteenth Century Counterpoint"

http://www.amazon.com/Essentials-Eighteenth-Century-Counterpoint-Practical/dp/0697036057

The book provides examples of J.S. Bach's style and therefore how counterpoint rules work in the context of actual music examples. Perhaps this will help you go beyond just knowing the rules and improving your voice leading to be "less boring."

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