I was practicing counterpoint (2nd species) and decided to experiment with ending on a perfect 5th except the top line was a C and the bottom an F. I know this isn't technically allowed in 2nd species, but I just wanted to see how it would sound.... What I noticed is it didn't sound very resolved. My question is why does is a perfect 5th with a C on top not able to resolve a melody that is in C? Do our ears favor the bottom note of an interval? I'm guessing it has something to do with the harmonic series, but does anyone else have any insight into this?

  • You accepted the wrong answer. It would be more resolved with E, G or even Eb as the bottom note than F. If you have established the harmony as "in C", trying to end with F - C outlines a subdominant F or Csus4 chord shape, and to feel resolved you want a non-suspended C chord shape. Even a C minor will do, as long as the picture looks like some kind of a non-suspended chord rooted on the tonic C. Harmony is more than simple static intervals. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 8:48
  • @ Young Capone:Yes, piiperi is right! If your c.f. is in C major the ending on an F chord is in the IV and not the tonic. That's why you don't feel the resolution. It is like the Amen in the church: The harmony is asking a C in the bass. (I meant to say you accepted my answer to early - anyway. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:24
  • To avoid more confusion: c.f. is meaning cantus firmus (the upper voice which is the melody or tenor) and not to the keys c and f. ! – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:57
  • Even a plain single E note without any other notes feels more resolved than F-C. You don't even need to explicitly sound the C for the final resolution, because your song is "in C" so C is the established tonic and it's written in your head anyway. If you keep playing the single E note for a minute, you slowly forget the harmonic context and start to reconsider the situation. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 10:11
  • To be honest, I don't understand how these elementary working principles are not generally known and taught via experimentation and demonstration. The principles are so basic like, if you release an object from your hand, it falls down towards the earth, not away from it. Unless it's a helium balloon. Children know this because they play with toys and experience the world, without Einstein explaining them about gravity and general relativity. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 10:16

I'm guessing it has something to do with the harmonic series, but does anyone else have any insight into this?

Your assumptions are correct!

The bass layer as fundament has the strongest overtones which produces the most interferences with the tenor or soprano voices.

For this R. Breithaupt writes in his book natural piano technic about the use of the pedal:

I. the bass range of the instrument is the most outstanding, dynamic absolutely dominant, 2. the treble range is the absolutely weakest. This results in the following conditions: 1. If the bass layer is mixed with the lower tenor, any bass, even if the tenor is mitigated. 2. The same applies to the mixture: bass position tenor position, bass position, low tenor position and tenor old position it is melodic, compared to the high treble, low tenor position old position, low tenor position treble. high tenor treble, - 3. The greatest attention demands the mixture of the two outermost layers: low bass position high treble position.

More cannot be said "theoretically" about it. We only want to add that for finely organized natures the three layers and their mixtures are represented as three color complexes, which in their differenciations can also correspond to the deeper emotions of a musical spirit. This belongs in the area of ​​the "psychological attack". It can be taken for granted that the dynamics of the positions are also of considerable influence in the art of polyphonic playing.

The participation, or the strength, of the overtones is fundamental for the development of the “Klang” (sound).

Find more info here:


Natural piano-technic (Breithaupt)

This answer above was concerning your headline

"Is the bottom note favored?"


When we write - as you say in C - we are in a certain tonic and this means: we are here "at home" in C major. You can develop a cantus firmus using the whole scale but the bass tone at the ende should be a C.

If you end now on F (bass) and C (upper voice) you don't have the "home feeling" and this is producing your impression of "not resolving." (Unless your tune is modulating to F introducing a some Bb in the melody.

An additional point: The perfect fifth was usual in early music as finalis, later the octave was preferred, until the ending of the 3rd and 5th became popular in modern music (pop etc.)

  • I think giving the lowest note plus overtones as the simple and only explanation is not entirely right, because it would feel more resolved even with an E note in the bottom. Or even something like Eb - C with C on top, if it was in C, a surprise ending in minor. Laurence is closer to the real explanation - don't look at the notes purely as a static interval, look at them as a harmonic shape relative to the established home note i.e. tonic. Look at it as chords. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 8:38
  • Of course we are looking on it as chords. That's why the question is somehow confusing: why does is a perfect 5th with a C on top not able to resolve a melody that is in C? OP speaks about the ending: I decided to experiment with ending on a perfect 5th And he asks: Why? – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 8:53
  • The OP is looking at it in terms of a simple interval, as if every new interval could make you forget anything that happened before that. G-C, E-C or Eb-C sounds more resolved than F-C, so the lowest note doesn't decide what's resolved. It's the overall shape relative to the established tonic. Not the sounding interval alone. The whole question is based on a misconception. Laurence is on the spot: a melody wants to resolve on a chord. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 8:58
  • In a 2 part c.p. the finalis has to be a perfect interval anyway. I absolutely agree with Laurence and also with you. (This would have been my answer too). But as OP asks: Why don't we have the impression in the final chord of a resolving sound I'm adding my answer: Yes, it has to do with the overtones. What would be yours answer? ... Ok. now I have seen the point: I've overlooked the word a melody in C. As OP is writing in C the final chord FC would be the subdominant. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:20
  • I was not fully awake when I answered this question: But I understood it (transcribed in our terminology): Why is the ending on the subdominant less fulfilling than an ending on the tonic? – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:26

A melody in C wants to resolve on a C chord, or an outline of one. Yours ends on an F chord.

  • Yes, but my question is why.... An itnerval of C1-F1 sounds resolved while an interval of F1-C2 does not sound resolved even though it is the same interval (perfect 5th) and it also contains a C. I'm curious if there's a deeper concept that implies why this is the case, maybe in accordance to the harmonic series or something else. – YoungCapone Jun 10 '20 at 3:12
  • 1
    @YoungCapone The "deep" concept is right here: a melody wants to resolve on a chord. That's how music works. Play songs, play variations, modify the chords and melodies and rhythms, experience how it works first-hand in practice. Fancy theory talk about harmonic series and that sort of stuff only creates a science-mystical smoke screen. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 9:09
  • @piperii: I agree. but a melody wants to resolve on a chord. That's how music works ... "a melody wants nothing. The composer wants!" ;) (would de la Motte say! – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:44

C-F is P4. F-C is P5. P5 always sounds far more settled to me. Probably because in F-C, there is a harmonic which (particularly with low notes) is audible. That F note has a harmonic of note C, so it's more solid.

In C-F, the low C has a harmonic - but it's a G note. That hardly blends with the higher F, so it doesn't sound so settled.

By the way, C-F is not the same interval as F-C! C-F is P4, F-C is P5. They may well be the same two note names, but the way they interact - as you have found out - is different. And indeed, they're named differently.

  • may be you agree there is some confusion in the original question and OP's comment to Laurence's answer! I agree with you: C1-F1 won't have sounded resolved in C. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 10 '20 at 9:50

From comments...

...but my question is why.... An interval of C1-F1 sounds resolved while an interval of F1-C2 does not sound resolved even though it is the same interval (perfect 5th)...

Your question is confusing, because C1,F1 is a perfect fourth and F1, C2 is perfect fifth.

You are calling them the same interval, but they are not. The difference is very important regarding harmony generally, and specifically cadences.

Octave 1 and 2 are very low so I've raised them two octaves...

enter image description here

The basic harmony and cadence concept is inverted chords are unstable and don't create a sense of resolution. A final cadence goes to a root position chord.

...why does is a perfect 5th with a C on top not able to resolve a melody that is in C? Do our ears favor the bottom note of an interval?

This adds to the confusion, because a perfect fifth with a C on top means that the lower tone is an F.

You doing species counterpoint.

If C is the final of the mode, then the final chord of the cadence needs to be a root position chord on C.

...Do our ears favor the bottom note of an interval?

The bottom note is the bass. Within harmony the bass most definitely plays a special role. I wouldn't call it "favored", but it is critical in defining chords.

The reason the passage won't sound resolved in C major is because F is not the final of the mode. The bass needs to play C - the final of C major - to get the resolution of a cadence.

Something like this would be normal...

enter image description here

If the ending is harmonize with a perfect fourth, it creates the sound of a suspension that needs to be resolved...

enter image description here

I don't know what your experiments were, but these are melodies in C ending on a F with a C above. Both will feel like a move from tonic to subdominant and that will not give a feel of final resolution for an ending.

enter image description here

...I'm guessing it has something to do with the harmonic series

The harmonic series outlines a root position triad in the first several harmonics. Many people feel this is the acoustical explanation about why a root position triad has a feeling of stability.

That provides an explanation but only in part. The overtone series explains why an inverted chord does not have the sense of stability for cadences. But it does not explain why a root position chord in C does not have a feeling of resolution. That non-resolved feeling has nothing to do with the overtone series.

The special status the tonic chord holds as the final chord comes from the scale tones TI a half step below the tonic degree and FA a perfect fourth above the tonic scale degree. Only the tonic chord has that special relationship.

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