enter image description hereA little background: I am teaching myself species counterpoint by reading multiple texts and doing exercises. My primary text is Salzer and Schacter’s “Counterpoint in Composition,” which I really like. I’ve also found of lot of great online resources like “Open Music Theory” and “Sound Patterns.” I’ve been checking my counterpoint exercises using Are Nova’s excellent “Counterpointer” program, which identifies potential errors such as parallel 5ths.

My question: In designing a counterpoint melody, all texts allow ascending and descending leaps of 3rds, 4ths, 5ths and Octaves. Things get a little fuzzier with 6ths. All sources prohibit ascending and descending major 6ths.

My confusion is about leaps of a minor 6th.

Most sources (when they discuss this at all), allow for ascending leaps of minor 6ths but not descending leaps of a minor 6th. Salzer shows descending leaps of a minor 6th in some of his examples but never discusses the issue.

Should I avoid descending leaps of a minor 6th? Why?

  • Not allowed in species counterpoint. Common in Bach chorales though. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 5:06
  • For what it's worth, I can't understand why Salzer would have descended to A in the soprano there. I Jeppesen's book (cited in an answer below) he suggests avoiding rising by a major third to the raised leading tone. Further, descending by a minor third here to D to my ears a much more elegant solution.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 1:27

1 Answer 1


Generally descending minor sixths are forbidden, at least according to Zarlino and Jeppesen.

"As already mentioned, all perfect, major, and minor intervals up to the fifths are permitted in ascending as well as in descending motion, as is the perfect octave, whereas the minor sixth is allowed ascending only." (Jeppesen in Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the Sixteenth Century, Chapter III on First Species).

  • yes, but the question was ‘why’ and it’s a good question. Fux himself seems to have inherited this rule unquestioned and vaguely talks about larger intervals such as major sixths, all augmented intervals and all sevenths as being difficult to sing and ‘unpleasant’. But why the minor sixth ascending only is ok I can’t fully understand. Given that leaps need to be approached and departed on contrary motion it’s possible that the movement (in c mixolydian) e-f a-b never arose because of the stressed tritone.
    – user71850
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 9:06
  • f-g b-c has the f tendency note ascending and leap to a leading note: both less than ideal. But why b-c e-f might fall foul I can’t think.
    – user71850
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 9:08
  • of course e-f a-b stresses a diminished fifth, not a tritone so there goes that idea as well... b-c e-f does outline a tritone but I’m still guessing really.
    – user71850
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 9:16
  • Thanks all for your thoughtful comments! Is it possible that Salzer's relative permissiveness about the descending m6 has to do with his stated goal to connect Fux' work with baroque and romantic harmonic conventions? Jeppesen, on the other hand, seems more focused on documenting the style of the 16th century. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 22:41
  • I've added an image of Salzer's example above. The descending m6 occurs in bar 6. Damian--you'll notice that Salzer departs from the leap with another small leap instead of a step, which seems to open up many more possibilities in this situation. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 22:48

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