In most cases the penultimate note of the counterpoint will be the leading tone, which must be raised in minor to establish a sense of tonality. But why is the leading tone in the Phrygian mode (E-E) the one exception? Even though it is a minor mode the seventh step of the scale is NEVER raised. Why?

Transferred from: Few Questions on Counterpoint in the Tradition of Johan Fux

  • In the other minor modes, i.e., Dorian and Aeolian, the leading note may or may not be raised. This creates a melodic interval with the supertonic .In Phrygian,raising the leading note gives an odd sounding interval with the supertonic. I'm only guessing.
    – Tim
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 7:23
  • @Tim - Again, please refer to my posted answer. Commented May 31, 2013 at 8:13
  • @Tim: exactly, an augmented second (that's from google translate). That is practically the same as a minor third, and you wouldn't want thirds in your scale. Especially not in the 15th century.
    – 11684
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 14:47
  • In Phrygian E, the raised leading note becomes D#.The supertonic (2nd note) is F. D# - F will be an ordinary 2nd, not a good sound to resolve to E. Did I miss your point?
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 19:16
  • 1
    @Tim - This is incorrect. D#-F is actually a diminished third but will sound as a major second. Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 20:42

4 Answers 4


This is an astute question, and I will preface my response by saying that it is speculatory at best as I do not know of any scholarly research done that is available to me to provide a qualitative, academic answer.

That said, I believe this website offers thoughtful reasoning as to this occurrence.

Transferred from: Few Questions on Counterpoint in the Tradition of Johan Fux

Edit: The original page at ars-nova.com seems to have gone offline - DNS lookup fails. Here is the cached version at the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

  • 2
    JJ - could you add a summary of that website to this answer? Otherwise it is pretty much just a link.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 13:32
  • 2
    In a sense, the flat-2 is the leading tone in Phrygian. It just happens to lead downward to the tonic instead of upward. Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 7:32

I have a theory,

In the phrygian mode you have a flat second, and you always end the Cantus firmus by going II I.

If you were to sharpen the 7th then you would have a major 2nd interval, a dissonance which is against the rules of counterpoint, but a natural 7th creates an interval of a minor 3rd.

I'm sure early on in the book he talks about how the ending should resolve based on major/minor intervals, rather than the degree of the scale.


The easiest answer to a question is the simplest one requiring the fewest assumptions. In this case I think there is a useful general principle: consecutive semitones are generally avoided because the tone in the middle sounds like a chromatic passing tone. If you are in E Phrygian and you move from D# to E, and then to F, then the E in the middle sounds like a chromatic passing tone and not like a scale step. That is not a good thing to do to a final! More here: Pressing, J. (1978). Towards an understanding of scales in Jazz. Jazzforschung, 9, 25–35. Also here: The Consecutive-Semitone Constraint on Scalar Structure: A Link between Impressionism and Jazz, by Dmitri Tymoczko

  • If you are writing two-voice species counterpoint according to Fux's rules,

  • and the cantus firmus is in the bottom voice

  • and that bottom voice descends by step to the final in the Phyrgian mode--that is, the bass moves down a minor second from F to E in an untransposed mode;

  • then the upper voice in two-voice counterpoint sings D--E, because the final octave consonance must be preceded by a major sixth.

A D# in the upper voice would create an augmented sixth, which Palestrina did not use.

These are Fux's rules, based on his analysis of Palestrina. They are akin to a description of Latin grammar based on Cicero. They describe idioms that were used in Renaissance polyphony, but there is not necessarily any logic to them beyond that.

Further, Fux's counterpoint has nothing to do with scales in jazz, or with the harmony of post-1800 tonal music. Fux is not describing "vertical" harmonic progressions but "horizontal" contrapuntal movements.

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