I have been studying voice leading and I feel like rhythm is unaddressed in voice leading theory.

Here's an example of the types of voice leading rules I'm referring to:

  • Resolve 7->1 in a V chord in the outer voices.
  • Keep the notes the same if you can (except in soprano).
  • Move mostly by step.
  • Avoid melodic leaps with dissonant intervals.
  • No parallel fifths/octaves (or unisons)
  • No hidden fifths/octaves between the outer voices
  • Don’t double tendency tones!
  • Keep upper voices within an octave of one another (i.e. soprano is within an octave of the alto, alto is within an octave of the tenor)
  • No voice crossings (where one voice goes above another)
  • No voice overlaps
  • When doubling/completing chords,
    • you may only leave out the fifth
    • write complete chords whenever possible.
    • Double the root of the chord (except for diminished…)
    • Double the fifth if it makes the voice leading smoother.
    • Be careful with the third.
  • Write outer voices first – make sure they sound good together!
  • Contrary motion between upper voices and bass whenever possible
  • Start with a close position chord and work out from there.
  • If a pair of upper voices leap together by more than a third, rethink it

Source: https://community.wvu.edu/~mh0001/CS14.pdf

But most of these rules seem to just apply to the relationship between chords of fixed duration. These aren't really rules for making truly distinct melodic lines work together unless they happen to be just a sequence of chords. And most real melodic lines have more complex rhythmic structure than just chord sequences.

My Question: Is there a set of "rhythmic" voice leading rules?

From what I understand, counterpoint is intended to fulfill this role. Is that correct? If so, I'm confused about how it adequately fulfills this role.

As I understand it, there are two types of counterpoint:

  • Species counterpoint
  • Other types (e.g. free, strict)

Species counterpoint is intended to be a teaching tool. Basically, each species is like a case study. You learn certain properties from each one and so each possesses it's own voice leading rules, again specific to pitch. However, you then try to combine the species in fifth species counterpoint so you can see how they work together.

I'm confused why these are sufficient however. Melodies have far more varied rhythmic divisions than a species counterpoint, even fifth species. Take this simple melody from Mozart's Piano Sonata K 545 Movement 1

enter image description here

This is a simple melody, but if I tried to understand it with species counterpoint, it would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. As far as I can tell, doing 5th species counterpoint would not allow me to understand how these melodies combine because the melody line doesn't fit into species 1,2, or 3. Species 4 is irrelevant in this case because there is no syncopation. So, this melody doesn't fit into any of the species.

So, if counterpoint is supposed to be the "rhythm" version of voice leading rules, then what type of counterpoint would allow me to link melodic lines that have rhythmic variations beyond the simple ones in species?

Here's an example of some counterpoint rules that I find insufficient in that it barely addresses rhythm (otherwise, I like it a lot):


  • Counterpoint is not the "rhythmic version" of voice leading, and the excerpt you give isn't written according to the rules of counterpoint -- it's homophonic rather than polyphonic. Voice-leading is a set of abstract principles, which the excerpt does follow. Consider the entire first measure as a C major chord and the beginning of the second measure as a G7 chord. You'll see that each "voice" within the block chords moves according to voice-leading principles.
    – Aaron
    Jan 22, 2021 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


Your Mozart example isn't counterpoint, it's a melody and an accompaniment of broken chords. Basically this: enter image description here

This is a contrapuntal approach to the piece: enter image description here Yes there are 'rules'. Melodic and/or rhythmic imitation is good. When one part is rhythmically 'busy', let the other be simple.

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