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When you start writing counterpoint they tell you what intervals you can use and how to use them but after learning harmony I think in scale degrees. I know what soprano note might work best with which bass note and vice versa. Going back to the beginning of my harmony book amd trying to do some counterpoint without this foresight seems like going backwards for me. Just trying to write a line against another without considering the harmonic implications I feel limits me. Is there any benefit in writing counterpoint in intervals and forgetting scale degrees altogether? Then it got me thinking: why dont you learn scale degrees in species counterpoint so you can learn which scale degrees match with which bassline notes?

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I suppose you could try it that way, but it would probably be dizzying for a beginner to remember. It's fairly simple to learn which intervals can be used, especially in species counterpoint, but imagine learning this on day 1:

Consonances in first species, if the lower note is C, are E, G, A, or C; if the lower note is D, the consonances are F, A, B or B-flat, and D; if the lower note is E, consonances are G, B, C, or E... and so on...

I would have quite right then and there. But learning that 3rds, 5ths, 6ths, and octaves are consonant is a really helpful abstraction. I think once we get to a certain point in our learning to write contrapuntally we stop thinking about scale degrees and intervals at all and just start writing.

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By scale degrees you refer to the chords with the diatonic scale degrees as the root note, as in Roman numeral analysis? I assume that, since you are talking about the harmonic implications.

Is there any benefit in writing counterpoint in intervals and forgetting scale degrees altogether?

The benefit is you learn how to think like a pre-Bach composer. With Bach a style known as "harmonic counterpoint" emerged; a kind of hybrid/intermediate of the old counterpoint (which is more about consonances and voice leading, than building chords on scale degrees) and the classical-romantic vertical thinking (which keeps old counterpoint in mind, but focuses on chord progressions in the Rameau/Weber sense)

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  • Thank you. Harmony is also voice leading isnt it and thinking of consonance and dissonance without considering the harmonic implications arent you actually going to end up with something that is less satisfactory since you are not caring about the tendency of scale degrees. I could write a progression like V IV iii or with some weird syntax which doesnt "lead" very well at all. Just going on consonance and dissonancw alone..... I mean is that going backwards if you already know harmony and what melody notes willl work with a Cantus firmus in the bass voice?
    – user35708
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 13:47
  • @armani yes it may end up less satisfactory to you, since your aesthetic focus seems to be very much on chord progressions -- this is perception and intention dependent surely. Since you have experience in evaluating the intervals between bass line and cantus firmus, nothing stops you from using this knowledge. It might also be horizon-extending for you to use another method caring less about chord progressions, just try around with the possible approaches. To my experience for learning how to compose it's never bad trying out a broad arsenal of approaches.
    – Michel
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 14:32
  • Good idea. I think I will experiment for sure. In one of my counterpoint exercises I ended up with ii6 chord going to a I6 chord. It actually sounded pretty good even though the syntax was wrong so your idea already has merit in my view.Thank you
    – user35708
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 15:18

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