Is there any name I can use for two melodies that are being played at the same time? (The rhythmic part isn't identical).

For Instance, there is Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus which starts off with a melody:

and then on 0.15 starts another melody that is being played on top of the other.

How is this named?


8 Answers 8


As @user13484 pointed out, the general concept of two (or more!) melodies sounding together is counterpoint ("note against note").

The term counterpoint is used when the melodies that are sounding simultaneously are independent and are more or less of equal importance. Both rhythm, pitch but also timbre can be used to achieve independence. The term is about a technique or texture, and as such it may be applied to a section, or a movement or even an entire composition.

"Independence" is not a matter of all or nothing. Although the melodies might have a different rhythm, a melody might have the effect of emphasizing only particular accents of a main melody. Or although a melody might be playing different pitches, it might do so in an identical rhythm. So in those cases, the extra melody is not truly independent.

With regard to this piece, the parts that are entering at 0:15 do not really seem to carry a new or separate melody. The new part serves mainly to give the piece a new rhythmic pulse. The head of the new part serves to accentuate and repeats the same pitch a few times. The tail of the phrase basically mimics the main melody (it's not exactly parallel since the rhythm is slightly different, but the pitches are). So there is a certain lack of independence, and I'd argue the parts also aren't equally important, which is why I would not call this true counterpoint. I'd call this simply "accompaniment".

At 1:30 though, something starts to evolve that does sound like true counterpoint, first in 2 parts, and then at 1:45 in at least three. Here you can clearly here different parts that are independent in movement, curve, rhythm and pitch.

  • 1
    Normally the term "counterpoint" would imply that at least one of the melodies was deliberately designed to fit with the other. Would be the term to describe cases where the two melodies were composed entirely independently and combined by someone unaffiliated with the composer of either melody?
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 20:04
  • 2
    @supercat, the term counterpoint is a technical description of the musical content. It does not care who wrote the notes, or when, or where. But obviously, most actual examples of counterpoint are deliberate attempts of some particular composer. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 23:58
  • Even if the simultaneous playing of independently-written pieces that happen to fit well together could be considered a form of counterpoint, that would not imply that the term was sufficient to define it. I would think "mashup" might be as good a term as any other, even if it would imply that preexisting recordings were being used (which might not be possible unless recordings existed in matching key and tempo). For example, the first two lines of "Ode to Joy", repeated, will fit very nicely with the "Lone Ranger" part of the William Tell overture, but the "normal" tempos wouldn't fit.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 0:24
  • @supercat I have no idea where you're going with this. Just the fact that some kind of music due to the way it came into existence could also fall into some other category does not mean the other categories are wrong. It is perfectly possible to make a mashup that is not in any way, shape or form "counterpoint". As I thought I clearly pointed out, counterpoint is a term that describes one particular technical aspect of the music. That this term does not capture anything else about that music is a completely different matter. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 17:52
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    @RolandBouman, counterpoint happens between "parts." I don't understand what distinction you are making between parts and melodies. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:48

Formally, it would be counterpoint, but since the music is not as a whole constructed in that manner, I'd just call it a countermelody.

  • There is counterpoint in the piece but not yet at 0:15. The rhythm is somewhat independent but it's not yet a fully independent melody. I'd call it simply accompaniment. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 13:02

Quodlibet ( Latin: “what you will”) musical composition in which several well-known melodies are combined, either simultaneously or, less frequently, sequentially, for humorous effect. Quodlibet can also refer to an amalgamation of different song texts in a vocal composition. While simultaneous combinations of two or more melodies go back to the 13th century (motets using, for example, a chant melody and a secular tune), quodlibets were especially popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. In Germany numerous instances are found in manuscript collections of polyphonic (multipart) songs.

- Encyclopedia Brittanica

  • Peter Schikele's Quodlibet (youtube.com/watch?v=W3SHc5KNv_k) is an excellent example for anyone wishing to hear this. Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 19:42
  • In the future, please be more explicit with quoting from outside sources.
    – user45266
    Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 22:02

I think Mingus himself called this structure of melodies stacked on top of each other - in many of his pieces there are more than two, e.g. in Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting - a "pyramid".


In a general-usage sense, the word "counterpoint" could serve, though the word counterpoint names a very specific technical form that follows certain rules of construction.

Because of that, the two lines in Fables of Faubus fail to be "counterpoint" but are most definitely "countermelody."

They could be called "contrapuntal lines" without raising the "counterpoint pedant" alarm. :)

I think the word "mashup" is a horrible way to describe/think of the concept. There's a big difference between two melodies that were written to work together, vs a pair of melodies that when played together exhibit a serendipitous congruence often enough to be surprisingly pleasant.

The thing is, a mashup is always countermelody, but countermelodies are not mashups.


It may be better to use the term polyphony which could include counterpoint and fugues.

In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice which is called monophony, and in difference from musical texture with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords which is called homophony.



This can be a Mashup.

A mashup is a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs

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    Yes, but that term is not appropriate here. Unless the theme and the accompaniment are citations from separate prior works? Even then this has nothing to do with blending pre-recorded songs. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:30
  • 1
    Indeed - a mashup is created by intertwining two or more recordings, not just two or more melodies. (Anyway, most mashups do not use counterpoint, though it is always fun when they do, if they do it right. Most only have one "melody" going at a time, which is what this is about; the rest is backup instrumentation.) You could even create a new work by intertwining separate prior works - it still wouldn't be a true mashup if you covered them yourself, rather than using existing recordings of them.
    – neminem
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 21:13

Poliphony or polyphonic Texture when 2 melodies can be heard distinctly

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